Give & Take

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Rasi Harper of Real Players Inside the Backstretch at work on Belmont Stakes Day 2022.

Pick a side. Are you a giver or taker?

It’s something I’ve been thinking about for a while, mostly after deciding to write a story about a couple barbers from Schenectady who decided to produce video vignettes highlighting the work of the valuable and often forgotten men and women of the backside. The story ran in The Horsemen’s Journal, which we help produce for the National HBPA.

The concept of givers and takers seems to pop up from time to time, either during my own Real Players Inside the Backstretch video last week, on Steve Byk’s radio show or Seth Merrow’s Capital OTB program. Cheryl Johnson, the widow of my former high school track coach Randy Johnson, liked the concept when I bumped into her and a friend and brought it up over coffee at the Morning Line Kitchen early in the meet.

The industry is full of givers and it’s full of takers. Way more givers, the ones that do things with meaning. Sometimes they’re asked, sometimes not. The takers? Well, we know the takers. They do it for the show, the check, the pat on the back, the false admiration.

Which are you?

Are you Robbie Davis? Coming off the main track aboard one of his horses, he spotted a large group congregating along the fence in front of the Morning Line, veered left, across the blacktop and over to the group, letting children give his horse a scratch and rub on the head. Giver.

Are you Rick Schosberg? How many hours does he spend working on and promoting the aftercare efforts, while training his small string and serving on the NYTHA board. Giver.

Are you Rasi Harper and Maurice Davis? The creators and the hustlers behind the Real Players Inside the Backstretch initiative, they saw a void and stepped to the plate on their own dime. They tell the stories of the people that make the engine run. Givers.

Are you Humberto Chavez? Chaplain and tireless advocate for the backstretch workers, he’ll do anything. About 15 minutes before the first race on Opening Day there was Humberto, front and center at the main entrance on Union and East, directing traffic, apologizing to folks who couldn’t get into the full main lot, sweating through his shirt and in the best mood possible. Giver.

Are you Cindy Hutter? I don’t know her, but have spoken to her and know plenty of people who look up to her. They learned from her, emulated her and owe a lot to her. She’s battling back from a horrific accident on the Oklahoma a few weeks ago, in a hospital bed unconscious. A fighter, and a giver.

Are you Jonathan Levy? NYRA security guard, if you’ve met him you’ll never forget him. I don’t see him as much the last few seasons, after seeing him every day during the spectator-free pandemic meet. He greeted me every day walking into the empty clubhouse. The greatest attitude on the track, without equal. Always upbeat, always positive, always smiling, always complimenting. Walk away from him and you’ll feel better the rest of the day. Giver.

He’s no longer with us and missed every day, but are you Rick Violette? NYRA ran the Rick Violette Stakes on New York Thoroughbred Aftercare Day, the perfect combination. Doing a little research for a story that appeared in The Special last weekend, I looked back at Rick’s obituary. One listed 20 bullet points highlighting everything he’d done from working on uniform medication reform to raising money for children of backstretch workers. And none of the bullets listed his training feats, which stand out. Giver.

Speaking of no longer with us, how about Dr. David Richardson? Doc’s memory lives on through his stories and his friends, who continue to gather at their favorite spot near Bill Mott’s barn on the Oklahoma. Doc calling on me to serve on a panel to pick finalists for the Thoroughbred Industry Employee Awards is one of the biggest honors of my life, and an enormous responsibility made all the easier with his calm and positive demeanor during the process. Giver.

Here’s another. Steve Asmussen. How about North America’s all-time leading trainer and Hall of Famer watching major races where he’s a major player on the grandstand apron, shoulder to shoulder with the $2 bettors and vacationers. He makes their day – their meet – when he stops for photos, dishes out high fives and lets out some of those signature whistles. Giver.

What about Ramon Dominguez? Pick a charity event during the summer here in Saratoga and chances are you’ll see Ramon and his wife Sharon on hand, helping out, giving credibility and making a difference. All while being a 16-minute 5k runner – yes, we’re quite jealous – and helping provide content for Spanish-speaking publications and broadcasts. Giver.

Last but not least. Are you Sean and Joe Clancy? They’ll probably edit this out, oh well, at least they’ll see it (Editor’s Note: Thanks Tom, but these others are far more worthy). Decided to start a newspaper in 2001 – a newspaper! – and 22 years later here they are with a long list of former interns making their mark in the game, an even longer list of readers and supporters who clamor for our product. They’ve won a ton of awards for writing and receive way more compliments, but I know what gives them the most satisfaction. Givers.