I attended the California Horse Racing Board meeting in Del Mar this past Thursday. As is usual now, there were demonstrations pro and con before the meeting, and public comments on both sides during the meeting. As I walked to my car afterwards, with the TV trucks and crowds long gone, I saw a small group of backstretch workers who were still there to express their support for horse racing, with handmade signs in English and Spanish.
As a racehorse owner and fan, I’ve been living and breathing the crisis in California since early this year. But that walk to my car affected me in a way I hadn’t felt before.
Let me explain. I’m the son of immigrants. My father walked across the border from Mexico during the Great Depression with no money, no job, no family and little formal education. He found work on an automobile assembly line and later in an aluminum foundry. It wasn’t easy but he built a family, a home and a life, or, in his words, una familia, un hogar y una vida. His son was able to go to college and get a job in an office with air conditioning (my biggest childhood goal, once I realized I couldn’t hit a curveball.)
When I saw those backstretch workers – the first to arrive and the last to leave – I had a flashback.
Some people look at horse racing and see people who don’t look like them, who do menial work, who have minimal education, whose homes and cars aren’t up to West LA standards and whose English may not be fluent.
I see my family – both my original family and my new horse racing family. I see people working hard doing an honest job, learning as much as they can, providing for their families, building a home, with health care available through the California Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Foundation, with college scholarships for their children available through the Gregson Foundation.
I also see people united by their love of the horse, providing a level of care as good as any farm or sanctuary.
California racing is justifiably under the microscope. We needed to make racing safer and have taken big steps to do so. The process hasn’t been perfect and there is much more to do, but I think we can say that the progress so far in 2019 is unprecedented.
The stakes are high. This is not about a few rich people losing their favorite hobby, as the protesters would have us believe. It’s about thousands of horses who could have nowhere to go and thousands of people who could lose everything.
We need to keep at it.
No es solamente un deporte; es una familia, un hogar, una vida.
It’s not just a sport; it’s a family, a home, a life.
Rick Gold is a retired Silicon Valley entrepreneur now living in Southern California. He races Thoroughbreds in California, New York, Kentucky, England, South Africa and Australia.
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