My daughter, Stephany, likes to joke that when I was born, I jumped on a horse. She is kidding of course but has a point: As director of the outriders at the New York Racing Association (NYRA), I’m fortunate to lead a group of experienced horsemen who function as the horse patrol at all three our tracks – Belmont Park, Saratoga and Aqueduct.
I’m in my 34th year at NYRA – and this life has allowed me to raise my family in New York. Most of the people who make their living at the racetrack aren’t the trainers or owners you see on TV or from the stands. They’re on the backstretch – grooms, exercise riders, vets, clockers, drivers who deliver the feed and many others, who, like me, are providing for their families as well. Rush hour at the track isn’t during the races; it’s at 6 a.m. in the barn area and around the practice track during morning training. That’s when you realize that Belmont Park or Saratoga Race Course are like villages or towns; what happens there supports a lot of hard-working people.
I grew up on a farm in Mexico, moved to New York at 19 and spent a year as a dishwasher and busboy. Finding my way to Belmont Park, I worked with the horses first as a hotwalker and groom. I then began to gallop thoroughbreds during morning training, which is how I developed the skills required to become an outrider.
Our team takes great pride in doing our job well. What gives me even more pride is that this profession gave me the opportunity to send Stephany to college, where she excelled. She has followed me to NYRA, and now works in a position with room to grow and advance.
This would have been beyond my wildest dreams all those years ago in Mexico.. And my story is not unique. Every single day I work with men and women who came to this country as immigrants and, because of this sport, have been able to build a life and raise a family. And you can be sure that none of it would have been possible without New York horse racing.
Miguel Gutierrez is Director of the Outriders at the New York Racing Association.