NYRA Cares: King, Jr. relishing life and community in horse racing
One of Eddie King, Jr.’s earliest memories was of his father, Eddie, Sr., an exercise rider at New York thoroughbred tracks, putting him on a pony.
“Growing up, I loved going to work with my dad,” said King, Jr. who at 32 is now an assistant to trainer Mark Hennig, based at Belmont Park. “The track was my playground. I was comfortable and had friends there. And I picked up a lot of knowledge about horses along the way.”
In his early teens, King, Jr. didn’t give much thought to building a career in racing. Then, at 16, he landed a job as a hot walker, which reignited his adolescent interest in horses. And by 18, King’s future was clear: “The track is what I knew and where I wanted to be,” he said.
With the help of a scholarship grant from the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association (NYTHA), King, Jr. enrolled in the University of Arizona Race Track Industry Program; and then the State University of New York at Morrisville, where he earned his degree. Returning to the New York metro area, King, Jr. took a series of positions at the track, moving last November to Hennig’s barn.
“Eddie has been a great addition to our team,” said Hennig. “He picked up the routine and carried the flag for us this winter when our other assistant trainer went to Gulfstream. He’s hard working. And he has ambition and a great future in the sport.”
King, Jr. is among the 590 students to have received a NYTHA scholarship grant which, since 2008, has distributed more than $2 million in grants for scholarships as well as transportation and books to backstretch workers and their immediate dependents. Many grant recipients are the first in their family to attend college.
“Helping backstretch families advance their children’s education is critical to our mission,” said NYTHA President Joe Appelbaum. “The King family and others who earn their living on the backstretch are the foundation of the Thoroughbred industry. Watching our scholarship recipients move into a wide variety of careers is nothing short of inspiring.”
Seated outside Barn 9 on a welcome and warmish early spring afternoon at Belmont Park, King, Jr. took in his surroundings, and said, “This is a community.” He referred to the backstretch and the people who make a living there, while reflecting on how the industry helped two generations of his family build satisfying careers.
“I’d say, 80 percent of the cost of my meals growing up were the result of what my dad brought home,” said King, Jr.. “Horse racing has been a part of my family’s life for as long as I can remember.”
The work never ends. Most days, King, Jr. awakes in his Kew Gardens apartment at 3 a.m. and arrives at the track well before dawn. Off days are rare, and King, Jr. is often at the track through the evening feeding the horses.
"You have to see how they’re eating,” he said. “The work ethic is something I got from my dad. The learning as well, and I’m still learning from him. But if you love what you do, as I do, it doesn’t feel like a job.”