LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Millions of eyes will be on the 16 horses vying for this year's Run for the Roses. However, it takes a village behind the scenes. Thanks to one owner's idea to give back, you don't have to be a big name in racing to reap the benefits.
It's vital to Kentucky Derby 146 and every race in between. "It's a magical place, it's own kind of universe and that's what thoroughbred racing truly is," said Brook Smith, horse owner.
Owners say the backside is the backbone of the horse racing industry. "It doesn't matter if it's Christmas or Thanksgiving or whatever. These backstretch workers and owners alike, it's a 365 days a year job. They don't stop because COVID showed up," said Jason Richey, a horse owner.
Around 1,000 employees like Merlin Cano work on the backside at Churchill Downs. Many live there and rely on the Backside Learning Center.
"All my family works with the horses, and I'm just thankful and grateful they're here," Cano said.
Based on the grounds, the nonprofit organization provides education and social services to all workers and their families.
"Quite frankly, we have the biggest voice in a lot of cases. The backstretch workers can't go to the horseman's office and say we need help. They're not going to be heard," Richey said.
Brook Smith had an idea. "It's an obvious thing. Why wouldn't the fruits of the effort be given back to the people that are part of the ecosystem?" he said.
The owners and the Backside Learning Center partnered to create, Purses for a Purpose. "Wouldn't it be great if some of the owners would give a small percentage of their purses to fund the Backside Learning Center?" he said.
5-10 percent from some of the owners' winnings will go to backside workers. "As owners, to me, it's our obligation," Richey said.
"Enabling us to serve that community through those winnings, I thought was a wonderful idea. So, we're really excited about it and so happy it actually came to fruition," said Sherry Stanley, Executive Director of Backside Learning Center.
Four owners are on board so far. "Our goal is to not only grow but maybe create a platform that can be put into other states, other tracks," Richey said.
So, no matter who crosses the finish line first, everyone wins.
"I think it's a population that doesn't get the credit it deserves a lot of times for just how selfless they really are. They are an amazing, amazing group of people that quite frankly, given our times, a lot of people could learn a lot from," Richey said.
To contribute to Purses for a Purpose, click here.
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