The horses, trainers and jockeys tend to soak up most of the glory. However, it would not be possible without the thousands of backstretch workers who call Saratoga home each summer as they care for the animals. YNN's Matt Hunter has more on a nightly effort designed to show those workers just how important they are.
SARATOGA RACE COURSE -- Over the years Saratoga's legendary social scene has garnered nearly as many headlines as the action on the track. However, it may be hard to find a party like the events scheduled on the backstretch.
Every night during racing season, including dark days, there are backstretch events. They include Bingo Wednesdays, and lavish Sunday dinners. Every event is free, and it's all to show appreciation for the backstretch workers.
"At bingo, everybody's happy, you know? Everybody participates, said Raphael Velz, a hot walker.
"People winning money, it's a pretty good equation for having fun," noted Tom Durkin, NYRA Track Announcer.
Six years ago, John Hendrickson and his wife, Marylou Whitney, came up with the idea for backstretch appreciation nights. There are more than 1,000 workers living in less than ideal conditions and few ways to pass the time.
"Marylou said 'This is the summer place to be for everyone but the workers'," said Hendrickson, the co-founder of Backstretch Appreciation Nights.
"This is a hard life for people who work back here," added Durkin.
"It's a very migrant life and they're away from their families," explained Julie Roberts, BEST Saratoga Coordinator.
While the Race Track Chaplaincy of America and Backstretch Employee Services Team help, the nightly gatherings are put on by hundreds of volunteers.
"I think people really don't understand, where would these people go if they didn't have something, some organized something at night to do," said Sally Hill, a BEST volunteer.
The program has continued to grown, and so has its impact.
"The head of security at NYRA said before this program started there was two incidences of disturbance a night that they were called upon," said Hendrickson. "After we put this program together, there was one for the whole summer the first year."
Whitney and Hendrickson have supported both financially and personally, not just paying for entertainment, food and prizes, but showing up to greet workers themselves.
"It's the most amazing thing I've ever seen in my life. Without any cameras, I mean they're here every week," noted Tony Panza, owner and chef of Panza's.
Conditions on the backstretch are still far from perfect and many of the workers remain in poverty. However, it is the hope that the workers continue to know much they are valued.
"There is no horse racing, no horse racing without these people, zero," Durkin said.
"Kindness is easy and unless you're doing something nice for someone every day, you're not truly living. This was truly easy for us and it's actually not work, it's a pleasure," said Hendrickson.
Velz added, "The program, the activities, everybody is glad, you know?"