MTHA’s Lillis to receive Godolphin TIEA Community Award

The Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association congratulates Bobby Lillis, its long-time Benevolence Administrator, for being selected the winner of the 2019 Godolphin Thoroughbred Industry Employee Community Award.

The Thoroughbred Industry Employee Awards recognize and reward the outstanding talent, diligence and commitment of farm and racing stable staff. The Community Award is for those who have made outstanding contributions to the industry and who contribute to the greater good of the sport.

Lillis and the other winners will receive their awards at the Godolphin TIEA luncheon Oct. 11 at Keeneland in Lexington, Ky.

“Winning this award is simply beyond my wildest dreams,” Lillis said. “I am truly grateful that my work ethic and my voice in representing our backstretch workers over my many years in horse racing is being recognized with this most prestigious Godolphin TIEA Community Award.”

“Our organization is very happy for Bobby and proud of the recognition he received,” MTHA President Tim Keefe said. “Backstretch workers are critical to our industry in Maryland, and the MTHA, with help from Bobby and other members of our staff, tries to ensure that the needs of this community are met.” 

Lillis, 65, nicknamed the "Mayor of the Backstretch" is a former jockey and exercise rider who was born in Detroit, Mich. He entered the racing business in his home state at a time when Michigan racing was prosperous at Detroit Race Course and Hazel Park.

“I found work as hot walker at Detroit Race Course in 1969 and have been to almost every track on the East Coast for the last 50 years,” Lillis said. “I know the lifestyles and sacrifices of backstretch workers inside and out.”

He met his wife, Ruthanne, in 1975 at Monmouth Park in New Jersey and moved to Maryland in 1976 because the state had four tracks and year-round racing at Bowie Race Course, Laurel Park, Pimlico Race Course and the Maryland State Fair at Timonium, which at that time had regular 40-day meets.

“Horse racing is the only work I’ve known, and it is an industry with countless career opportunities,” Lillis said. “For me, it has been being a jockey and small-potato horse owner, and for the last 20 years, as the MTHA Benevolence Administrator as an advocate for backstretch workers facing hardships and offering financial assistance to those in need through the help of funding from the Maryland Horsemen’s Assistance Foundation and the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association.”

Lillis, who lives in Westminster, Md., and has two sons, Ryan, 34, and Sean, 25, said that about 25 years ago when he was an exercise rider he began attending MTHA Board of Directors meetings to express his views on things related to backstretch living conditions. He said he quickly realized the MTHA and other industry organizations were dealing with many issues, including the expansion of casino gambling in neighboring states, and were fighting to keep horsemen and backstretch workers employed.

That led to some legislative advocacy and industry promotion.

“It was then that I started to involve myself with the politics of our future, doing things like writing letters to the editor at all local publications,” Lillis said. “I would look at the political candidates I thought were good for horse racing and encourage all my friends and people at the racetrack to vote for those legislators.

“And on a grass-roots level and through social media, I like to promote horse racing to anyone who will listen. I am very grateful that I have been able to help many backstretch employees that are less fortunate that others.”

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