Generosity at a time of need big help for backstretch community

The economic impact of COVID-19 on the racing industry brought forth the generosity of others in the form of a Pimlico Race Course "food pantry" that became more than a one-time event as intended and four different backstretch-wide meals at Pimlico and Laurel Park provided by a Thoroughbred owner based in Maryland.

Jessica Hammond of the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association and her husband, Scott, who manages the Maryland State Fair off-track betting operation and also serves as a clocker at Pimlico for the Maryland Jockey Club, saw a need in the backstretch community during the live racing shutdown that led some to be unemployed. They lease Somerset Farm in Harford County and found others willing to help out via their small lay-up operation.

“Scott is able to be at Pimlico every day and at the farm I see the people who board their horses,” Hammond said. “We had an idea to bring food to Pimlico, and the people who we see regularly were very generous. We asked them to donate—some gave (packaged) food but others wanted to donate money, so we set up accounts for them to do so.”

Hammond posted some pictures on Facebook of the first day of food distribution at Pimlico and tagged donors to thank them for their assistance. That led to more financial donations that provided enough funds so that Hammonds’ parents were able to purchase food items in bulk as well as toiletries at a wholesale market. Others such as Dr. Nick Meittinis of the Maryland Veterinary Group also donated money, and the end result was three food pantry days at Pimlico thus far.

The events have been held with proper physical distancing guidelines and other protocol, and Major Mike Singletary, MJC Director of Security, has provided a guard to be on hand while food is distributed. 

“We had grocery bags for each person, and the last time we did it we had less food, so we pre-organized about 40 bags at home,” Hammond said. “And last time, the Maryland Horse Breeders Association donated polo shirts, hats and insulated lunch bags, which the backstretch workers loved. This started informally, but so many people wanted to donate so we kept it going during this difficult time for many people.”

Laurel track kitchen Stewart Nickel, who operates the Winners Circle Partners Thoroughbred ownership operation, recently contacted Bobby Lillis of the MTHA and generously offered to provide free breakfast and lunch at the MJC tracks for a total of four meals. Nickel’s donation paid for food prepared in the Laurel track kitchen by Miguel Paz and his staff and, under COVID-19 protocol, meals such as baked chicken with several sides were served in take-out containers.

Lillis said about 200 breakfast meals and roughly 300 lunches will have been served from May 11-15 courtesy of Nickel.

Backstretch workers at Laurel and Pimlico over the last several weeks have been provided masks made by local businesses with equine connections and paid for by the Maryland Horsemen’s Assistance Foundation. Lillis said another 500 reusable cloth masks have been ordered on behalf of the foundation and MTHA and will be distributed as soon as they are produced.


Purse Release