Safety Net - By Helen Alexander

As traditions go, it is one of the youngest in Thoroughbred racing. But it is also one of the best.

I’m talking about the sponsorship program involving NetJets, Richard Santulli, Bill Casner, and a slew of jockeys.

Starting with the 2008 Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) and counting each Triple Crown race through the 2009 Belmont Stakes (with the 2008 Jockey Club Gold Cup, both gr. I, thrown in for good measure), they have donated more than $1 million to equine charities and the Susan G. Komen for the Cure foundation, according to the Jockeys’ Guild.

They are to be commended for their generosity, which is particularly welcome and encouraged by charitable organizations in the current economic climate.

One of those beneficiaries has been The Jockey Club Foundation, which I serve as one of three trustees (along with D.G. Van Clief Jr. and Steve Duncker). We are immensely grateful not only for the donation but for the awareness this program brings to our foundation.

Formed in 1943, The Jockey Club Foundation is a charitable trust that provides financial relief and assistance to needy members of the Thoroughbred industry and their families.

Because all assistance is provided confidentially, you hear very little about this foundation. In fact, most of those who are helped often tell Nancy Kelly, the foundation’s longtime executive director, that they never knew such a foundation existed. Assistance can come in any number of forms, including financial aid, medication, surgical and hospital costs, therapeutic equipment, voice-recognition computers for quadriplegics, and wheelchair-accessible vans.

One-time, lump-sum grants are paid directly to an individual or to the provider of a service, and assistance program recipients receive grants on a monthly basis.

Working in concert with similarly chartered organizations and chaplains located at tracks throughout the country often helps these providers fulfill their respective missions.

Chaplains often are the first to hear about and assist those in need, and the ongoing dialogue has enabled the foundation to be apprised of and respond to unfortunate circumstances in an efficient manner.

But assistance isn’t limited to backstretch personnel. Front-side workers and farm employees facing medical or financial issues are also eligible.

Through the years the foundation has relied heavily on the generosity of the members of The Jockey Club, and an occasional fundraising event, such as the Old Bags Luncheon in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., or the Belmont Bash that precedes the Belmont Stakes.

It is worth noting that in the case of The Jockey Club Foundation (and the Grayson-Jockey Club Research Foundation), The Jockey Club absorbs all administrative costs.

While stand-alone charitable organizations must cover overhead costs before they can provide the first dollar of support, The Jockey Club Foundation does not incur such expenses directly, and thus a larger percentage of donors’ contributions are used to help people in need.

Since 1985 the foundation has helped more than 1,000 individuals and their families with nearly $13 million in support.

In almost all cases, these people have given their entire working lives to support our industry. And when illness or injury strikes, there is often no safety net for them.

We have paid for therapy for stroke victims and children with autism; we have paid home heating bills and rent for a former jockey, whose wife had to quit her job to care for him; and we have even paid outstanding debts to funeral homes.

In one way or another, assistance from the foundation has improved the quality of life for an individual and his or her family. That is reflected in a steady stream of thank-you letters to The Jockey Club Foundation office in New York City. A recent one: “I want to give thanks for your generous gift when I needed it the most. It’s a comfort to know that you are there for needy horsemen. God bless you and all those who support this foundation.”

It is uplifting to see organizations and individuals like those previously mentioned coming together to help those who are less fortunate. We are honored and grateful they appreciate the work of The Jockey Club Foundation enough to include it among their designated beneficiaries.

It is my hope their example inspires others within the Thoroughbred industry to show their own generosity and contribute to our foundation or any other charity that helps people and/or horses.

Helen Alexander owns Middlebrook Farm near Lexington and is a trustee of The Jockey Club Foundation.

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