COVID-19: Nick Garafola, Veronica Gallardo Among ‘Unsung Heroes’ Of Backstretch Community

Longtime New York Racing Association, Inc. (NYRA) employees Nick Garafola and Veronica Gallardo have worked valiantly for the racing community amid the COVID-19 pandemic in the dormitories located on the Belmont Park backstretch.

Garafola and Gallardo have a combined 37 years of experience at NYRA. On Belmont’s vast backstretch, they’re responsible for the housing and well-being of a small city: anywhere from 450 to 600 backstretch workers living in approximately 500 rooms among 69 cottages.

On March 19, 2020, NYRA voluntarily suspended live racing at Aqueduct Racetrack due to changing circumstances in the racing community relative to COVID-19 pandemic. Although racing was stopped, the essential work of caring for the more than 1,300 horses stabled at Belmont continued.

“That’s when you ask yourself, ‘how can I make a difference?’” said Garafola, who is NYRA’s Dormitory Supervisor.

Nearly a year later, Garafola and Gallardo, NYRA’s Assistant Dormitory Supervisor, are making a difference. They’re NYRA’s “first responders before the first responders,” as Garafola put it – as part of an expansive Belmont backstretch team responding to protocols and processes put in place to ensure the health and safety of the community, alerting medical professionals as needed and even serving as translators for a diverse group of backstretch workers.

“Nick and Veronica have played an important role in the day-to-day challenge of maintaining a safe working environment on the backstretch,” said Glen Kozak, NYRA’s Senior Vice President, Operations and Capital Projects. “They’ve done so with hard work and a lot of empathy, by adapting when needed and by following a strict set of protocols. This pandemic has created some unsung heroes in our business. They’re at the top of list.”

Gallardo and Garafola routinely go above and beyond the call of duty for their friends and extended family on the Belmont backstretch.
“If a resident goes into quarantine, we stay in touch,” said Gallardo. “Sometimes, there’s not much to say. We just want them to know we’re thinking of them and that we care.”

Garafola and Gallardo credit NYRA’s Preparedness and Response Plan Committee, comprised of key NYRA staff members as well as representatives of the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association (NYTHA), the New York Chapter of the Racetrack Chaplaincy of America (NYRTCA), the Backstretch Employee Service Team (B.E.S.T.), the Belmont Child Care Association (BCCA) and Premise Health – for taking an effective team approach to health issues, both big and small.

The committee has pitched in as needed, often on the fly. Last spring, in the early days of the pandemic, NYTHA received a shipment of several thousand face masks – at a period of time when masks could be hard to come by – and people from the committee groups made sure everyone on the backstretch received a mask and understood the importance of wearing one.

The team approach continues to pay off as representatives of NYRA, NYTHA, NYRTCA, B.E.S.T, and the BCCA have set up food banks, provided up-to-date communications on health care and distributed gift cards for groceries for the hundreds of Belmont-based backstretch workers and their families. Many of the tasks, too numerous to name, were performed essentially “on call” at all hours – and almost always involving Garafola and Gallardo.

“What Veronica and Nick do every single day is huge,” said Nick Caras, the NYRTCA’s Programs Director. “The hours don’t seem to matter to them. They just ‘do,’ helping us work together to make the backstretch safer for all.”

The post COVID-19: Nick Garafola, Veronica Gallardo Among ‘Unsung Heroes’ Of Backstretch Community appeared first on Horse Racing News | Paulick Report.

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