Friday, June 21, 2019

Santa Anita Workers Fear for Future (VIDEO)

At the Los Angeles Times, "For Santa Anita’s low-paid workers, horse deaths bring pain and fears about the future":

Dagoberto Lopez begins each workday at Santa Anita Park at 4:30 a.m., checking on the five horses under his care: War Beast, Of Good Report, Carnivorous, Kissable U and Juggles.

He checks their temperature. He makes sure they’ve had enough to eat. He gives them sponge baths. On race days, he braids their hair and talks to them, hoping they’re not nervous.

“They’re like another child for us,” said Lopez, a 63-year-old groom from Cudahy who has worked at the racetrack for 35 years. “They’re like humans. They just don’t talk.”

A steady beat of horse deaths at Santa Anita — 29 since the start of the race season Dec. 26 — has animal rights activists and politicians calling for the suspension of racing at the track. Gov. Gavin Newsom said last week that he was troubled by the fatalities and “enough is enough.”

But many of the roughly 1,500 humble backstretch workers like Lopez who labor behind the scenes — grooms, trainers, exercise riders and stable cleaners — say powerful people and the media are talking over them, unconcerned about their fate.

Among the employees, mostly low-wage Latinos, there is a growing sense of being an invisible underclass in the sport of kings.

On Thursday, with a June gloom haze hugging the San Gabriel Mountains behind them, dozens of backstretch workers and their families held a news conference at Clockers’ Corner, a dining patio beside the track, in an attempt to make their voices heard.

They held handmade signs behind a podium:

“We love our horses. We love our jobs,” one read.

“Soy madre soltera. Necesito mi trabajo,” read another. I am a single mother. I need my job.

From the podium, Arnie Lopez, a deacon who hosts Bible studies at Santa Anita and helps employees apply for U.S. citizenship, sprinkled holy water on the workers and said a quick prayer: “God, we give thanks for our jobs and the love we feel for our horses. Please don’t let something bad happen to our track.”

On Thursday, backstretch workers said they feel like the track has been vilified by journalists, politicians and animal welfare groups such as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. But few people, they said, talk to them.

Their biggest fear is that the track will be shut down permanently amid the controversy. Two other major California racetracks have been shuttered in recent years to make way for new development. Hollywood Park in Inglewood closed in 2013 after operating for 75 years, and Bay Meadows in San Mateo closed in 2008 after 74 seasons...