Jean Claude Jaramillo says his favorite memories working at the New York Racing Association are easy choices: being a part of the security horse detail of the last two Triple Crown winners: Justify in 2018 and American Pharoah in 2015.
But it’s not the highlight. “That I get to be a part of this team is what I’m proudest of here,” says Jaramillo, an equine investigator specialist on NYRA’s four-person Safety and Integrity team and the new chair of the global Organization of Racing Investigators (ORI), whose members are employed by racing organizations, tracks, government, police, and regulatory entities as well as private security firms to ensure compliance with the laws that govern professional horse racing.
“Working back here, you realize that we’re all in the same boat in working for the welfare of the horses,” he says.
“Here” are the vast backstretches of Belmont Park, Saratoga Race Course and Aqueduct Racetracks where Jaramillo and other NYRA team members – Safety Stewards Hugh Gallagher, Juan Dominguez and Tim Kelly – dedicate themselves to enhancing existing safety protocols.
On this frosty winter morning, Jaramillo conducted barn inspections – checking that the horses have adequate bedding, water and feed inside their stalls. He also inspects the equine medications and even the prescription labels and expiration dates. From there, he makes stops at the training track and the clockers stand, where trainers and anyone on the backstretch can go to him with an issue – anything, big or small.
Welcome to the NYRA Safety and Integrity team’s “boots-on-the-ground” strategy in seeing to the welfare of horses. Ranging from monitoring and observing daily backside activities to following up on leads that may involve the inappropriate or illegal use of medications and ensuring that the training rules are followed, the team makes recommendations to NYRA, New York State and Jockey Club stewards to ensure the integrity of racing and compliance with horse racing laws and regulations.
“Horsemen know we’re a constant presence on the backstretch, at the training track for morning workouts and in the barn areas,” said Gallagher. “They also know that they can come to us at any time and for anything from a significant safety issue or concern to a burned-out light bulb. It’s to everyone’s advantage to make safety the absolute top priority.”
Gallagher, Dominguez and Kelly are all experienced horsemen who grew up in racing families. Dominguez joined NYRA in 2000 and is in his fifth decade in racing in different capacities, including trainer, jockey agent, investigator; and, since 2017, as an alternate steward. Kelly served as NYRA’s Clerk of Scales prior to joining the Safety and Integrity Team. A son of Hall of Fame trainer Thomas J. Kelly, he is a former trainer himself and a graduate of the Racing Officials Accreditation Program (ROAP). Gallagher became NYRA’s first Safety Steward in 2014 and has officiated races in his home state of Maryland, as well as Illinois, New Jersey, Florida and other jurisdictions.
Jaramillo traces his love of racing to a day in 2002 when watching television as a youngster growing up in the Queens section of New York City, he turned by chance to the Breeders’ Cup on NBC and was captivated. Joining NYRA in 2011 as a peace officer, Jaramillo joined the safety team as an Equine Investigator in 2016. At the root of his team’s work, he says, is “building bridges to the horsemen and building trust because after all, the welfare of the horses is the most important thing for all of us.”
Another way Jaramillo is building those bridges is through the ORI, whose members chose him to a one-year term as Chair at their annual meeting this week in Albuquerque, N.M.
At this year’s meeting, ORI members took part on presentations from experts and racing officials on safety issues related to track conditions, the conflict of issues between horsemen and officials, a demonstration of an equine drug dog and an update on digital tattoos. And members often visit one another’s tracks and facilities throughout the year to learn and share best practices.
Back at Belmont Park, Jaramillo touches base with NYRA head outrider Miguel Gutierrez; the outriders play a criticial role in helping the Safety and Integrity team enforce the rules during morning training. Later, he’ll head to the receiving barn at Aqueduct Racetrack to check the equipment and tack boxes of the “shippers” – those horsemen headed for afternoon racing from somewhere besides Belmont.
“Working at NYRA is a chance to be involved in the Belmont Stakes, the third jewel of the Triple Crown, and at Saratoga, the best meet in the country,” Jaramillo says. “But most of all, it’s an opportunity to learn from experienced people and to do what we can to enhance the safety of our sport. One look at these spectacular horses and you realize that this is important work. It’s an honor to be a part of it.”
Accredited by the National Thoroughbred Racing Association Safety and Integrity Alliance, NYRA is a founding member of the Thoroughbred Safety Coalition, a group of the nation’s leading racing organizations working collaboratively to advance safety reforms across the sport.
For more information on NYRA safety and integrity measures, please visit https://www.nyrainc.com/about/nyra-safety.
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