A Western round-up for Anna House

Last Wednesday, the Belmont Child Care Association held its annual and major benefit for the children of Anna House. Having outgrown its traditional home at the Gideon Putnam, this year’s event was held at the City Center…and the good news is that it, too, felt crowded at times, testimony to the commitment of so many people to this worthy cause.

The Belmont Child Care Association, on the grounds of Belmont Park, offers very low cost child care to the backstretch workers; open 365 days a year, it opens at 5 a.m. daily and accepts children from infancy to five years old, when they go to kindergarten.

The Western theme of the event means that it’s the one big fundraiser that you can attend in jeans…and many of the participants did so. Some came decked out in true Western garb, others in casual wear, others dressed up; what a relief to attend a party without worrying what you’re going to wear!

The evening kicked off with the silent auction; a mélange of hundreds of items tempted attendees, including wine baskets; concert and sporting event tickets; meals at local and New York City restaurants; jewelry; and art, among other offerings. One was a tempting little linocut by a Sir William Nicholson (1872 – 1949); from an alphabet book, it depicted a man on a horse, with the caption “J is for Jockey.” I was unfortunately quickly and significantly outbid, so it went home with someone else.

This year’s honorees were Tracy and Todd Pletcher; the honorary co-chairs were John and Leona Velazquez. Eugene Melnyk, owner of Flower Alley among other well-known racehorses (and the owner of the Ottawa Senators, for the hockey fans out there), opened the evening by discussing the importance of the BCCA and his commitment to it; a major donor to Anna House, Melnyk is an honorary board member and donated $1 million to the construction of the facility that is named for one of his daughters.

Following Melnyk were the Velazquezes, and the usually voluble John leaned his head into the microphone his wife was holding and said, “I will not be speaking,” eliciting laughter from the guests. Leona spoke on his behalf, thanking Donna and Stuart Chenkin, directors of the BCCA, and Fay Donk, its president, and introducing the Pletchers.

With his usual humility, Todd noted that he and his wife were “the wrong people to be honored,” reiterating Leona’s comments that the true honorees were those people, especially Fay Donk and Michael Dubb, who work for and contribute to the BCCA. He told the story of a man who’s worked at the Pletcher barns for eleven years, and whose twin daughters attend Anna House. “Cesar is the backbone of our organization,” Pletcher said, noting the relief of the workers who know that their children are looked after.

D. Wayne Lukas served as the event’s auctioneer, opening his part of the evening by recounting a time when he was approached by a fan: “Mr. Zito, could I have your autograph, please?” The live auction items could make a race fan salivate: a trip to Tokyo and tickets to the 2008 Japan Cup; a trip to Saratoga for a day at the races—transport on a private plane from New York City, VIP seating at the track, and dinner at the Wishing Well; a trip to the 2009 Kentucky Oaks and Derby. Not all live auction items were racing-focused: trips to Italy and the California wine country were on offer, as well as original art and tickets to the U.S. golf Open. Bidding was fast and furious, and the evening raised nearly $300,000 for the BCCA.

This year’s benefit may have passed, but your opportunity to donate has not. Year round, the Belmont Child Care Association accepts donations of various types; you can donate money; you can donate American Express rewards points, which can be converted to cash or airline tickets to be used at a fundraiser; you can donate auction items. In early December, Anna House holds a holiday party at which the children can choose presents to give to their family members, so you can donate items or money to be used in their purchase. You can donate your time, by visiting the BCCA and volunteering.

I can’t think of another child care agency that opens every day, or that opens at 5 a.m. Just as the horses need to be cared for each day, whether it’s a holiday or not, so too do the children of those who take care of the horses. Instead of having their children sleep in the car as they work (not an uncommon occurrence), backstretch workers can, as Pletcher pointed out, do their jobs knowing that their children are in a safe, educational facility, close to where they work. Congratulations to the Chenkins and to Fay Donk, whose efforts made this successful evening possible.

In April, The Blood-Horse published a piece by Donna Chenkin on the inception of the Belmont Child Care Association and Anna House; it’s worth a read, and the organization is worth your time and money. And hey, it throws a heck of a party…

4 thoughts on “A Western round-up for Anna House

  1. The fact that you need to beg, borrow, or steal your press credentials from NYRA is criminal. It should be delivered to your door with clubhouse seats.Great piece.

  2. Thanks. And to be fair, after some initial hiccups, NYRA has been great. Those clubhouse seats are a great idea, though…

  3. Two clarifications, neither of which I am sure is necessary, but:I went to the benefit as a guest and a volunteer, not to report on it–that was a side benefit.And the BCCA is independent of NYRA. Anna House is on the grounds of Belmont and NYRA contributes, but it’s an independent entity with its own board. Thanks, Saratoga Spa. Glad to know that folks are interested.

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