“This is so much FUN!”

That’s what I heard, over and over, the night of the Belmont Child Care Association benefit last month, and in the days following.

“That was so much FUN!”

First-timers and veterans gathered for adult lemonades amid an array of silent auction items before entering the dining room at the Gideon Putnam, bedecked to resemble a country fair.

The evening’s honorees were Fasig-Tipton and Blue Horse Charities, the latter of which was founded by John Hettinger after years of working for the auction company, to work for a dignified retirement for retired racehorses.

As usual, the racing community turned out in full force to offer its time and its money to the children of the backstretch workers, who find in Anna House a safe and educational place for their children to learn and grow. Anna House is open 365 days a year at 5 a.m., offering low cost child care and education to the children of the people who take care of the horses.

In attendance on August 27 were Tracy and Todd Pletcher, John and Tonya Terranova, John and Leona Velazquez, Edgar Prado, Javier and Abby Castellano, Ramon and Sharon Dominguez, David and Fay Donk, Charles Hayward and Betsy Senior, Kiaran McLaughlin, Anthony Dutrow, Rick Violette, Rudy Rodriguez, Dominic Galluscio, Angel Cordero, and Chad Brown, among others whom I have almost certainly missed. D. Wayne Lukas, known by his own admission for being a master at separating people from their money, assumed his usual role as the auctioneer.

BCCA board chairman Michael Dubb kicked off the evening by talking about the recent expansion of Anna House, which will allow enrollment to be increased from 50 children to 70 and provide room for after-school programs for older children.  He then took his seat next to Michael Repole, and the two men who were competing for the Saratoga owner’s title also competed in the bidding for a series of live auction items.

The first item on offer was a large stuffed horse, reportedly coveted by young Hannah Pletcher, who raised her hand to bid with the approbation of her parents. But even a Pletcher can’t compete with a Repole, and it was Mike Repole who got the horse with a bid of $1,100. He promptly brought it to Hannah, who was reportedly overjoyed.

But the Repole family didn’t go home empty handed; Mike’s wife Maria was the winning bidder on a $10,000 blue topaz necklace, leading both Ed DeRosa and Nicole Russo to quip on Twitter, “Keepspendingmaria!”

Not to be outdone, Dubb forked over $11,500 for a private jet to the Breeders’ Cup.

Pletcher reprised his role as Lukas assistant when the auction began, with both current and former jockeys lending a hand as bid spotters.

When two bidders went head-to-head on a chance to be Velazquez’s valet and the bidding reached $5,000, the jockey stepped in and announced that he’d offer both of them the chance, bringing in $10,000 for the children of Anna House.

And when owner Susan Moore won an EZ-GO golf cart in the raffle, she donated it back to the auction, bringing $7,000 from owner Michael Imperio and BCCA board member Libby Loftus.

And lest you should be worried, yours truly did not go home empty-handed. No, I didn’t get my hands on that Breeders’ Cup private jet, and I won’t be heading to Paris any time soon….but I did secure this little gem, fighting my way past several silent auction bidders to bring it home.

In recent years, the benefit has ended with Lukas exhorting guests to fill out tuition cards placed on the tables, on which donors can select an amount to donate directly to Anna House tuition. This year, that pot was sweetened by Joe and Jo Ford of Westrock Stables, who have horses with Lukas. The Fords pledged to match all “sponsor a child” donations up to $25,000, later announcing that even if the donations didn’t reach that amount, they would still donate $25,000.

They need not have worried, because the Anna House faithful met the challenge, donating more than the requested amount.

The evening raised more than a quarter of a million dollars. Dining on country fare food of pork, cole slaw, and baked beans, many wearing jeans, the several hundred people who showed up relaxed, socialized, and reached for their credit cards to support the children of Anna House.

Back at Belmont, the good folks responsible for the BCCA – among them Donna and Stuart Chenkin, Fay Donk, and Michael Dubb – will use that money to furnish the new classrooms; to pay the teachers; and to purchase educational items for the children in its care, who range from infants to five-year-olds.

On behalf of the Belmont Child Care Association, thank you, from the bottom of our hearts, to all of you who put the event together, who volunteered your time, who bought a ticket, who purchased an item, who donated money. As Michael Dubb says, “At Anna House, there’s no bad news. It’s all about the kids, and it’s all good.”  And that is due, in large part, to your kindness and generosity. Thank you.

Fay Donk, BCCA board president

All photos have been generously provided, free of charge, by Mark Bolles of Creative Photo and Graphic.  To respect his generosity and copyright, I ask that you please not post them elsewhere.

5 thoughts on ““This is so much FUN!”

  1. Happy you like your Silent Auction item so much. I donated it and am pleased it went to someone who really appreciates it! BTW, great article!

  2. Sounds like a wonderful event, and God knows a good cause profited from the generosity of all in attendance…good to know in this wretched economy that there are still those in a position to make difference financially for others!

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