White Horse Award Goes to Racetrack Hero

Leigh Gray is the winner of the 2003 White Horse Award, a new program established to recognize heroic deeds by track workers. By Joanne Meszoly for EQUUS magazine.

Racetrack feats that have nothing to do with photo finishes or hitting trifectas are being recognized under a new award program established by the Race Track Chaplaincy of America (RTCA).

The White Horse Award goes to a racetrack worker whose single act of heroism has saved a person or horse from harm. Reverend Ed Donnally, a former jockey who serves as the RTCA’s development director, says that the award honors “people on the backstretch who have skilled jobs handling horses but get so little recognition.”

Grooms, hot walkers, exercise riders, pony riders, outriders and assistant starters and other support employees at racetracks, training facilities or at racing-related horse farms are eligible for the award, which received its unusual name because “there are [few] white Thoroughbreds [in the U.S.], and I like to say that a true hero is rarer than a white Thoroughbred,” says Donnally. Award nominations, which will be accepted until the winner is announced in October, need only provide basic information about the candidate along with a description of his or her noteworthy act. Leading candidates might include “someone who stood in front of a loose horse to keep it from running in the road, or an outrider who caught a runaway horse or an assistant starter who pulled a jockey to safety,” explains Donnally, who adds that workers at virtually any flat or harness racetrack are eligible. Last year, a former exercise rider and footman on a carriage earned the award in recognition for stopping a runaway four-horse carriage at a racetrack.

Each year the top four candidates for the White Horse Award are recognized during the Breeders’ Cup Championship. The winner will receive a bronze statue and a cash award donated by contributors to the program.

To submit a nomination or for more information, call the RTCA’s national office at Hollywood Park at (310) 419-1640 or email Ed Donnally at [email protected].

This article originally appeared in the March 2003 issue of EQUUS magazine.

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