My name is Jayro Lopez and I’m a second generation backstretch worker. I’m what’s called a “hot walker” and I handle horses after a race and training to help cool them down, monitoring them and ensuring that they are properly recovering. My dad taught me about trade when I was just 16 years old and it’s something that most of our family relies on. I have eight uncles and six cousins who have worked in the back stretch of Santa Anita, in addition to my father and younger brother. I’ve grown up here and the rest of the backstretch is quite literally my family. But they’re also my friends, my support system and my community.
This week, I am proud to graduate from Cal State Long Beach with an honors degree in sociology. I’m excited about a career in counseling or law enforcement because I want to give back to the community – to show kids like me that they can get ahead in life too. It’s because of the Edwin Gregson Foundation scholarship offered to the kids of back stretch workers that this is even possible, so while some may see working at the track as just a job, for me and my family – it’s been the gateway to a life of possibility.
While I’ve been focused on school for the last few years, I’ve been able to work with my family at Santa Anita and Del Mar race tracks during the summers to earn important money that helps me to support myself so I can focus on my studies through the year. I’ve had the huge privilege of being able to travel with five horses to race at Belmont Park and Saratoga Race Track in New York, which has exposed me to new places and cities I may never have gotten to see.
Beyond giving me a community that I feel so plugged into, working on the backstretch has taught me about caring for horses in a way that I never would have otherwise. Every day I come to work and I feel grateful to have such a close connection with these truly magnificent animals. I’ve learned so much about horses, but I’ve also learned so much about dedication and work ethic – lessons that have helped me succeed not just at work, but at school and as I look ahead.
Before this terrible pandemic hit California, there were rumors about regulations that would restrict horse racing in a way that would cut thousands of jobs. I hope that when this uncertain time passes and we’re all allowed to prep our horses for racing again, everyone can see and understand what a community these tracks are to the tens and thousands of us workers who support the industry.
The horse racing industry has given my family opportunities we otherwise wouldn’t have been afforded and I hope that our stories are taken into consideration as the future of racing is debated.