Just beyond the stable gate at Belmont Park, within earshot of the galloping fillies and disgruntled gamblers, 2,000 employees labor on the racetrack's backstretch.
As a rule, they speak Spanish and begin the day at about 5 a.m. Because so many have children, this presents a monumental problem. After all, there aren't many day-care centers on the border of Queens and Long Island that accommodate workers adhering to farmers' hours.
Until recently, the children were left to fend for themselves, hanging out in cars or trainers' offices, or sitting home and watching novelas with older siblings, who'd miss school themselves. Another option—according to Donna Chenkin, director of the Belmont Child Care Association—was being wedged into "illegal babysitting" arrangements, accompanied by a dozen or so other kids and one weary overseer with little incentive to teach.
Then, in 2003, Chenkin's organization started the first day-care center on the grounds of an American racetrack, opening the doors at about 4:45 a.m., seven days a week, 365 days a year.
Belmont Park's Backstretch Plays Home To a Most Unusual Day-Care Center