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Belmont stable owners insist foreign workers are needed for dirty jobs that NYers refuse to do

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NY Daily News


Edgar Sandoval and John Marzulli, DAILY NEWS STAFF WRITERS

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Horse handlers at Belmont Park do a crucial job that New Yorkers shun, say stable owners.(Ken Goldfield for NY …


It's a dirty job - and no one in New York wants to do it.

Or so say the stable owners at Belmont Park, who are battling the feds for the right to import foreign workers to take care of their Thoroughbreds.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services officials have said nay to the Long Island race track's request for temporary visas to let in nearly 100 grooms, hotwalkers and exercise riders.

The New York Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association has asked a judge to overturn the agency's ruling, claiming the move threatens to wreak havoc on the racing season.

New Yorkers, the association says, have failed to respond to help-wanted ads.

And the stable hands who work at Belmont say they know why.

"There are not a whole of people who want to do what we do. You have to wake up at 4 a.m. You have to clean the horses, care for them," said Jose Calderon, 31, who was handling horses at Belmont Park on Sunday.

He said the majority of workers at Belmont are Latinos.

"Without immigrants, this would not work properly," said Calderon, who got into the business at 16. "You really have to love thiswork."

"There aren't many people like us here," said Wanceslao Gutierrez, 29, a horse trainer.

"It can be a dangerous job. If you fall, you risk breaking your back. You also work seven days a week."

He grew up around horses in Puebla, Mexico. "I'm used to horses," he said. "You need people like that from our countries to do this kind of work."

"These are the behind-the-scenes workers that are the backbone of the racing industry, that bed down stalls, wash and care for the horses and put them through their exercise workouts on horseback on a daily basis," said Jim Gallagher, executive director of the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association.

"It cannot be stressed how important these individuals are to the success of any racing stable operation," he said in an affidavit filed in Brooklyn Federal Court.

Stable owners say they have already been forced to turn away horse owners because they don't have enough workers to care for their steeds.

Their suit contends H-2B temporary visas have been routinely approved in the past to hire workers - mostly from Mexico and South America.

The feds rejected the visa petitions - saying that the stable owners need year-round, not temporary, employees, because the workers are necessary in Florida after Belmont Park goes dark at the end of November.

Thus, the feds no longer consider the racing season "temporary," say papers.

The horsemen - who say that hiring seasonal workers in Florida should have no bearing on visas for the New York season - claim they've been unable to find qualified and willing workers locally through help-wanted ads and a state employment agency.

Famed trainer Claude (Shug) McGaughey said the shortage of temporary stable attendants may force him to lay off permanent employees.

Robert Nardoza, a spokesman for the Brooklyn U.S. attorney's civil division, which is defending the government in the suit, declined to comment.

jmarzulli@nydailynews.com

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