Cómo App Connects Backstretch Workers to Services


With more chaplains and backstretch services directors coming on board, a recently launched mobile app is connecting backstretch workers to available services.

Funded by Godolphin USA, designed by The Jockey Club Information Services, and operated by Thoroughbred Charities of America, the recently launched app, Cómo, connects workers to services. With many chaplains on the backstretch coordinating traditional spiritual needs, as well as social services, they have been signing on to provide such information to workers.

Oddly enough it would be an impressive bricks and mortar location in Newmarket that would seed the idea of the app. A few years ago on a trip to Newmarket, Godolphin USA Charities director Katie LaMonica was impressed by The Racing Centre, a community hub open to horse farm and backstretch workers that aims to offer everything from social, to fitness, to educational, and spiritual options.

“As everything does in England, it started as a pub and gradually they started building off the pub. They added a huge gym for sporting events. They added a workout facility and a rehab trainer for exercise riders that get injured,” LaMonica said of the operation launched in 1893. “All the trainers in Newmarket pay for the equipment in the workout room. You’ll see a treadmill donated by Saeed bin Suroor. And then upstairs they had a computer lab for continuing education. The chaplains had a room for counseling services. They had sort of a health clinic.”

That started LaMonica thinking about the possibility of such centers in prominent racing locations in the U.S. While that has not come together in the form of a physical location, LaMonica said in discussing ways to provide such opportunities and services for backstretch workers with TCA executive director Erin Crady, they thought an app could prove beneficial.

“When we were really thinking of putting this building together, because we need to take care of our people, what we found is that there are loads of services available to our workers. It’s just a lot of times they don’t know about them,” LaMonica said. “Without their chaplain or having a trusted source of information telling them what is available, they won’t know.”

With that in mind, LaMonica and Crady thought an app that informs workers of the available services—from medical and dental services, to special meals, to education and English classes, social gatherings, and worship services—would prove a tangible benefit.

Research was conducted that found that backstretch workers do have access to smart phones to participate. The app is available in English and Spanish. (To download the app, go to the App Store and search “Cómo resources you need” or click for directions in English or Spanish on using a QR code to download.)

In a feature that is rare to apps, Cómo allows for push notifications but maintains privacy—it does not recognize or track a person’s location. The push notifications can be useful to relay important breaking information—like an extreme weather situation or rescheduling of a backstretch event.

Humberto Chavez, chaplain for the New York Race Track Chaplaincy, said people who have downloaded the app are engaging in it and they soon will be encouraging more people to download the app.

“It’s a great tool to know what’s happening in the area. From what I’ve seen here, it’s been a great tool for information. So we’re blessed to be able to have that,” Chavez said. “Here in New York we’ve been focused on some other things, but we’re picking it up right now to get more information on the app out there to our folks. It’s simple, it’s very accurate, and if you engage with it, obviously, it will benefit you—whether you’re the user or the one providing the information.”

LaMonica and Crady acknowledged that some of the content providers, chaplains and service organization directors, have not all had experience using such technology. Efforts have been made to help them get started. Chavez said chaplains and backstretch organizations should not be intimidated.

“From East to West to North to South, engage with it because it’s a real good tool for at least our ministry within the chaplaincy realm and for our backstretch workers,” Chavez said. “Those are the people that we serve.”

The app currently features information from 35 chaplains and industry organizations from throughout the country with nearly 2,000 users. That reach allows mobile workers to follow information providers if they move to a new track or region throughout the year.

“Obviously the app is national in scope,” Crady said. “If we had a bricks and mortar, that would just be specific to Lexington or wherever it was built. Whereas with the app, there are people throughout the country participating.”

As Blue Grass Farms Charities executive director Julie Berry noted when the app launched in November, it’s an efficient way of getting information out to people who need it.

“Since the inception of Cómo, Blue Grass Farms Charities has used the application to reach out to the farm and track workers in Central Kentucky when food items are available, health screenings are scheduled, and family programs are implemented like our upcoming Festival of Christmas event,” Berry said. “We’ve received a positive response, and it is reassuring to know that information is being given directly to the horsemen. We are building trust when the Cómo app is used.”

As for the bricks-and-mortar idea that kind of got the ball rolling, LaMonica still believes that could be a special facility if down the road it could be built in the United States.

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