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Backstretch Employee Service Team (B.E.S.T) co-hosts art show at Hofstra

By Nailah Ellis Timberlake

The Backstretch Employee Service Team (B.E.S.T) has teamed up with Hofstra University for a second straight year to co-host "The Art of Racing," featuring photographs and paintings by grooms, exercise riders and hotwalkers from Aqueduct Racetrack, Belmont Park and Saratoga Race Course.
The exhibit depicts everyday life at the racetrack and was organized by B.E.S.T and Hofstra University's Special Collections Department and adds to a growing collection of Hispanic and Latino works that the university has maintained since 2003.
"We're always looking for ways to partner with different groups in our community and this exhibit gave us the opportunity to combine our community and art," said Geri Solomon, Assistant Dean of Special Collections & University Archivist. "We've done this for two years and everyone loves it and is continually impressed by the quality of the artwork."
One of this year's featured artists, Amira Chichakly, has worked in the barns at Belmont Park for two years as a hot walker for trainer Gary Contessa. Her painting "Alpha with Ramon Dominguez" depicts the multiple graded stakes winner being ridden by Dominguez, a recently retired award winning jockey, who was among those who have visited the exhibit.
"I wanted to take advantage of the opportunity to show a side of me that most people don't get to see - few people get a chance to create something beautiful in the little bit of free time that we have and it's amazing to be able to share it," said Chichakly, a native of New Hampshire. "It was scary and touching at the same time when Ramon Dominguez walked up to my painting and looked at it - he really liked it and he came up to me and we talked a little about it." 
On opening night, B.E.S.T and Hofstra received citations for their partnership and community efforts from Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano. Saxophonist, flutist, clarinetist and two-time Grammy Award nominee Jay Rodriguez performed along with pianist Pablo Vergara. New York State Senators Kemp Hannon and Jack Martins, along with Assemblyman Edward Ra and Assemblywoman Michaelle Solages, attended the event.
B.E.S.T is a non-profit advocacy and support group for the employees of the backstretch that provides health care and insurance services to workers. Backstretch employees are also provided with educational opportunities such as groom school, language skills and computer literacy classes.
"One of the things we want to do is share with the surrounding community the lives of the people who work on the backstretch and to create a sense of neighborliness," said Paul Ruchames, Executive Director of B.E.S.T. "The art show is a great way to deepen our relationship with Hofstra."
The exhibit will run through November 15th on the 10th floor of the Joan and Donald E. Axinn Library on the South Campus of Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y. The library is open from 8:00 am - midnight Monday through Thursday, from 8:00 a.m.-9:00 p.m. on Friday, from 9:00 a.m.-9:00 p.m. on Saturday and from 10:00 a.m.-11:00 p.m. on Sunday.