NYRA Cares: "The love of the horse" drives Wolfendale-Morley's dedication to equine-related causes
by NYRA Press Office
NYRA TV paddock analyst and third-generation horsewoman Maggie Wolfendale-Morley’s commitment to horses kicks into gear most mornings before dawn. Awakened by an early alarm, she often accompanies her husband, trainer Tom Morley, to the Belmont Park backstretch for training. Once there, Wolfendale-Morley gallops horses and assists around the barn – all the while checking in on the couple’s two daughters, 4-year-old Grace and Willow, who just turned 1.
Afternoons can get busier. On racing days, Wolfendale-Morley is stationed in Belmont Park’s paddock, where she offers the kind of pre-race analysis that has made her one of the most respected broadcasters in the game. The many responsibilities – ensuring that both she and Morley get time with their daughters while also preparing for each broadcast – leads to a packed schedule.
So how does that leave time for Wolfendale-Morley’s passion for equine-related causes, particularly thoroughbred aftercare?
“That’s always the challenge, and the simple answer is that I make the time,” Wolfendale-Morley said with a laugh. “My dedication to racing-related causes is just something I’ve always deeply cared about. We’re not in this game for any other reason but the love of the horse. So, you find the time and make it work.”
Take a 9-year-old Off-the-Track Thoroughbred (OTTB) named Zandar, Wolfendale-Morley’s self-described aftercare “project” of the moment and a horse who the Morleys owned and trained for a time in his racing days. They kept track of Zander and brought him back home last fall.
Now, Wolfendale-Morley rides Zandar most mornings in hopes of grooming him to be a horse she can use to ride out on the track during broadcasts to interview the winning jockey after a major stakes race.
Zandar is a work in progress – a “sweet-natured and kind-heated horse,” Wolfendale-Morley says, but still a little too skittish for broadcast duties. The hope is with enough training and personal attention, he’ll succeed Wolfendale-Morley’s longtime broadcast OTTB, Yeager, who passed away last winter from colic.
Wolfendale-Morley’s commitment to thoroughbred aftercare and other equine-related causes is deep. She serves on boards of the Belmont Child Care Association (BCCA) and the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation (TRF), a Saratoga-based organization accredited by the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance (TAA). NYRA and its horsemen are committed supporters of the TAA, which accredits, inspects, and awards grants to approved aftercare organizations using industry-wide funding.
Every owner competing at NYRA racetracks donates $10 per start to the TAA, which funds the aftercare organizations that provide homes for retired racehorses. New York’s horsemen also donate 1.5 percent of the purchase price of every horse claimed at a NYRA track to TAA and the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association’s TAKE THE LEAD (TTL) program, which provides preliminary vet exams and treatment, as well as costs related to transportation and rehabilitation or retraining.
At Saratoga, where summers can be filled with charity-related galas and events, Wolfendale is often on-hand at fund raisers to speak with fans, interview a panel or host an auction that benefits racing-related non-profits.
In April, Wolfendale-Morley’s branched into yet another phase of her aftercare commitment by launching the podcast, “Off Track.” Coordinated with the TRF, “Off Track” (https://www.trfinc.org/offtrack/) details stories of thoroughbreds who transitioned from the track to find successful and happy second careers – and the caring owners who helped them get there.
“Maggie is so passionate about Thoroughbred racing,” says BCCA Executive Director Joanne K. Adams. “She’s exceedingly dedicated to the welfare of horses and supporting the backstretch community toward the goal of making our cherished sport the best it can be. We’re so fortunate to benefit from Maggie’s enthusiasm, knowledge, and talent, and most privileged to have her friendship.”
The daughter of Maryland-based trainer Howard Wolfendale, Wolfendale-Morley practically grew up at the barn – her father’s barn 18 at Laurel Park, to be precise. First on a horse at age 2, she began riding a collection of aftercare horses at 10, which she continued to do in horse shows and dressage competition. At 16, Wolfendale-Morley turned to galloping horses at Laurel, all gaining a deep appreciation for the importance of giving OTTBs a second chance.
Attending college at Towson University, Wolfendale-Morley straddled two worlds by studying broadcasting, while continuing to gallop in the mornings. “I loved working with the horses, and realized with broadcasting, I might be able be able to marry the two. I feel like the luckiest girl in the world that I got to do that.”
After earning her degree from Towson, Wolfendale worked on-camera for both the Maryland Jockey Club and Colonial Downs in Virginia. Wolfendale-Morley joined the NYRA TV team in the fall of 2010 and quickly earned a reputation as one of racing’s top analysts. Thanks to her early immersion in the sport, she is an expert on horse conformation, which she combines with considerable prep work in order to dispense tools and information from the paddock to horseplayers. And depending on the day, she often pulls double duty, interviewing the winning rider or trainer in the winner’s circle.
“There is a lot of prep work, much of which I do in between the races and in homework in the evenings at home after the kids have gone to sleep,” Wolfendale-Morley says. “But I’ve been doing this for a while now, and the reps make you better, keep you in the zone.”
The key to making it all work, Wolfendale-Morley adds, is a supportive network. Wolfendale-Morley’s mother, Tammy, is a rock in helping out with the Morleys’ daughters. She and Tom are the same page in terms of child rearing; accordingly, Maggie’s time at the barn in the mornings is often dependent on the needs of their girls. “We’re a case study in time management,” she jokes. “Some days, you’re going to fail because there are never enough hours in the day. You accept that and keep going.”
All point back to the things that matter – family and horses – and the constant challenge of time. One look at Zandar, Wolfendale-Morley admits, is to realize that making it work is worth the commitment.
“Aftercare never gets old,” she says. “It’s so rewarding to give a second chance and a second career to a horse. To see the change in them, well, it’s time well-spent. We’ll have to see if Zandar is up to the challenge.”
Five furlongs with…Ralph Esposito
The Belmont/Elmont Parade will return this year, slated for Friday, May 29 in the week before the 153rd running of the Grade 1, $1.5 million Belmont Stakes on June 5. The parade, which was not held in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, will be modified in scope and practices in the interest of safety for all participants. The 13th running of the parade will honor Paul Sapienza, the long-time Elmont Chamber of Commerce president and owner of the Elmont-based Sapienza Bake Shop who passed away in December.
This month’s edition of NYRA Cares features an interview with Ralph Esposito, the director of the Nassau County Veterans Agency and a committee member for the parade who has been a key part of the celebration since its first running in 2007.
View the parade flyer here: https://www.fpbsd.org/Page/4797
The Belmont/Elmont Parade is back this year – how excited are you for this event to return and what are you looking forward to the most this year?
“I’m really looking forward to it; it’s a big thing for us and the community. It helps to rally the community and we really need the unity. We have a great staff and everybody knows what they have to do for this parade. We are one family in Elmont. We’re very diversified but we all get along, and that’s what I love about them.”
Any public event in the current climate is conducted differently due to the nature of the pandemic. What are some of the differences in how the parade will be run compared to previous years?
“It’ll be a shorter parade; we’re going to start at Floral Park Memorial High School. I received permission for the library to utilize 50 of their parking spots so people can leave their cars there. We’ll have a bus that transports them to the start of the parade and then takes them back. I know the Nassau County executive [Laura Curran] will be there. Even with some of the changes, we’re still all coming together.”
After not being able to run the parade last year, how important is it for the Elmont community to have an event like this and rally around a historic event in the Belmont Stakes?
“It means a lot to the community to have this event. When we started, I was the first grand marshal, and we’ve been picking different grand marshals ever since. But it’ll be good for everyone, since for more than a year, everyone’s felt trapped because of the pandemic. To get that sense of unity back is very important.”
Editor’s note: This year’s grand marshals will be Frank Hrbek and Gene Vanhaaren
This year’s parade is named in honor of longtime Elmont Chamber of Commerce president Paul Sapienza, who passed away in December 2020. As the owner of the Sapienza Bake Shop and his work for the Elmont community, what extra significance will this parade have to help honor his memory and his contributions?
“I was on the chamber of commerce with Paul and he was the one who asked me to join. I represent the Elmont Fire Department and the American Legion. It was an honor for me to be part of it. Paul did so much for the community and we are honored to name this parade for him. He did so much and helped a lot of people in the community. He helped us get this parade started, so the community owes him a lot. On Memorial Day, we’re going to put a memorial stone in Veterans Square. We’ll unveil the stone then, and two days before is the parade, so it’ll be nice to honor someone who has done so much.”
This parade started in 2007. What’s been the most gratifying element for you as you’ve seen this event grow over the years?
“When we started out, we had 600-700 people and then it grew to well over a thousand. I get asked why there aren’t more people watching the parade – it’s because they are marching in it. It’s a community event. It is getting larger and larger. Having the community together, along with the cooperation of NYRA and our partnership, has been great. They’ve done so much for us and we really appreciate it. We’ve done food drives at the racetrack and they participate in everything we ask. There’s a lot of cooperation.”
In the community...
The Saratoga Springs Preservation Foundation announced the return of the Historic Homes Tour. The foundation will meet virtually on Mother’s Day weekend, May 8 and 9 to celebrate the community’s rich architectural heritage. For more information, visit https://www.saratogapreservation.org/calendar/historic-homes-tour/
The Belmont Child Care Association will hold its 2021 Spring Fling virtually this year, with the event coinciding with the Belmont Stakes Racing Festival from Thursday, June 3 to Belmont Stakes Day, June 5. This year, the Virtual Spring Fling will honor Dr. Angela M. Jaggar, president of the Angela and Scott Jaggar Foundation, and Erin King Sweeney, president of King Sweeney Strategies. Visit https://www.belmontchildcare.org/ for more information.
A helping hand…
The New York Race Track Chaplaincy of America is sponsoring a Mother’s Day initiative to hand-deliver gift baskets to mothers who work on the backstretch by the NY Chaplaincy at Belmont Park, Aqueduct Racetrack, and Saratoga Race Course. To send a gift basket, or donate towards one, please click the link below. Each basket will be lovingly prepared and include an assortment of toiletries and special gifts and will be delivered by the New York Chaplaincy.
For more information, visit: https://www.flipcause.com/secure/cause_pdetails/MTE0MDg3
About NYRA Cares
The New York Racing Association, Inc. (NYRA), which holds the exclusive franchise to conduct thoroughbred racing at Aqueduct Racetrack, Belmont Park and Saratoga Race Course, sponsors its NYRA Cares initiative to support the charitable endeavors of industry-related non-profits, service providers and community groups.
In New York, NYRA has long provided sustaining financial contributions to deepen the impact of the Backstretch Employee Service Team (BEST), the Racetrack Chaplaincy of New York and the Belmont Child Care Association (BCCA).
NYRA Cares partners with national organizations such as the Permanently Disabled Jockeys Fund, the Breast Cancer Research Foundation, the American Red Cross, Ronald McDonald House Charities and the Marine Corps Toys for Tots Program among others.
The Belmont Stakes Racing Festival is marked by a number of special events and community partnerships sponsored and supported by NYRA. These include the annual Belmont/Elmont Parade, the jockey visit to the Ronald McDonald House of Long Island and the Belmont Stakes Blue Ribbon Run for Prostate Cancer.
Day 1 of the Belmont Stakes Racing Festival is highlighted by NYRA 's annual "Community Day", which will take place in 2021 on June 3. Community Day shines a light on the mission and goals of regional non-profits and service providers who set up informational booths and participate in various activities designed to raise awareness and funding for their efforts.
At historic Saratoga Race Course, NYRA Cares’ signature initiative is the Community Outreach Booth, which each season highlights a total of 40 local and industry non-profit organizations by providing them with a unique platform to share information about their work and fundraising initiatives. One non-profit per day of the summer racing season receives the exclusive opportunity to interact with the thousands of guests who visit Saratoga Race Course. The Community Partner of the Day is also featured in the Post Parade racing program and on televisions throughout the venue.
To learn more about NYRA Cares, visit: https://www.nyrainc.com/community.