A mini-golf challenge leads to a bonanza for backstretch charities
by Jim Reisler
When NYRA TV analysts Andy Serling and Anthony Stabile kiddingly challenged one another to a mini-golf game during the Sunday, July 18 broadcast of Talking Horses at Saratoga Race Course, neither could ever have dreamed the outcome.
The joke quickly gained traction after Serling received a text from Kirk Wycoff of Three Diamonds Farm. “Make it a foursome – two-on-two. Get the losing team to donate $5,000 to New York-based backstretch charities,” Wycoff suggested.
And with that, the on-air challenge became a reality.
More texts and many more donations proceeded to pour in, including $5,000 from thoroughbred owner Louis Lazzinnaro of Nové Italian Restaurant in Wilton, N.Y., who encouraged some friends to give as well. And by the time the mini-golf game ended on Monday, August 2, it had raised $100,000 for New York-based backstretch organizations.
“It’s a testament to the generosity of people in horse racing,” said Serling, half of the Serling/Wycoff mini-golf team which took on Stabile and Lazzinnaro amidst the waterfalls and rotating windmill hazards at Goony Golf in Lake George, N.Y. “And it shows what can happen when a lot of people gather and are ready to have some fun, which affords the opportunity to create real benefit. That’s one of the beauties of Saratoga, which lends itself very well to that.”
Sharing the donations will be another foursome – the Saratoga-based aftercare organizations Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation and Old Friends at Cabin Creek; as well as the Racetrack Chaplaincy of America, New York Division, and the Belmont Child Care Association (BCCA), which serve backstretch communities in New York.
“The horse racing family is the greatest family in the world,” said Stabile. “While we’re competing for the same dollars, we’re still a family and when the chips are down, we’re there to lift each other up. We’re fortunate enough to be able to make our living at the track, so giving a little back to the people and to the horses who keep it going is the least we can do.”
Serling said the unique concept grew thanks to the generosity of Wycoff, Lazzinnaro and a lot of like-minded racing enthusiasts.
“It shows the commitment of people involved in horse racing and the importance of doing something for the workers on the backstretch and the horses, all of whom give so much to us,” he said. “Who would ever have figured that this is where a game of mini-golf would lead?”
Ah yes, the game.
“Kirk Wycoff is one of the greatest mini-golfers I’ve ever seen,” said Stabile.
Fortified by Wycoff’s three holes-in-one, the Serling/Wycoff team defeated Stabile and Lazzinnaro, otherwise known as “Team Nové,” by 15 strokes.
“In this case, it’s just fine to be on the short end,” said Stabile. “There’s no such thing as a donation that’s too small. But raising $100,000 for these great charities? I could never have predicted that – and it comes at an amazing time.”
Stabile refers specifically to the BCCA, where he serves as a member of the advisory board.
“There’s never a bad time to donate,” he said. “But given that the BCCA has just opened its Saratoga child care center to go along with the one they operate at Belmont Park, it’s great timing.”
Lazzinnaro agreed. “All are superstar organizations,” he said of the donation’s recipients. “The people who work there have dedicated their lives to what they do. That’s why it’s great this worked out.”