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The Conscience of Thoroughbred Racing


By John Pricci and Mark Berner —

Carmen Barrera, for whom there will be a memorial service on Monday in Saratoga and Tuesday on Long Island, died her sleep last Thursday. Her passing sent a thunderbolt of hurt throughout New York racing to anyone who knew her.

And everyone knew Carmen Barrera.

                                                                                           Carmen Barrera

Mark Berner and I are turf writers and handicapping analysts, not horsemen, but there wasn’t a time that either of us can recall when exchanging greetings with Carmen wasn’t the equivalent of an emotional embrace.

Carmen was a warm, sweet soul—and very good at her job. One doesn’t work anywhere for 41 years without being good at what they do. And that, too, was Carmen.

Luis and Carmen Barrera Facebook photo

Carmen’s dad Luis was a humble man and a good enough horseman to win the Belmont Stakes with Summing, ridden by another born racetracker, George Martens. An aside:

Summing was a press box favorite and everyone got excited when he carried Martens up the fence and into the lead to stay.

Everyone loved Georgie, liked Carmen’s dad, and her uncle, Laz. Turf writers are born suckers for racetrack-family stories.

Pleasant Colony may have been seeking his place in racing history but that renewal was special because lil’ Georgie grew up in the press box.

George’s dad “Buddy” was a jockey, served in the military, returned and exercised Tom Fool among other Greentree cracks, moonlighting afternoons operating the stewards’ elevator.

Whenever school was out, George was in the press box. Now it’s 1981 and Carmen already had been working on the racetrack for three years; 1978, the year her uncle won the Triple Crown with Affirmed.

Luis Barrera leads Summing to the winner’s circle after winning the 1981 Belmont Stakes, George Martens aboard Facebook photo

 “George Martens rode a great race,” Carmen recalled last year, remembering the year Summing foiled the bid of an aspiring Triple Crown champion.

And now it’s August 8, 2019 and NYRA employees gathered in the Saratoga winners circle after the day’s second race for a moment of silent remembrance.

I was trackside at Saratoga Friday morning and, quite literally, she was the first thing on the lips of anyone I hadn’t seen since the Belmont, or the most recent Saratoga, or the Belmont before that.

There were no words, only shaking heads, faces tinged with sadness. New York racing had just lost a close member of the family.

“She was the heart and soul of the race office,” said NYRA Board member Michael Dubb to Bloodhorse.

“She was the bedrock. She was always pleasant, she always smiled, she was one of those people no one could ever say a bad word.”

And so to say that Carmen Barrera will be missed would be redundant. HRI extends its condolences to Carmen’s family; both of them.

©, All Rights Reserved, 2019

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⚠ Before you comment

Our staff likes nothing better than to engage with the HRI Faithful and provide a forum for interaction on horseracing and sports. In that spirit, please be kind and reasonable; keep the language clean, and the tone civil. Comments from those who cannot comply will be deleted. Thank you.

23 Responses

  1. Was it John or Mark that ripped off my Dubb quote from the BloodHorse? Have you no shame, to steal a quotation at all, but much less in a story honoring this woman?

    As a reminder: three years ago the two of you also used a photograph of mine, without attribution or permission, and you ignored an e-mail that I sent you about it.

  2. Teresa Genaro:

    As a teacher, I’m sure you are aware that comments, even on the Internet, can be framed in such a way so as not be antagonistic. Clearly, you chose a different tack. I was shocked and disappointed that you would choose the term “ripping off.” My response:

    I take total responsibility for using the Dubb quote without the attribution “as told to Bloodhorse.” Guilty as charged.

    Interesting that this should be at issue considering the tone of the piece that is the remembrance of a friend, a fellow racetracker, the acknowledgment and tribute to a truly good person from any walk of life.

    Second, I wrote this piece myself. Knowing that Mark was closer to Carmen than I on a daily basis when we both worked NYRA tracks full time, I offered to share a byline with him. He liked the idea, so we did it. This was not about Mark or myself; it was about Carmen.

    Continuing on, “do I (we) have no shame” and “much less in a story honoring this woman?” Do you honestly think that any disrespect was intended?

    As far as the photo incident with Mark from three years ago, that is a matter for you and him to resolve. In context of the piece referenced, your mention of this was gratuitous, especially since you admitted that you didn’t know who authored the story.

    Either way, this was not the proper venue to raise a three year old issue–talk about disrespecting the subject of a story.

    For someone purporting to be a journalist, that was a rather wide brushstroke, don’t you think?

    With all the things in the game, or the world, that requires record straightening, this is what moved you to comment on HRI for the first time in 14 years, to the best of my memory?

    The Michael Dubb quote was one of four or five in your Bloodhorse piece. I chose it because it encapsulated the love that NY racetrackers had for Carmen Barrera so that those who never met her could get a glimpse into a racetrack life well lived.

    Again, apologies for lifting a quote, one I’m sure will be repeated elsewhere, with or without attribution. What’s really disappointing is that I expected a bit more perspective from a colleague.

    John Pricci, executive editor

    1. Given that you ignored the e-mail that I sent you last time this happened, I had no confidence that you would respond this time. And as this is the third time that this happened, with HRI work taking mine without credit, it would seem that the time for professional courtesy is long past, unless of course, you are talking about your own, which is sorely missing, along with your journalistic integrity.

  3. At the risk of interjecting myself into a conversation in which I might not belong and for the sake of stemming escalation, might I suggest that the story receive the necessary attribution for the source of the quote and be reposted?

  4. Hey John, good idea, I am not going to re-post, but will edit the piece to include the Bloodhorse attribution instead.

    Teresa, I do not ignore emails, especially from people I know.

    I do not know, nor remember, being involved in any issue involving a photograph. Again, I suggest this was an issue for you and Mark to resolve.

    The third time this has happened? Well, that’s just not true; I disavow any knowledge of a third incident.

    You already have gotten an apology, and an explanation, which apparently you choose not to accept. I can live with that.

    As for journalistic integrity, I have a body of work that spans a half-century, and while at Newsday was recognized by the New York State Associated Press Association (an investigative piece with Mark Berner) in 1986 and by the New York Newspaper Publishers Association “Sports Coverage Award of Excellence” in 1990-91. I can live with that, too.

    This is the last time I will engage on this topic. The original story has been updated.

  5. In the words of the late Rodney King, “can’t we all just get along?” I have been deleted, not by Pricci, but then I realized I veered way off topic and my remarks bore little fruit to what the column was about. I also poked fun at another frequent commenter which was self-indulgent and unnecessary so I, like Pricci, can live with that, too. For the record, I enjoyed the photo of Summing returning to the winner’s circle after Belmont upset. I was there and Pricci is correct in noting that Martens was a big crowd favorite. And what a crowd it was…

  6. Ms. Genaro,
    I had enjoyed reading your observations for quite some time. As your post here was the first of yours I’ve seen in years, however, I now wonder whether my Google searches no longer find commentary of yours on issues I follow closely, or if some other explanation should be inferred by its content.

    Our words communicate our attitudes and perspectives as well as our observations and opinions. Accurately or not, they form the basis for respect and confidence on the part of readers for their author.

    Apparently the self-inflicted strangling of racing by its self-interested lack of cooperation and transparency, has trickled down to its chroniclers.

  7. Mal, your comments appear above, so I really don’t know what you are referencing… Either way, I hope this is the end of this subject.

    Commenters are deleted because of foul language use and personal attacks that are antithetical to problem solving and widely accepted truths. Criticism is welcome, and that’s why forums such as this exists.

    We all benefit when discourse informs, entertains and hopefully is a force for good. Hell, the game would not exist were it not for disparate opinions.

  8. Well said. I was deleted by Mr. Jicha, ostensibly bc I referenced the oft-repeated term, casino dole (yes, Alice, I did that). What this subject underscores, I think, is how sensitive we all can be at times. But, in my above-referenced example, Mr. Jicha was right to push the delete button (if he did this, Alice) because I shouldn’t take pot shots at an informed regular commentator who often makes good points about subsidies tracks receive from slots, etc. Not sure why he favors Mid-Atlantic tracks, ‘tho. I personally like Sam Houston and Lone Star, but not the quarters. Blink and the race is over. Once heard a well-worn tale about a time when Conrail would ferry horseplayers to Bowie in MD. A snowstorm ensued and the train came to a halt not far from the Bowie station. The gamblers got off the train to walk through snow drifts as they wanted to make the early double! My first outing to Aqueduct by A train in early ’70’s also kinda interesting. The train arrived at around 12:20 and when the doors opened people started running down the ramp towards the track. I asked someone why they were running and was told, “they want to make the double.” First race only back then had a DD. Thanks, John, for your comments about commenting.

  9. Mal, I did not want to become a member of the thread police; need and would rather spend time on keeping up with actual events; the news.

    I, too, either heard or read the Bowie story and once, when I had a bank job in NYC, I feigned illness and caught the ‘A’ once, but only once, and I can say that I personally witnessed horseplayers rushing down the ramp to make the one and only daily double. That’s when the game was good.

    Then some genius decided that betting horses to win, place or show had to compete with lotteries, and bets began to become more exotic. Could that have been the beginning of the end of what made horse racing–one man’s horse against another–so special?

  10. Yes, and don’t forget the Cross Country Pick 5 and Stronach 5. Remember Harvey Pack TV commercial where he throws ping pong balls up in the air (lottery) and says, “What would you rather have, this (ping pong balls) or this (stretch run at track)?” Looks like the ping pong balls won, ha, ha. Checked Man O’ War stats and was blown away. And I thought Seattle Slew was good (he was). Slew was purchased for 17.5k, that has to be the bargain of the century (last century), huh? One of the owners was a vet and saw something that others didn’t. Good eye.

  11. Have a story Mal you should like…

    I covered the Florida Derby live, usually watch early races on a monitor so I can follow simulcasts.

    But love to watch all big events on the apron to feel the crowd and enjoy the moment.

    There’s a set of stairs at the end of the grandstand next to the horse path. I go out with about five minutes to post, climb up the steps and on step three are Jim and Sally Hill.

    As I went by, I said “I still can’t believe you bought that horse for $17,000.” We all laughed then watched Luis Saez walk the dog with Maximum Security.

    1. Yes, Dr. Jim Hill studied Animal Horse Husbandry, talk about choosing the right course of study. Remember Slew breaking out of the gate poorly in KY Derby and then, no problem. Went to Preakness to watch him jog and the friend told me to use Iron Constitution behind him in exacta. Did I listen? No, just settled for the $2.60 win mutual. Hill graduated from the same high school I went to but years earlier. Saw him once in city at an event but decided not to go over to him and gush about his horse, ha, ha. The way I heard it at the yearling sale Slew had a weird hind quarters or something odd that scared off other would-be buyers. Hill saw what they missed and the rest is racing history.

  12. Got a laugh from Alice when Mr. Pricci wrote above ‘ commenters are deleted because of foul language use and personal attacks’. Really?
    Been trying to comprehend why the ‘Before you comment’ paragraph exists above that the Executive Director, Mr. Pricci, seems to totally ignore.

    Mr. Jicha: From my reading of the above comments, I guess you deflected yet another attack on my splendid reputation. After ten plus years reading personal attacks here at HRI, I just reach for another Foster’s, the past performances for tomorrow, and look for the damn ‘thing’ to kick down the hallway.

  13. Slew paid $2.80 in Preakness. My bad (hey, it was 42 years ago, Alice). Also, Mr. Corrow, you are another reason I read these “comments” so don’t stop now. I like your take on things, especially the casino influence on purses. I want to buy a horse because of it (kidding). Why play Wheel of Fortune at $5.00 a pop when you can just enter a race for $70,000 and maybe even win. You can’t beat this deal.

    1. Slew paid $2.20 in The Wood, not $2.10 (even longer ago, Alice). Ten cents is ten cents. Watch the pennies and the dollars will take care of themselves someone once said. Wish I had listened.

    1. And share insights (yours’ and the other writers) that we might not understand or consider. Such a nuanced game, horseracing is. Angle horses, trainer moves, golden rails, this is not for the faint of heart. I know some players who gave up and went to betting numbers. This proves how hard it is. What keeps us coming back is the beauty of the sport, the horses themselves, and the possibility of winning. Someone told me a long time ago that on any given day only 5 out of 100 people actually leave track with more than they came with. Not sure if that is true (how would they know, Alice?) but it may be close to true. Nothing worse than being up $500.00 after the second race and leaving a loser for the night (day). Thanks to all of you for providing this forum. The commentary is great fun to read, after your installments about such a great sport, The Sport of Kings.

  14. Mal, speaking for myself, and I think for Mark, we’ve been lucky to earn a living at what otherwise would be a lifelong hobby.

    It certainly keeps you humble and my love of the game, the challenge of handicapping, and wagering, keeps me coming back despite all the obstacles. And there are many…

  15. Hang in Mal, being a true horseplayer is a marathon, not a sprint. Contract your focus, keep the bets reasonable and the tide will turn. And for you Alice, perhaps simpler is better; how about the straight pools?

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