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Racing chaplain in New Mexico seeks to help jockeys, horses

Sep 7, 2019

  RUIDOSO, N.M. (AP) — A southern New Mexico chaplain has been working for years to calm the nerves of competitive jockeys and often asks prayers for racing horses.

For nearly two decades, Chaplain Darrell Winter has offered his services at the Ruidoso Down Racetrack in Ruidoso and believes his role gives needed spiritual relief amid pressures of big purses, Carlsbad Current Argus reports .

Before the first race each day at the Downs, Winter goes to the barns, the jockey's preparation room and yes, even inside the sauna, to provide devotions. Winter, 66, said he knows the jockey's don't have time to come to his chapel so he brings the chapel wherever they require it.

For those who don't speak English, his assistants Fabian Crespo and his son Ezekiel Crespo translate devotionals to Spanish. But his work goes beyond simply providing a quick prayer to anyone who requests one.

"It's very rewarding work," Winter said. "Ministering to people who are hard working to experience the joy when they win a race. Even to be with them when they don't win and can look at the positive side like their horse ran a good race. It's good to encourage them and to give them a good foundation of spiritual food."

A Southern Baptist preacher, Winter is ordained by both the North American Mission Board and Racetrack Chaplaincy of America.

During the racing season, especially in the season finale All-American races with more than $4 million on the line, the jockeys are under a lot of pressure physically, mentally and spiritually. Winter said he knows the importance of being in the right state of mind before racing a half-ton or heavier animal.

Isaias Enriquez has spent 10 years racing in Ruidoso and is one of those jockeys who enjoys everything Winter provides.

"It centers you and relaxes you at the same time to help you see that God is on your side," Enriquez said. "It makes you feel that somebody is looking after us. This chaplain is doing a lot of good things on the backside with the kids like the Kids Club. My kid loves it. As parents it takes pressure off. They know when they drop their kids off they're going to be perfectly safe when you come and pick them up."

Jeff True, general manager of the Ruidoso Downs Racetrack, said he likes the chaplaincy being available to everyone who comes out to the racetrack, regardless of who or where those people come from.

"It's a resource for these folks to go to," True said. "It's designed for the back side, but people on our front side like our concessionaires, work at the casino janitors or even the executives on the second floor (of the racetrack), we've got access to it. There's a close symbiotic relationship between the front side and the back side with respect to the chaplaincy and how they perform here."

Winter's prayers and devotions are simple: He never asks God to favor one racer over another, just to ensure everyone is safe during the race and to continue to lead good lives once the races are finished.