Image by Davis Innovation

Caring for Thoroughbreds requires a seven-day work week starting around 4:00 AM and ending at 5:00 PM, with a three-hour break in the afternoon. Despite their demanding schedules, backside workers love their jobs and enjoy the tight-knit community of hardworking and optimistic individuals striving to make a better life for themselves and their families. 

Get to know the individuals who dedicate their lives to one of Kentucky's greatest passions. 

Maria & Angel Donis

Thoroughbred racing  horse groom, Maria Herrera wears many hats. Outside of taking care of thoroughbreds, she is mother of 11 year old Angel and a three-year BLC student. Having come from Guatemala, Maria struggled to learn English and understand and navigate essential U.S. systems like health care and education. Before her involvement with the BLC, Maria attempted to learn English at a different organization, but had a difficult time attending classes due to her demanding work schedule. Regardless, she persisted and tried to find resources for herself and Angel.

Frustrated with her inability to communicate her and her son’s needs at doctor’s appointments, teacher conferences, or simply at restaurants and stores, Maria made the decision to enroll herself and her son in the BLC’s Family Education Program where she attended ESL classes that catered to her schedule while Angel received academic help based on his specific needs. The decision opened up many doors for Maria and Angel. Maria developed her English speaking, reading and writing and Angel received the help he needed to complete his homework, improve his reading and math skills, and cultivate learning strategies. In addition, Maria found a place to help her translate paperwork, schedule appointments, and access needed resources for herself and Angel.

After three years in the program, Maria is now able to accomplish many of these tasks on her own. While she continues to attend English class and bring her son to the program for academic support, she is now able to speak, read, and write English. Communicating her and Angel’s needs in any situation that might arise is no longer a struggle, and her accomplishments have made her a leader in her own community. “Now,” she happily mentions, “I have people coming to me for help rather than me seeking out help from others.” 

Maria is a testament to the hard working, dedicated, and motivated community working in one of Louisville’s most loved traditions- horse racing. The community embodies a motto held by Maria and most BLC students: Si se quiere, se puede- Where there’s a will, there’s a way

Beto Montes

Beto came to the US in April of 2015. He came to Churchill Downs to join his father-in-law, who has been working here for the last two years.  Other than the one family member, Beto did not know anyone else in the state of Kentucky.  Beto is from the state of Sinaloa, Mexico.  Beto graduated from high school in his home village of Agua Caliente Grande, then attended preparatory (pre-university) for two years.  But due to his family’s economic situation he was unable to continue because of the cost of paying for bus fare each way to preparatory, which was about 10 miles away.  He worked for one year picking tomatoes, cucumber, eggplant and other vegetables, then worked packaging produce for export.  These jobs were seven days a week, 10 hours a day. 

The economic situation in Beto’s area has continued to decline, along with the security of the population. As the narco gangs have moved from major cities into rural areas, Beto shared that people can no longer go out at night or have any belongings of value since they will be immediately confiscated by people working for the cartels. Beto made the difficult decision of coming to the U.S. to work and provide a better life for his family. He is working as a hotwalker, and to make extra money he does the laundry for his barn and also waters the horses every evening. Beto has not missed one day of classes in the twelve weeks that he has been attending. He also participates in extra activities such as guitar lessons, weekly Language Exchanges and field trips. He is one of our most motivated students and has quickly progressed as a result. He spends most afternoons at the BLC where he has the opportunity to practice his English with staff, volunteers and English-speaking backside employees. Thank you Beto for your dedication and for serving as such an inspiration to everyone at the BLC!

Silvio Hernandez

Silvio is from Santa Rosa, Guatemala and he has been in the United States for three years. He is a groom. One of his favorite things to do as a groom is go to the races and watch the horses run. He attends English class at the Learning Center multiple times a week, where he has made several friends. Often times after class you can find Silvio spending time with other students and volunteers at the center or out dancing. When asked what he likes about the BLC, he said “I like everything. I like the teachers.” He believes that the Learning Center has helped improve his English, which will open many doors in his life here in the United States.

Salomon Orellana

Salomon is from Tocoa, Colon, Honduras. Back in Honduras he completed 6 years of school and took care of his family’s animals. His family worked partly in agriculture and partly in business in Honduras. He came to the United States two years ago, because his father and three brothers were already working with horses in the U.S. He wanted to be able to also help his family by sending money to his mom and other siblings. Salomon says that he has two other siblings, a brother and a sister, who live in Honduras. At only eighteen years old, Salomon works hard in the U.S. to help support his family.

Here at Churchill Downs, Salomon is an exercise rider and loves his job. He grew up with animals, because his family had horses, cows, chickens, turkeys, and pigs. Since Salomon is very familiar with animals, he is not afraid of the horses he rides at the track. He was able to become an exercise rider shortly after coming to the U.S., because his brother’s boss offered him the opportunity to learn. He’s been an exercise rider for a year and a half now and is currently working for Phil Bauer.


Salomon comes to the BLC because he wants to learn English. He is incredibly dedicated to his classes, because he says that he believes learning English is very important. All of his teachers and the staff here at the BLC have been impressed by his persistence in not only regularly attending classes, but also in asking lots of questions and practicing conversation whenever he can! He mentioned that he greatly appreciates coming to the BLC since he does not have to leave the track to go to English classes. He loves working at Churchill Downs because there are more opportunities and easily accessible classes at the BLC.

Henry Fernando Osorio

Henry was born in San Rosa, Guatemala and has a wife and two young children who still live there. In Guatemala, he was a Spanish teacher for the adults in his community who did not know how to read and write. His mother, father, and 4 siblings still live there today. Henry is a new student at the Backside Learning Center, but attends as many English classes as he can. He is a very motivated and hard working individual who is always smiling. When asked what he likes about the BLC, he said "everything!" In his free time, Henry likes to watch soccer and listen to music. Thank you Henry for your infectious laughter and positivity! 

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