By Katie Ritz
It's three days before Christmas, a time when most young Americans can be found lounging on the couch binging on Netflix and cookies, but Merlin Cano is busy on the backside of Churchill Downs.
Most of the trainers have already packed up and headed for warmer climates. A few trucks roll by carrying used straw or unused hay, remnants of the hive of activity this backstretch was just a few weeks ago. All is quiet for now, but Merlin knows there is still much to be done.
Merlin is a member of the team at the Backside Learning Center (BLC)–an organization located on the Churchill Downs backside that serves as a resource center for the equine backstretch community, providing educational programs and services and promoting community amongst the backstretch workers and their families.
At 20 years old and around a hundred pounds, Merlin loads up the BLC's van to the brim with holiday gift baskets filled with blankets, fruits, gift cards, coats and more. She heads out to Oakdale Avenue to journey through the streets of downtown Louisville.
She knows the roads surrounding the track like the back of her hand and soon arrives at the house of Angelica Solano and her four children. The family receives new shoes for each of the children along with food for a holiday feast.
When asked what the BLC has done for her family, Solano replied, “The Backside Learning Center has helped me translate the letters and mail I receive. I'm thankful because they have supported my kids with homework and they've provided us with several food distributions. They're always making sure we're doing okay and helping us with whatever we need.”