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Stable business gets busy at Belmont Park

Eleanor Petersen, 78, a former seamstress who has

Eleanor Petersen, 78, a former seamstress who has worked for Thybens Stable Supply at Belmont Race Track for 43 years, repairs a saddle. Among other things, Petersen specializes in hand-embroidering jockey silks with custom emblems. (June 6, 2012) Credit: Newsday/J. Conrad Williams, Jr.

Pen in hand, Thomas Roedel walked up to the barn and opened his book of invoices. He climbed under a wooden plank, making his way through the glistening racehorses being walked around the shed row.

"Benjamin!' Roedel called out, as the foreman emerged. "You need anything?"

"Three Furazone, one Ichthammol and latex gloves," the foreman told Roedel, who nodded, scribbled down the names of the supplies and was on his way.

It has been the same routine for Roedel, 67, six days a week, for almost 40 years. As the sun rises, he goes, by foot and by car, to each of the 63 barns at Belmont Park in Elmont, checking who needs what from Thybens Stable Supply, the store he and his wife Susan, of Merrick, run together.

In the week leading up to Saturday's Belmont Stakes, they have been especially busy -- tending to the everyday needs of the racehorses, both claimers and stakes winners. No matter how expensive the horse, they all need the basics.

"We operate our business like they did years ago, when doctors made house calls," said Roedel, who married into the horse supply business after he met Susan, 58, in his native Germany.

She is the daughter of Ray Hoey, who took over the store following World War II after operating a horse farm in Upper Brookville. But Thybens has been in her family since 1917 -- two years before thoroughbred Sir Barton won the first-ever Triple Crown. The shop, which originally sold hardware, had two locations on Hempstead Turnpike, moving onto Belmont six years ago.

The store is crammed with the necessities: bandages, linament, shampoo, sheet cotton, buckets, racing tack, pads, blankets, helmets, whips, blinkers ... the list goes on and on.

"We try very hard to have everything," said Susan Roedel, "and there's a ton of other stuff you don't see." She said the shop is most hectic in the early morning, when the racing crowd is exercising horses and taking stock of inventory.

Thomas Roedel takes the orders, and the same day they are delivered by Frank Mantione, an affable man who knows every square inch of Belmont and Aqueduct.

"I start at 7 a.m. and by 10 or 10:30, they have their merchandise," said Roedel.

Throughout the day, trainers, jockeys, owner and grooms stop by, taking the ever-present cookies as they leave. They have had their share of famous people come in.

"Lucien Lauren was a customer, and so was Ron Turcotte," said Susan, referring to Secretariat's trainer and jockey.

But there also are the everyday folk from the backstretch.

"It's a great place to work," Mantione said, waving to a rider from his van.

Last week, Leah Gyarmati, a trainer, came into Thybens for rubbing alcohol and leg wraps. "With a small operation like mine, they understand the difficulties," she said. "When you're not doing well and struggling to pay the bills, they work with you."

And in the back of the shop is the person Susan Roedel calls "our Thybens treasure" -- Eleanor Petersen, 78, a former seamstress who has worked for Thybens for 43 years, doing their leather repairs.

Among other things, Petersen specializes in hand-embroidering jockey silks with custom emblems.

"I made a casket for an owner who was a funeral director, and pink peonies for a florist," said Petersen, who made a set of silks for Secretariat's rider.

Each day, Roedel takes back to the barns the bridles, halters and saddles that Petersen has repaired. "That's beautiful!" said one trainer as he looked over Petersen's careful work in reattaching a leather leadshank to its gold chain.

Some of Thybens' customers are regulars. Some buy every now and then. Trainer Patrick Reynolds gave Roedel a greeting when he came by, but placed no order. "I only deal with Tom when my American Express gold card is up to date," he joked.

Roedel was already moving on to the next barn. "If you need me," he called out, "you know where to get me."

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