During the more than 20 years that Leroy Clement worked for the New York Racing Association, his family didn’t get to spend a lot of time with him in the summer, when his security job moved from the New York metropolitan area to Saratoga Springs. His wife Sonia worked as a nurse in New York City, and it didn’t make sense for his children to go upstate when Clement would be working six days a week.
But Saturday, they traveled from far and wide to honor Clement’s memory, nearly eight months after Clement died, with a race named “Patrolman Leroy Clement.”
Leroy’s sister Veronica and Sonia came from Brooklyn. His son Ronaldo came from Houston. His grandson Miles and wife Brittany came from Colorado, to see Clement honored at the place where he was something of a seasonal, local celebrity.
While Clement worked various posts at the different NYRA tracks — Saratoga Race Course, Belmont Park, and Aqueduct Racetrack — he had become a fixture at the entrance to the paddock at Saratoga. Paddock entry rules are few — no shorts, no drinks, no entry without a pass — but when you’ve got dozens of people streaming past you, some oblivious to those rules, some deliberately flouting them, you need a sharp eye, a firm tone, and a friendly demeanor. Clement had it all.
“Leroy had the single most thankless job in Saratoga,” said NYRA race analyst Andy Serling, who was contacted by Clement’s family when they wanted to arrange the tribute. “Nobody wants to be told they can’t go in the paddock, and he managed to somehow do it with no one disliking him. He was a terrific guy. After he retired, he came back and visited, and I’m so glad that we could give him a proper goodbye.”
Growing up in Panama, Clement had been drawn to the racetrack all his life, attending frequently both in his home country and in New York after he and Sonia moved to Brooklyn in 1969. The couple lived in Flatbush and raised their family there: Leroy Jr., who lives in Japan and works for the Army Corps of Engineers; Ronaldo, a Houston resident who works for the Department of Homeland Security; and Carol, who lives and teaches in Queens. They had been married for 57 years.
After retiring from Citibank, Clement could spend even more time at the track, which was fine with Sonia. She had one suggestion for him.
“I told him, ‘If you’re going to spend all that time there, you might as well get a job,’” she recounted from a table in the Saratoga clubhouse on Saturday.
She met Leroy at a Christmas party in Panama when she was 15, he 16.
“And that was it,” she said. “He was the love of my life. I miss him.”
Clement suffered from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and when COVID hit New York City hard in March 2020, Clement wasn’t as active as he’d usually been. He died in January at 79 years old.
“I guess the COPD caught up to him,” said his son Ronaldo. “He had a heart attack.”
Ronaldo is the only member of his family who inherited a fondness for racing from his father; he worked as a parking attendant in Saratoga in 2008, and he continued to follow the sport even after Leroy retired. He hit a Pick 5 on Father’s Day that paid $19,000.
“I know Pop was looking down on me,” he said.
It was Ronaldo who came up with the idea of honoring his father at the place he loved so much, and where he was so loved.
Greeting the family in the paddock before the race, trainer James Bond said, “I hope that we can win this one for him.”
The race was won by Mark Casse’s Sinfully Sweet; partnership powerhouse West Point Thoroughbreds also had a horse in the race, Quick Power Nap, that finished third. West Point’s executive vice president Tom Bellhouse got choked up talking about Clement.
“With our partnership, we always had a lot of people at the track, and the paddock was one of the most important parts of the experience,” he said. “Leroy was one of my favorite people. I used to connect with Ronaldo and him at the Pegasus Stakes at Gulfstream Park in the winter. He was always so kind to me.”
Ronaldo had other friends who had joined him for the day; unfortunately, some of them were wearing shorts, which are not permitted in the winner’s circle, so security said that they had to wait outside during the ceremony.
Which is, no doubt, exactly what Leroy would have said.