Not many people, in the course of their lives, get to experience the “highs” of anticipation, expectation and sheer glamour that this day provides for the thoroughbred racehorse owner. Depending on the size of your stable, furthermore, this is a thrill that recurs every few days to few weeks.
Whether your horse wins, finishes in the money, or simply runs a good race, the experience of this day, for a horseman, is LIVING.
Your trainer and the barn staff will be intensely living the excitement along with you, from the moment they awake. The horse, if it has raced before, will soon know “what day it is:” unusual things happen.
First, the racer will get a “light” breakfast at about daybreak – and the trainer will check to see if he or she “ate up,” that is, felt fit and finished all the feed. The trainer will take the horse’s temperature, just to make sure nothing is amiss. At some early hour, the Official (State) Veterinarian will be by for a pre-race examination. The vet will run experienced hands down the horse’s forelegs, checking for signs of swelling or heat. He will ask the groom to walk the horse back and forth, to check for soreness or “favoring” (and in some cases, will ask to see the horse briefly trotted or jogged right there at the barn). Finally, he will check the tattoo on the inside of the thoroughbred’s upper lip and make sure it matches the official Jockey Club Registration number assigned to the horse’s name.
At some point in the morning, the horse may be walked – or perhaps jogged or galloped on the track for a few minutes – for a warm-up. (Horses are never “worked” on race day). After that, and a bath, the horse will be muzzled to keep it from any further eating. Like all professional athletes, it will do better in competition on a light stomach.
If the horse is a known “bleeder,” the trainer’s vet will come by about four hours before race time and inject it with no more than 5 ccs of a diuretic – usually Lasix. This is a completely legal drug (in proper doses) which will lower the horse’s blood pressure and reduce the risk of bleeding from the small, thin-walled capillaries of its nose, throat and lungs under the stress of hard running.
Some trainers, in addition, will have the horse stand in a foreleg ice-bath for up to 90 minutes to relieve any nagging discomfort that might distract it from running its best race.
Now is when the trainer and assistant trainer – and the owner, if you been to the barn that morning – go to change into more formal wear for the festivities ahead.
An hour or less before the designated race time, your trainer will receive the “20 minute call,” summoning your horse to the Receiving Barn for a final “walk-by” witnessed by the Official Veterinarian. The Horseshoe Inspector will check to see that your horse’s shoes are legal (i.e., “stickers” are sometime not permitted) and in good condition. An official called the Horse Identifier will again verify the horse’s lip tattoo, as well as its color and markings, against its file – a Jockey Club Registration Certificate and photographs. After that, your trainer, the trainer’s assistant, your horse and its handler will go to the saddling paddock, where it will come under the watchful jurisdiction of the Racing Veterinarian. At this point, the Paddock Judge will check and note the gear your trainer has brought for your horse. There are a half-dozen or more bits which may be used to curb a horse’s tendency to drift in or out. A tongue-tie is used to be sure the horse’s tongue won’t obstruct its air passage. Blinkers, hood-goggles, and even ear-muffs are part of racing equipment for many horses: they may keep a flighty or fractious horse’s mind on the race. But the use – or decision not to use – of any of these devices must be cleared with the Paddock Judge prior to the race (and in the case of blinkers, prior to the issuance of the Overnights). Finally, the jockeys’ valets bring out their saddles and help the trainers secure this scant but crucial gear onto the horses.
When the official preparation is over, your trainer finishes with a ritual as old and as beautiful as horseracing itself. For all those who say racing is “just a business,” they should witness this moment of highly personal contact, filled with hope, that sends these wondrous athletes into competition: a pat on the neck, sometimes even a kiss, and a few special words whispered in the horse’s ear comprise a racing “pep talk” in a private language. As an owner, these are moments you won’t want to miss.
Once in the walking ring, the trainer will often introduce you to your jockey, and then discuss with the jockey what kind of race the horse wants to run or is likely to run. Every eye in the pack of spectators near the saddling paddock will at some point be on your horse, your trainer and you. Up in the stands, fans will be watching to see the horse’s “mood,” and overlays and underlays to the “morning line” will take place largely as a result of what the fans witness in the walking ring.
Unless your horse is in the first race of the day, you (as the owner) will already have been seated for the race and will now return to your table or box.
At all the major California tracks, the racing associations (by contract with TOC) provide owners of horses racing that day with free admission to the track and usually free Club House or Turf Club seating for the owners’ party. The “perks” for such occasions vary in generosity from track to track, and from race to race. At least one day in advance of your horse’s race (or as soon as the “Overnights” are published), please remember to contact the track’s Owner Liasion (see Appendices for names and numbers) and arrange for the complimentary service entitled to you. The Liaisons can also help you find suitable accommodations and transportation if you’re coming in from out of town for the race. Should you experience any delay or difficulty in making these arrangements, contact your TOC representative at that track for prompt assistance.
Once the trumpet and the post parade and the loading into the gate have been accomplished, the race – from the words “And away they go!” – is likely to become a mighty adrenaline blur (not to mention a surrealistic time-warp) for any devoted owner. Nevertheless, should you see on the monitor or through your binoculars anything that looks like interference (bumping by another horse, or another jockey’s whip hitting your horse), you are free to go to any of the Stewards’ Hot Lines (or “Quick Lines”) and register a protest. Obviously, it’s a sound practice to find out where these phones are before the race, since all protests affecting horses “in the money” will necessarily take place in a matter of minutes, if not seconds, after the finish of the race.
Though there is a group of at least three Stewards carefully watching every race – and though they generally have Patrol Judges with walkie-talkies stationed at the 1/8th pole, the 3/8ths pole and the finish line – any trainer, owner, or riding jockey can still “claim foul” and request a hold on the posting of “Official” results until the Stewards have re-run and studied the race tape to carefully judge the consequences and magnitude of the complaint.
Once the “official” result has been posted, however, the outcome of the race – barring positive drug tests or legitimate contests regarding ownership – will stand, and the purses will be distributed accordingly.
Your horse may win – by a nose, by a length, or by a mile. Don’t hesitate! Start down to the Winner’s Circle, bringing along whomever you want to help you celebrate, and savor every step. The track photographer will be there to record the scene of your trainer and jockey on and around your winning steed, and you beaming close by. The track’s racing association will make available to you (yes, for a price) not only these “winning” photos, but often a videotape of the race, and even a copy of the breathtaking “photo finish,” if there was one. You should frame these pictures: you have earned these moments.
(If your horse came in Place or Show, you can also request videotapes of the race to make the purse you have collected even sweeter.)
Final notes: Though you can fairly confidently look forward to your purse check, you will unfortunately not be able to physically take possession of your “win money” for at least five days (the time it takes for the mandatory drug-tests on winners to come back from the State-appointed lab). To avoid any further delays in collecting your money make certain that, if you cannot pick up the check yourself, you have (by original, signed letter) “nominated” someone else – either a partner or your trainer – to collect from the Paymaster of Purses any money your horse may have won. (As an alternative, you can leave your winnings ”on account” with the Paymaster of Purses at the track, making future claims and the depositing of Jockey’s fees an easier matter). If your horse has been claimed, on the other hand, you can collect your reward the same day (but only if you do it quickly: the Paymaster’s office closes very soon after the end of the last race of the day!).
No matter how your horse finished (provided it was not injured) you will have had a great day… a day that few others on the planet, and only a few score in history, can truly appreciate.