Racing has always been a world within the world. It has brought many smiles and tears to my eyes, and red-faced anger at times. But, in the sporting world I have never seen the generosity and compassion that lives and breathes on the backside of the track. There is stiff competition on the oval, but afterwards you will find some of the best people in the world working and doing their life’s work.
Christmas was always a big event for the backside. Many folks live in dorms, and are far away from home. Some find it tough to buy a gift for their children, and others are in dire need of medical assistance. If you have doubted the spirit of the season, make your way back and join in. Santa is always making his rounds for the children, and there are clothes and family necessities for daily life. You can always count on a turkey dinner with all the fixins, and a dessert tray that would entice your sweet tooth. The event was put on by Father Niehaus and his “special” helpers. People that hit every store in town for donations, and track management always helped out with some appreciated food deliveries.
One evening, I went back for dinner. It was great to see the lifeblood of the track. The folks who do battle on the track daily were having the best evening together as friends. Some fans believe the races just happen when they show up. But, there are hard-working people from all walks, working seven days a week around the clock to make to get the equine athletes ready.
I have owned a few claimers, and they can be more fun than the law allows. One horse can be like a house payment. There is always something that needs to be done, bought, or changed. But that is the game….. I went out before work one day to watch my horse work three days before he was to race. Our trainer couldn’t be there due to an illness, but sent in his assisatant to saddle, work, and cool out our runner this morning. He was bandaged, saddled, and all was a go, until he reared and kicked the back wall. Well, he knocked off his shoe, and it looked as if he was not going to get his final blowout.
Down the shedrow, there was an older trainer who was one of the tough guys to beat in the 70’s and 80’s. I knew him for years, and overhearing our dilemma, he strapped on his chaps, and grabbed his hammer and nails. He just came right on up, and asked if he could give us a hand. He didn’t have to help, and in a few days he was going to have a horse in the same race as we entered. He came in and filed off the nails, and picked his hooves. He began putting on one of his new shoes, and in ten minutes we were heading to the track. Our runner worked a quick 36 flat, and came back like a million bucks. Later that week we won the race, and our kind helper ran second. That is the backstretch camaraderie that goes on daily. To this day, I am grateful for Mr. W.J. Danner and his act of kindness.
Racing is a sport that many of us love. But, there are people who have not had a day off in years. They show up early, and work until dark. They feed, take care of the horses, and make sure they are healthy. Many times I have heard of trainers skipping meals to make sure that there were plenty of oats and feed for the horses. So, the next time you are at the track and see a groom walking up a runner to be saddled. Know there was enormous work and sacrifice just to get that far. For me, this is the beauty of racing. People coming together, and working for the common good of the game.