Old Dog, New Tricks

by Ed Meyer

posted on February 19, 2020 in Blogroll, General Discussion, Horse Racing, WinningPonies.com | 2 Comments >>

I’ve been watching and wagering on the races since I can remember. – Pretty much, I had a good idea of what goes on at the races. After all, I’ve worked in every capacity at the track. – But this all changed in late November at Turfway Park.

Starting in the parking lot as a kid was fun and I got to watch the races. – Move up a rung or two and manage the same lots. – Then with a stroke of luck, I made my way inside. I worked in admissions, racebook manager, ADW coordinator, marketing manager, track announcer/morning line oddsmaker. Yeah, I thought I had seen the sport inside and out.

November 2019 was the beginning of a new experience. – I was going to work in the racing office and become a placing judge at night. – Old dog new tricks. – I have to admit it was something I thought I wouldn’t enjoy. But, it’s never too late to change your mind.  After a couple of days, it’s been an experience I have really enjoyed.

The racing office gathers and begins the process around 8am. This is the start of how the races come together. – The room is filled with others who’ve spent their entire working life taking entries, hustling horses, and acting in many capacities. Talk about being over your head. – But, after some hand-holding and patient leadership, I’m starting to learn. Oh, I have about a million miles to go, but the journey has begun.

You have a condition book that is created by the racing secretary. It’s a book varied with about every type of race needed. It’s their job to communicate with horsemen and management. Think of it as a magician who spends the right amount of money on races that will fit the needs of horsemen looking to race. – Races are written for horses looking to fit a condition that fits their needs. – Maiden special weight, claimers, and allowance just to name a few. – This position is versed in knowing all rules, keeping abreast of national news and horses, and keeping the beat for clockers, outriders, stakes coordinators, vets, trainers and grooms. They work closely with the stewards on regulations and daily problems. – I think after seeing this job a little closer it should come with a big bottle of aspirin. But, lucky for me I’m working for someone who handles everything in stride. Never to anger and always has a plan. This is rare in any job and even more of a unicorn in racing. – In their downtime, they get to handle payroll, budgets, and planning. It’s a job only a handful of people could pull off. – Thank you, Tyler Picklesimer, for allowing me to see behind the racing curtain to learn. Your zen-like calm keeps the office running like a machine.

The phones start ringing at 8 am sharp. – You’ll hear trainers or agents entering horses as you type them into a fixed system. – You ask for the name, verify who trains and owns, rider, claiming price if necessary, and medications. – Sounds, easy huh? – I’ve only asked about a million questions and they still come on a daily basis. – We have a good staff who works well together. Everyone helps everyone. – Once all info is in you send it on to print out a hard copy for the assistant racing secretary. She is amazing. Handles everything in stride and like a third-grade teacher who can multi-task about five things at once all the while answering questions. – Once the phones start ringing it’s high energy for about three hours. All the while you get to know trainers and agents with a quick chat before hitting the phones again. – Believe it or not. This high energy morning has become enjoyable. Getting to know people has always been a plus for me, and this job offers this and much more. – Thank you, Tia Murphy, for answering around a million questions and more to come.

As we move along through the meet you’ll see a daily count above the assistant’s desk. – It’s how many days of taking entries are left in the meet. It only took me about a month to ask “what’s that daily number that changes?” – After a few laughs and a little ribbing, you get a full answer to what is happening. Who said old dogs can’t learn new tricks?

At night there are three placing judges who have an office with a couple of TV’s. – One is for the live races and the other for football or hoops in between races. – We watch the break and two of us call out the top four runners while one person enters them quickly into the computer that generates them for video and the tote board. – Once they get past the 1/4 pole we take them down and all stand up. – In hand is a notebook as we quietly watch the horses cross the wire. We feverishly write them down and have a quick comparison before looking at the photo finish system. – This all happens in about 20 seconds as the horses cross the wire. – Once we establish the top four or five we call tote so they can cross-check the finishers and begin calculating payouts. – Then we go back and check our notes against the photo finish rundown. – After numbers are verified, we call video, horseman’s bookkeeper, and jocks room. – Once everything is in and the “official” sign goes up. You get ready for the next race and go back to watching football for about 20 minutes to the next race. The whole process took about 2-3 minutes. Players want to know the finish and payoffs and time is of the essence. I work with two gents who have a combined 80 years of experience as a racing official. – Thank you, Jean Chalk and Randy Wherman for all of your help.

As the meet rolls along and the racing days dwindle. – My experience and understanding has grown a bit. – I never saw myself on this side of racing, but it has become a great learning experience. – I look forward to what’s around the bend for next year. – Thanks to all who have taken a newbie and made them feel at home. Answering my questions over and over and helping me learn the process. – Who says an old dog can’t learn new tricks? This dog has had a great time learning the sport from a whole new perspective. – For anyone who questions how much care and love goes into caring for the animals. Spend a day just watching and you’ll see the salt of the earth folks who put on the show. – This year has been a great deal of personal satisfaction. I’ve always enjoyed learning new things, and the racing office was a pleasant surprise. – Just when I thought I had a grasp on what was going on in our sport I realized just how much I didn’t know. Thanks for the opportunity and looking forward to next year already.