Krantz Stable Updates
- Published: October 22, 2003
- Written by Bryan Krantz
Each season of the year has its special appeal to the senses. From early childhood I have been particularly fond of the fall. We struggle through the dog days of summer heat in New Orleans where being outside in the heat and humidity can wilt your spirit and leave you soaking wet after just a few moments. Those days of August and September give way to the pleasant early cool fronts of October. This is the weather many would call "football weather" and some call "hunting weather." To some of us, it signals a migration, not of ducks or geese, but of horses. As sure as Halloween and All Saints Day are upon us, the backstretch of Fair Grounds opens the last weekend in October.
On any given Saturday morning thereafter comes a return to a ritual, which defines the core interest in why horse racing is a sport worthy of the ages. Sliding out of warm bed covers in the coolness of the predawn, dressing quietly in the soft warmth of comfortable winter clothing, moving quietly through the dark house, all become part of the heightening of senses in preparation for what is to come. The dogs are happy to move from the chilly confines of the garage into the house allowing the car to begin the journey to the track. The streets are solemn at this dark hour in the morning with only an occasional driver in either direction. Mist rises from the green spaces and waterways reminding all who see this séance the steam of the summer's heat has not yet completely turned over to the chill of winter. A stop must be made. Etiquette dictates Saturday morning visitors to the shedrow should bring sustenance for the help. After all, they are working and the visitor must pay for the privilege of watching the fruits of their labor. Donuts, beignets or biscuits all meet with hearty smiles all around. Just be sure you have enough for everyone. Hot coffee is a staple in most tack room offices on the backstretch and washes down the early morning offerings brought by the visitor.
By the time the track opens at 6 a.m., hours have been put in feeding and preparing horses for training. As darkness hovers, the horses begin to circle at the closed gates allowing access to the oval. Nervous horses and anxious riders await the opportunity to start their first gallops of the day. The maintenance tractors harrow up the soil of the track and retreat to their parking areas. The access gates open and the track explodes with activity. Standing on the rail allows for the view of a parade of horses at morning work. Greetings are hailed from exercise riders, jockeys, trainers on ponies supervising their horses training and an assortment of others passing by on the track or in the street. Dawn breaks and the scene becomes a whir of color. Horses shaded chestnut, bay, grey and white wearing saddle towels designed in the colors of their trainer or owner. The rider's helmet covers and riding gear suggest the statement of style and personality of the guys and girls who choose the life of adventure not many can lead. As the sky streaks with orange, the deep green of the infield silhouettes the ancient live oaks before the backdrops of the cupolas of the grandstand and the skyscrapers of the city of New Orleans in the distance. The mist tends to roll from the infield onto the track while the dawn breaks, creating an awe-striking scene as horses appear as ghosts guided by riders moving through the clouds on the ground.
The early gallopers give way to serious workouts as the sun brightens and warms the day. The watches come out and the chatter comes to the fore. As times are taken, comparisons begin and stories are spun about all manner of things. Mostly the stories are about old horses, old men and old times. The vets and other vendors make their rounds and the stories get spun again. The jockey agents come by looking for "calls" for their riders and spin the stories some more.
The horse goes out, comes back, gets its bath, the groom puts a blanket on and the hot walker makes left turns around the barn until its time to put the horse away in its stall. This process is repeated until the last horse is finished. While the horse is out the groom freshens the stall and hangs new hay and water. After the horse is put back in the stall, its legs and feet are cared for and bandaged. When all the horses have been done up, it is time to feed. By 11 a.m., a day's work has been done.
Each season begins like this. The Saturday visits to the backstretch, overloading the subconscious and conscious mind with imagery of why racing is so special. The camaraderie of interaction with old friends and new ones. Each visit to the barn beckons from the recesses of your mind in the predawn hours of future Saturdays to return and soak it all in again.