Krantz Stable Updates
Bringing a Racetrack to Life
- Published: October 31, 2002
- Written by Bryan Krantz
One of the most lonely and desolate scenes imaginable is a racetrack during its off-season. Imagine 2,000 stalls, associated tack rooms and dormitory areas silent and still. No activity in the common street areas, horseman's cafeteria or tack and feed stores. The grandstand of 4,000 seats on four levels sits empty and quiet. An occasional maintenance worker checks on the status of the building or an occasional pigeon stirring in the metal overhang. The down time gives a racetrack the soul haunting loneliness of a long abandoned ghost town.
Just like the change from winter to spring, the season for racing appears on the calendar's horizon. At first it's a quickening of the pace of the maintenance schedule in anticipation of the later human interaction. For Fair Grounds the first sign of the wheels in motion for a racing season is the printing and circulation of stall applications and condition books. This takes place in the beginning of August. The deadline for returning stall applications is usually mid-October. This gives us time to visit with trainers at their summer racing base.
In mid-October, after the deadline for stall applications to be received a meeting takes place during which an allocation of the 2,000 available stalls is done. Stalls are allotted in a subjective manner. There are historical indicators used along with the roster of horses presented in the application for stalls at the upcoming racing season. Horse trainers who are regulars to the Fair Grounds generally are housed in the same barn from year to year. This is common practice at most tracks. The stalls, utilities, tack rooms and dorm areas are provided by the track during the racing season at no cost to the horse trainers or owners. The commitment on the part of the horsemen is to participate in the race meeting by racing their horses.
Right at the first of November, the barn area opens and life begins to flow back into the dormant body of the track. The pace increases slowly at first but with a quickening toward a Thanksgiving Day season opening. First the advance crews come to get the stalls ready. The feed company will deliver straw, hay and sacks of oats. The stalls will be bedded, stall webbings placed on the stall fronts and shedrow raked into place. Within a day or two of November first the vans begin to arrive. At first a trickle of gooseneck trailers and two horse trailers from trainers in our local area come through the horsemen's gate to be signed in. A day or two later, the first big vans begin to arrive from the more distant places. Places like Canada, Illinois, Kentucky, New York and Delaware. The traffic coming in remains brisk right up to the week after Thanksgiving. With the blink of an eye the season is upon us.
The routine is begun again. The day begins at 4:30 a.m. with the grooms removing feed tubs from stalls and cleaning the bedding. This begins the process of getting the barn ready for the track to open at 6:00 a.m. Rain or shine, the horses train. The track closes at 8:00 a.m. for a repair break and then will reopen until 10:00 a.m. After each horse is exercised it comes back to the barn for a bath and cool down walk before being placed into its freshly made up stall and fed breakfast. After 10:00 a.m. the track maintenance crew prepares the track for afternoon racing.
The racing office begins receiving registration papers and racing silks for the season as soon as the first horse comes on the grounds. An information folder is established on each trainer. All information is entered into database for filling races. A pool of approximately 4,000 horses on and offsite are put into the system. The trainers of these horses will look for available races in a condition book offered by Fair Grounds racing staff during the course of the 85-day race meeting. The dozen racing office employees work to fill races in the morning and then act as racing officials in the afternoon as races are run. The week of Thanksgiving the racing office is a hotbed of activity. Each morning during the entry process, a heavy fragrance from the second floor commissary kitchen wafts down, reminding the jockey agents, horse trainers and racing office personnel of the holiday opening just days away.
Thanksgiving Day is opening day and also our biggest day of the year. Dining reservations are opened the first Monday of November and sell out within hours for opening day. The number of personnel needed to run the business jumps from 500 to 800 on opening day. Last year on Thanksgiving Day we sold 4,000 pounds of corned beef on the buffet in our clubhouse or at the concession stands in the building. It takes some effort to maintain the tradition of corned beef and racing in New Orleans.
By opening day when people come through the gates the soul of racing has returned and breathed life back into the former scene of desolation. At full peak there are almost 2,000 employees of Fair Grounds and its affiliated off-track betting locations. In addition, there are more than 2,500 employed in racing at Fair Grounds working for owners, trainers, feed vendors, blacksmiths, veterinarians, and other professions making up the racing community.
The season passes as all seasons do, and after a glorious bloom of springtime activity, the track once again fades to a dormant stage in anticipation of being brought to life for it's next season. This year, Fair Grounds begins the cycle for it's 131st time. Hope to see you soon...