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    Most people that have been to the racetrack, even those who haven’t, have a general idea of what a jockey or a trainer does. The jockey rides the horse. The trainer prepares the horse, like a coach. But is it different when you’re running a horse in the Kentucky Derby or Kentucky Oaks?

    “It’s my job, it’s just what I do,” said trainer Dallas Stewart. Stewart has saddled the runner-up in the past two editions of the Kentucky Derby. In 2013, longshot Golden Soul charged down the lane and finished 2 ½ lengths behind Derby winner Orb. Last year, it was Commanding Curve who made up the Derby exacta, just 1 ¾ lengths behind California Chrome.

    The day starts early for trainer and jockey, most rising by 5 a.m. and at the track soon thereafter. The morning bustle begins and the horses hit the track for morning works within the hour.

    “We’re on horses here by 5:45,” said exercise rider and former jockey Keith Davis.

    On a typical morning an exercise rider, often a current jockey or retired jockey, may work 10 horses over the span of a few hours. Of course, that time allows for “the break” which is a time in which the track is closed to training to allow the track maintenance crew to smooth it out.

    “Jockeys come and breeze horses every morning for different trainers,” Davis said. “It’s like everything has to fall in place just right. If there’s an accident or whatever and it sets you behind 10 minutes, well you’re late 10 minutes the rest of the morning, for everybody.”

    Once the morning work, which could be a breeze or timed work over the track, a gallop, or just a little jog, the horse is brought back to the barn for a bath. After being hosed down in car wash fashion in front of the barn, the horse usually gets covered with a wicking blanket and walked around the shedrow to dry off. Then it’s time to settle back into the stall and chow down on breakfast. From there on out, unless it’s race day, it’s an easy day for the horse.

    The jockey doesn’t have it so easy. After an action-packed morning, a jockey often has little time to relax. Maybe a quick return home for a shower and change of clothes, but the jockey is soon back to the track to start the racing day. And it’s not just time a jockey has to watch.

    “A lot of times you have to pull weight,” said Davis. "It’s a big deal. I did it for a lot of years and it’s harder than a lot of people think. They think it’s a lot of glory and a lot of money, but we get a percentage. We get 10-percent of 60-percent, so it’s not the money they really think that they see in the program. When it’s good—when you’re in the top ten—it’s great. After that, it’s a lot of work.”

    Derby week is a bit of a madhouse, be it on the backside or the grandstand side. The influx of horses and people create an atmosphere unlike any other, but the day-to-day happenings are about the same.

    “There’s a lot of activity,” Stewart noted. “People kind of get up on the bit a little bit around the barn—vans unloading, airplanes flying around, stuff like that. You don’t want anything to beat you. You want to get your horse prepared, take your horse over there and run him and your horse will run his race.”

    At the end of the day, that’s what it comes down to. The Kentucky Derby or the Kentucky Oaks is just one race. It might be a $1 million race, it might be the most prestigious, most sought-after race a trainer or a jockey could hope to win, but it comes down to the horse and how the trainer and the jockey have helped that horse to make the most of the race. If all works cohesively and the horse has the ability, magic can happen.

    “That’s what we’re all looking for, the big horse,” Davis said.

    Once the race is done, the track littered with losing tote tickets and the last race fan has staggered their tired feet home, the trainer, jockey and horse will also close out their night. When that time occurs depends on one thing.

    ”Depends on whether we win or not,” Stewart laughed. “If we win, it ain’t going to end; we’re going to roll all night!”

    Photo: Glenn Hirsch

    Jessie Oswald's picture

    About Jessie Oswald

    I'm a lifetime Louisville resident with a passion for horse racing. When I'm not working as a paralegal or taking care of my family, I follow Thoroughbred racing and love to share the excitement and beauty of the sport with anyone willing to learn!

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