Two minutes of glory and heartbreak. That’s the Kentucky Derby. But the thoroughbred racing world, racing industry, grinds along 24/7.
Backside workers check on horses, measuring feed, filling hay nets, removing blankets, and other tasks before 5:00 a.m. every morning of the year. Assistant trainers move through the shedrow watching, assessing their charges, assigning a breeze or gallop or light jog for the morning. Exercise riders cue up for order and number of mounts. Trainers issue directions. Fog burns off and the ponies are out on the track for an easy jog on the outside rail shifting to the inside rail for their assigned workout.
Perched high over the withers of a horse, rider and horse synchronize, legs moving like pistons. Trainers astride pony horses on the track manage their charges close up, fine tune adjustments to the track regime. Other trainers stand high on platforms, binoculars locked on the horse-rider duo, scrutinizing, revising, and reshaping the training regime.
Workout completed, horse and rider amble back to their stable block. Grooms hold the next mount for exercise and give riders a leg up as the horse quick steps to the track while the rider settles and finds his stirrups. Already the previous mount turns toward the wash stand and hotwalk. By 11:00 a.m., six hours into a 12-hour day, the track kitchen bustles with track personnel then falls off as afternoon duties slot into place, a hard-worn routine.