To the casual observer, a horse’s race day routine appears mundane. However, your horse racing partnerships horse’s journey from barn to paddock to post includes interactions with a variety of individuals who work to ensure the safety of the athletes and the integrity of the race. Below are just some of the people who directly or indirectly interact with a Thoroughbred when it is entered to race:
Regulatory veterinarian: When a horse is entered to race, it is visited by a regulatory veterinarian on the morning of the event. The regulatory veterinarian conducts a pre-race exam of the horse to ensure its racing soundness, and he or she can recommend that the horse be scratched if a problem is suspected. There is also at least one regulatory veterinarian who watches horses in the paddock, in the post parade, and at the starting gate. He or she can decide any time up until the race goes off to recommend that a horse be scratched. Regulatory veterinarians are employed by the state/racing association, not by owners or managing partners of thoroughbred partnerships and trainers, so they serve as objective advocates for the horse.
Horse Identifier: If you watch horses enter the paddock before a race, you may notice someone crouching to get a look at the inside of each horse’s upper lip. This person is the horse identifier, and his/her job is to make sure that the horse that is entered to race is the horse that is brought to the paddock and runs the race. Horses are currently identified by a tattoo on their upper lip that consists of a letter and five numbers. Microchips will be become mandatory in 2017. The horse identifier also uses pictures provided by The Jockey Club of each horse to confirm that the documented colors and markings of the entered horse match.
Paddock Judge: Have you ever wondered who decides when jockeys can mount their horses and go to the racetrack in one coordinated proceeding? Who stops a trainer from adding blinkers to a horse without getting the stewards’ approval? These are just some of the responsibilities of the paddock judge. As the name would suggest, the paddock judge is in charge of the operations of the paddock. His job is to make sure that all horses arrive to the paddock before the race on time and that they leave to go to the track on time. The paddock judge also makes sure that each horse is wearing approved equipment. For example, he may scratch a horse for wearing prohibited horse shoes, and he will not let a horse add or drop blinkers for a race without prior consent of the track stewards.
Starter/Assistant Starter: The assistant starter has one of the most dangerous jobs in all of sports. An assistant starter’s job is to safely walk a horse into the starting gate and keep its head straight so that it is afforded a fair start when the gates open. When you are dealing with naturally claustrophobic animals in a tight, metal space, this is easier said than done. Assistant starters wear safety vests and helmets to protect themselves from horses that may rear, flip, and/or thrash in the starting gate. Before a horse can be entered to race for the first time, it must earn its gate card from the starting gate crew, which is achieved through schooling at the gate during training hours in the morning.
Stewards: The stewards are rarely seen, but their influence is pervasive at the track during a race day. When interference occurs during a race or a jockey lodges an objection, the stewards are the people who decide whether or not there should be a disqualification. Additionally, stewards will put horses who perform poorly on the steward’s list. This will prevent the horse from being entered in a race until it works out under a specified time in front of the stewards. When stewards are not adjudicating races, they may be holding hearings or writing reports. The stewards are responsible for the conduct of races and to make sure that the state rules are enforced.
The next time you head to the racetrack, keep an eye out for these men and women who make racing safe and fair for everyone involved!