Monday, September 21, 2015

Opelousas: Evangeline Downs - An Evening at the Races

Evangeline Downs, July 4th, 2015, Opelousas, Louisiana.

When I lived in Alamogordo, I was close to Ruidoso Downs, but I never went to a horse race there. I did go to Ruidoso Downs for the Cowboy Symposium and also checked it out when a sibling came to visit.

Evangeline Downs, July 4th, 2015, Opelousas, Louisiana.

On the 4th of July this year, I spent some time at the Louisiana Legends race(s) at Evangeline Downs. My first horse races. Glad I went; not especially enthusiastic about going again. I think I expected to see the movie version of such - rousing audience participation, with everyone in bleachers and box seats, arms in the air, exhorting their favorites to win. Fortunes won; fortunes lost.

Of course, there's way more to the horse racing world than what I saw. 

Evangeline Downs, July 4th, 2015, Opelousas, Louisiana.

There are so many stakeholders in horse racing, all with money or glory (preferably both) shimmering on the horizon. The actual winning of races. Horse owners. Jockeys. Jockeys' agents. Vets. Handlers, trainers. Track owners. Stable owners. Criminal agents. Stud services. Broodmare services. Breeding, in general. Feeding the horses. Real estate. Bettors. Handicappers. Vendors. It is an ecosystem.

I imagine horse racing - and betting on horse racing - has been going on since the time humans first domesticated horses. In Britannica's article here, we're taken back to Roman times, around 700 BCE. According to this source, horses were domesticated in the Middle East about 7000 years BCE. There's a good chance, then, that horse racing has gone on for almost 10,000 years. 

In North America, modern-day horses didn't arrive until the 1500s, brought over by the Spanish. I'm willing to bet that horse racing was already a practice among the Spanish and that Native Americans folded horse racing into their already-existing competitive sports.

I am of Swiss Mennonite stock on my father's side. One might think Mennonites are a staid group of people for the most part, and in some respects, I suppose that's true. But I hear tell my paternal grandfather, in his wastrel youth, raced horses in rural Ohio, probably around the time of the first World War.

The great Zydeco forerunner, Boozoo Chavis, grew up in a horse racing culture. From his 2001 obituary in the New York Times: " ...  Mr. Chavis invested winnings from a horse race on a calf and sold it as a heifer; he bought his first accordion with the profits. .." 

So horse racing is a cross-cultural tradition with a long history.

As with most activities, when gold or glory is at stake, devilment enters the picture. Three jockeys were arrested following the 4th of July races I attended, accused of race fixing.  More specifically: "willful rein pulling, and cheating, and swindling."

There's the subject of drugging race horses, with two examples here and here.

Here is a meaty article about stud services in Ireland: The Super-Studs: Inside the Secretive World of Racehorse Breeding. Although stallions can "cover" a hundred or more mares a year (if done the old-fashioned way), a mare can produce only one young'n a year. I say "only one," but the investment in the mare's physical and quality-of-life resources to get pregnant, support the pregnancy, feed her foal, and recover sufficiently from that to start the cycle over again, is prodigious. Here is an article that addresses a broodmare's quality of life: 5 Easy Ways to Improve a Broodmare's Life.

The Jockey is an engrossing piece of work (2013) from the New York Times, focusing on Russell Baze, a jockey in who has spent most of his career in Northern California. A couple of quotes: 
  •  Jockeys are easily replaced transient workers who frequently get blamed when a horse underperforms.
  • The winning owner collects 60 percent of the purse, with the next four finishers getting smaller slices. The winning jockey receives 10 percent of the owner’s share and gives his agent one-fourth of that. In a $10,000 race, a typical purse at Golden Gate Fields, the owner would get $6,000 and pay $600 to the jockey, who would in turn pay $150 to the agent.

In the video below, the horses leave the warm-up paddock and head for the gates:


 Slideshow below of my evening at the races:

And, of course, a race:

Related post: 

Louisiana: Plaisance: The Step 'n Strut Trail Ride, with reference and link to Connie Castille's documentary on Cajun and Creole history with horses (including racing) in South Louisiana, T-Galop.

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