To celebrate my newest release, set in the world of Hollywood and horse racing, and in honor of today’s 140th Kentucky Derby, I’d like to share a glimpse at what happens behind-the-scenes at the racetrack.
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For most of us who enjoy watching the race on TV, Derby Day means hanging with some mint juleps until the pre-race broadcast starts and we get the run down on all the runners, their personal stories, the bios of jockeys, trainers, and owners.
But what about the horses? How do they spend the day and the hours lead up to the big race?
While I’ve never been backside (that’s what horsemen call the barn area) at a Derby, I’ll share what a typical race day looks like for a race horse and his trainer.
Mornings are just like any other day and start around 5 a.m. The runners get their usual breakfast of oats, vitamin supplements and a bag of hay to munch. There may be a walk around to stretch their legs, but no workout on race day.
About four hours before the race the official state veterinarian will come by to inspect each runner. He’ll have the trainer or groom jog the horse on a lead to make sure the horse is fit and sound. If the horse is lame, the vet can keep the horse from racing. He’ll also check for signs of any drugs or medications.
Many trainers like to paint the horse’s hooves with a shiny protective coat. A thousand pounds of racing horse puts a lot of strain on delicate hooves and this adds another layer of safety. Then the horse’s legs will be iced down. This prevents injury and inflammation. Most horses, like most human athletes, have slight leg aches and pains. Since the horse can’t communicate, the trainer treats them before and after every workout.
If you’ve got a Derby entrant in your barn, there will likely be some press and cameras hovering around, but the groom and trainer will make sure they don’t disturb the runner or any of his stable mates. The hour leading up to the race will be the same for any race, even the Kentucky Derby.
An hour or so before post time, the runners are taken to a test barn. Only the trainer and owner can enter, for security. The horse’s identification will be checked, generally against a photograph, but for a big race, the officials may also check the numbers tattooed on each horse’s lip. Here, blood will be drawn from several randomly selected horses to check for banned substances like painkillers and performance enhancers.
Now it’s time to walk to the saddling enclosure. The horses are still just wearing a bridle at this point and as they make their way to the track they get their post position number affixed to the bridle, and the groom and trainer will walk to the paddock for the horse to be saddled. Here, trainers check the horse one last time and give jockeys race instructions. It’s also the place many people will choose which horse to bet on.
You can tell a lot by how a horse behaves in the saddling enclosure. Watch to see if he’s high-strung or relaxed. A sweaty horse—with dark patches on his chest and sides—is nervous and wasting energy before the race even starts. You’ll see grooms and jockeys trying to keep their mounts calm and focused on the race. Any excitement or stress here can negatively affect a horse’s performance in the race.
Once the jockeys are up, they circle the ring until you hear the horn playing the traditional tune “Boots and Saddles.” Only then do the horses file out onto the track for the post parade as they head toward the starting gate for the race. The jockeys will warm them up with a jog and a gallop to loosen their muscles and get the horse focused on the race ahead.
Thanks for joining me today for a behind-the-scenes look at race day.
If you’re intrigued, you’ll enjoy my latest Dreamspinner Press novel, Out of the Gate. British actor Wesley Tremayne thinks he’s close to hitting the big time—a film career—with his role as a hunky explorer on a popular American TV show. Success should be just around the corner, as long as he keeps his sexual orientation a secret. Wes’s best friend and beard, Julia Compton, forms the other half of a glamorous Hollywood couple that’s merely a façade.
Evan Taylor left his acting career behind five years ago without looking back. He’s always been more comfortable around horses than people—especially Hollywood types. His new life training racehorses is a dream come true, but increasing financial problems and an abusive boyfriend have him doubting himself and his choices.
Then Wes and his friends buy a third-rate racehorse—partially for publicity—and send him to Evan’s stable. Wes’s friendship with Evan soon develops into an overpowering attraction he can’t act on. He’s never met a man like Evan, but if there’s any chance for a future together, Wes must choose between a career he loves and the man he adores.
EM Lynley is a former investment analyst and White House economist. Now she writes gay erotic romance. She loves books where the hero gets the guy and the loving is 11 on a scale of 10. Her Precious Gems series is best described as “Indiana Jones meets Romancing the Stone”—only gayer. The Delectable series is Gay Romance with Taste. Her books are available in print and e-book from Amazon & other book distributors.