Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The End of a Racing Meet Finds Me With a Renewed Sense of Hope?

It was Sunday late in the afternoon after the 8th race at Hollywood Park that I decided to visit the backside to see how Spring House was after his race.

Two weeks prior I had visited him in Julio Canani's barn and he was full of himself. You sensed he was ready for a big race. He was jumping out of his skin and the handsome dark brown gelding was a joy to be around. Spring House has become a favorite of mind during this past meet. As usual, the barn was a bustle of activity. If you have never been to the backside of a race track there really isn't anything else like it. It has it's own rhythm, culture and lifestyle. Saturday, the day before the race was much the same. I did note that there were more horse transport vans than usual, and rental vans had desks, chairs, tack and every other item you can imagine loaded up in them, but that was to be expected as the horsemen had been excitedly talking for a week about Del Mar, the next stop on the So Cal racing circuit. I watched as horse after horse were being lead up the ramps, and wondered who he or she was. All with their legs wrapped ready for the long ride down the highway, they were loaded up efficiently.

Well Spring House did not win his race on Sunday, but I was proud of him just the same and wanted to say goodbye before I left. The difference in 24 hours was amazing. The backside at this late hour of the afternoon was a ghost town. Barn after barn were cleaned out, some looked as if nothing had occupied the stalls even a day prior. When I reached Julio's barn, Spring House was happily eating up his mash, and barely flicked his tail in recognition that someone was standing outside his stall. To me that was a sign of a happy and hungry race horse, and so I said goodbye and told him I would see him soon. As I was getting ready to leave, for some reason I looked down the shed row and noticed five or six heads peering out from their stalls. To that point, I hadn't paid attention to who else occupied the barn.

The horses looked forlorn and there was something different about them that drew me to walk down the row. I noticed several of the stalls were empty, most with trash strewn about and these five or six horses. One in particular with the brown eyes that only a horse possesses stared at me. I stared right back and found my pulse quickening. Where was their hay, where was their food, and where were their caretakers? I looked around and there was no one in the barn at all. And then a thought crossed my mind, have these horses been left behind? Are these the "less than's" that I worry about at the end of a racing meet? Surely someone was coming for them? Another horse was eating the straw in his soiled stall, and I was beginning to feel a sense of panic that I couldn't describe. I was imagining things, I told myself, too much time spent thinking about rescuing horses had made me jaded. I faintly heard my friend say "who left these horses here"?

As we both stared at each other and the horses, a van pulled up to the barn. We slowly, in our own thoughts, walked to my car. We looked back in unison to see if the proximity of the van to the barn somehow ensured that we were correct and the van was there to take the horses to the next stop, Del Mar. Surely no one would leave the horses behind, I told myself over and over again. Yes, of course don't be silly Sharla, of course someone will wrap their legs and give them a small bit of hay as they drive down the highway to make the trip less stressful, of course they will, of course they will be running in Del Mar enjoying the cool beach air, of course........ I drove home in silence.

For a story about a horse that was not forgotten read this post from The Blood Horse regarding Boule D'Or.


  1. I am appauled!!...I may be small town nieve but what happened to these horses? I live in Northern Wisconsin but if I could, I would be thee to ask soooooo many questions....I can only imagine what you must see-have seen-...please tell me what can be done for these poor horses?...I understand not all owners/trainers are like this....please tell me more-what can I do to help? Kim

  2. There was no one literally to ask. I am however following up to make sure that the horses were not left as it appeared and are in fact safely in a stall at Del Mar or another race track. Horses at the end of any meet can find themselves potentially in trouble or need of finding a home quickly. My point in writing this was one, my surprise in seeing the horses so alone and two, that perhaps I was jumping to conclusions that I shouldn't have, as I mentioned am I becoming jaded? Regardless I am going to ask the racing office what the protocol is for horses having to leave the race tracks at the end of the meet. In particular Hollywood Park is not allowing the horses to be stabled for the duration of the summer. All horses have to be moved to other racetracks ie. Santa Anita or Pomona this year. Thank you for your concern, I will write a follow up to this post.


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