10 People You Need to Know in the Backstretch

Harness Racing, Groom, Barn

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. It takes an army. To get a horse from the time it can walk, to its first race (and hopefully many races after) takes an army.  There are a number of roles that all have to work together like pieces of a puzzle in order to create the finished product – a racehorse.  However, most of the people in those roles work behind the scenes, and you may not notice them at first with all the exciting action that takes place on the racetrack. There’s a lot of them, believe me. But here’s a starters guide to a few people you need to know that are all part of the this pivotal puzzle.

1. Trainers

Trainers act as the agents for the owners. They facilitate the production of the end product, that is, a ‘’racehorse”. In addition to setting up each horse’s daily program (such as fitness and conditioning), monitoring their fitness, and making any equipment changes as deemed necessary, trainers are also responsible for determining which classes to enter the horses in, and how that specific horse’s career ideally should progress. This means they not only need to have a game plan tailored to each individual horse, but they also need to be able to adapt that plan as circumstances change, and the horse develops. The trainers are team leaders of each barn and need to know when to push a horse, but also when to wait, all while keeping the bigger picture in mind.

2. Grooms

If the trainers have to look at their horses in macro, the grooms have to know each horse in micro details. Grooms are responsible for the care and daily maintenance of the horses. Their duties include but aren’t limited to feeding, cleaning stalls, getting the horses ready to work, aftercare following working, and monitoring the horses’ physiology and behaviour for any changes. It is their job to ensure each horse’s well-being. Grooms are the “first line of defense” and often notice any issues and can address them before they become a larger problem.

3. Owners

Owners are responsible for the costs associated with the care and training of each racehorse. Owners can solely own a horse, have a part ownership, or join an ownership syndicate. They are in regular communication with their chosen trainer who updates them on how their horses are doing. The trainer can make as many recommendations and decisions as they want, but at the end of the day it’s the owners choice and trust in their trainer that determines what major decisions are made.

4. Veterinary Medical Team

Daily Care – Just like people, horses sometimes get sick, or injured, and need regular health check ups and maintenance to keep them feeling their best. This is the job of the veterinary medical team, typically made up of a Veterinarian, and a few Veterinary Medical Technicians (aka Vet Techs). Vaccinations, medications, diagnosis and treatment of conditions that occur outside of an actual race are all the responsibility of this team in coordination with the trainers, grooms, and owners.
Commission Vet – To keep things fair for competitors and bettors alike, a separate vet is hired to manage the medical care and treatment of horses specifically during the races. This vet is also responsible for helping determine whether horses are sound and fit enough to compete, as well as making any medical calls necessary in regards to race related incidents. This vet is not permitted to carry out the daily medical care and treatment of the horses it oversees in the races.

5. Race Secretary

The Race Secretary is responsible for creating the system of class used each week to sort horses into groups to race against. It requires a great knowledge of your present horse population as well as the many ways they can be grouped together, and how those groups overlap. Entries for each set of race conditions are sent to the race secretary who then sorts them into their respective groups, and does a random draw to determine post positions. If you don’t like puzzles, don’t become a race secretary. This job is essential for getting as many horses behind the gate each race day as possible.

Harness Racing, Horse Racing, Outrider

6. Judges/Race Officials

To keep things as fair as possible, there has to be someone to decide when an infraction has occurred. The Judges are responsible for investigating alleged rule violations, deciding what type of fine should be implemented in case of an infraction, and reviewing regulatory related issues. Discretion, logic and experience are of the upmost important as no two situations are ever the same and context has to be taken into consideration. From rewatching footage of the races, to sitting in the starting gate and monitoring the paddock, the judges and race officials help ensure an even playing field for all competitors.

7. Blacksmith/Farrier

You can’t have a great racehorse, without a great foundation. That foundation is their feet! Having a good farrier or blacksmith can make or break a racehorse. Their job is to look after the horses’ hooves and address any issues that may arise. This includes trimming, shoeing, and adding things like corks, and borium to change the amount of traction. When their feet are properly trimmed and shod, it can help balance an uneven gait, help the horse travel straighter, and relieve excess pressure on tendons and ligaments. Just like wearing shoes that are the wrong size, or trying to run in high heels, regardless of talent and training, if the horse doesn’t have a good foot (or four) to stand on it’s not going to be able to do its job.

8. Outrider(s)

An outriders responsibility can vary depending on the situation. However, their importance remains unchanged. At the racetrack, your outrider is a mounted rider who is responsible for maintaining a safe environment during the races. This includes leading the post parade before each race, helping drivers with challenging horses, catching loose horses, and often being the first on scene in case of an emergency on the track. They can often be seen between the races, interacting with fans and children along the rail, letting them pet their horse, and occasionally posing for pictures.

9. Drivers

These are the ‘pilots’ of harness racing. Harness Racing drivers are responsible for guiding the horse through the race from start to finish. (And if they’re lucky to the winners circle!) Drivers need to be able to think strategically, and have quick reflexes. They need to adapt to meet both the horses needs and the changing race conditions often within less than a second. The best harness racing drivers know how to work with a horse instead of making it work for them. They can settle an anxious horse and motivate the ‘steady eddies’. The driver’s judgment, whether good or bad, can make or break a race.

10. Race Announcer

Like swapping from black and white to colour television, a race announcer brings each race to life for fans watching both on and off track. Endlessly witty and smooth talkers, announcers have to adapt quickly as each race progresses all while incorporating back ground information on the horses, and drivers, as they battle their way down to the wire. This colourful group is essential to setting the scene each race day and can be a total game changer for everyone involved, backstretch and fans alike.

By no means does this cover everyone in the backstretch, or everyone who affects the horse racing industry. In addition to the individuals above, there are plenty of other people that all contribute in one way or another to the final product you see when you get to the races, or tune into that live stream. This is just the tip of the iceberg, but some very important people nonetheless.

Familiar with the concept of horse racing, but unsure how harness racing differs? Check out 10 Things You Need to Know About Harness Racing !

If you have any questions, or suggestions for future topics you’d like to see me cover feel free to message me on Facebook, or send me an email, charlene.insidetrack@gmail.com!

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