Stickney, IL – Although frigid temperatures descended upon the Heartland this past week, the work of getting thoroughbreds ready to race doesn’t stop – at least not in the upper Midwest. While Oaklawn Racing and Gaming in Arkansas cancelled racing because of the bitter cold they rarely experience, the backstretch at Hawthorne Race Course in Stickney, Illinois was buzzing with activity and racing rolled on.
“Our grounds crew is amazing,” said track handicapper Jim Miller. “Sometimes they work all night; from the time racing is done until morning works. They do a fabulous job and the track is in great shape thanks to them.”
And while the horses surely enjoy the well-groomed oval, they also don’t mind the cold much.
“The horses prefer the cold,” said one trainer. “They do much better in the cold weather than they do in the warmer weather. They get sick more often when it’s warm. Of course well below zero isn’t good for any living thing, but today, for them, it’s not so bad.”
The temperature was 8 degrees.
“This sucks for me,” said an exercise rider as he trotted by. “But this guy loves it,” he said nodding to his mount.
“I’m from Mexico,” added exercise rider Juan Delgado. “This cold is awful for me. But for the horse, it’s okay.”
Though only 9 horses had timed works on Friday, hundreds more went out for exercise during training hours which, at Hawthorne, are from 7 AM to 11 AM. Among those was Brailyn’s Grace.
Brailyn’s Grace is a 2 year old gelding owned by longtime racetracker Henry Guillory. Guillory was out exercising his horse on the bitter cold morning.
“I’m from Louisiana,” he said coming off the track from exercising one of the other horses in his charge. “I live in Des Moines now but I’m from Louisiana and I don’t like this cold.” He was smiling, but the tears from the cold in the corner of his eyes and the redness of his cheeks belied the easy smile.
Later in the morning when he came onto the racetrack with his own horse, Guillory was effervescent – cold or not.
“Two minutes from when he dropped out of his momma, I was the first human being he saw, smelled, anything. I’ve been in this business a long time and this is the first horse I ever owned,” he beamed.
“He’s done anything I’ve ever asked him to do,” he added. “He’s an Iowa bred so I suspect you’ll see him at Prairie Meadows this summer.”
The joy and pride that Guillory showed in his baby was evident in his demeanor.
“He’s like my son,” he said, leaning over and patting the young horse on the neck.
That kind of dedication can be found around the Hawthorne backstretch from the trainers, grooms, farriers, vets, exercise riders and even the track crew. Money doesn’t get you out of bed at 5 AM to feed, train, rub, gallop and care for horses when the temperature dances around zero. It’s much more than that; it’s not just what you do, it’s who you are.