When I went to the backstretch, I was absolute gobsmacked! It was a hive of activity, teeming with horses, jockeys, exercise riders, trainers, grooms, and "others" - horse racing folk that do something-or-another with horses and probably have very important job titles; horses moving on and off the racetrack with the grace and precision of the Bolshoi Ballet. All of this hustle and bustle every day in the backstretch; a secret world far removed from the mutuel windows. Who knew??
Last month, Lone Star Park rolled out Jockeys & Java, a program that gives racing fans a chance to watch morning workouts and eat a free breakfast, all the while listening to jockeys, trainers, and "others". Afterward, a tour of the backstretch with a visit to a trainer's barn and an opportunity to get bitten by some mean horse flies.
I've attended a few Jockeys & Java, and I have just one word: Brilliant. And I'm not trying to suck-up to anybody to score a wad of admission tickets or a free buffet at The Silks. Dan Leary and his little troupe of marketers and media-types have put some thought and energy into this program and it attracts a pleasant crowd of about 70-80 people on Saturday mornings.
The very first featured guest was the articulate and stylish Aaron Gryder. He regaled the audience with some of his jockey experiences - 17 trips to Dubai including his $6 million winning one aboard Well Armed - as well as some of his personal philosophy ("I try to stay away from slow horses and fast people"). Additionally, he offered up his insight on maintaining his weight, indicating that he has a personal trainer and a nutritionist to keep him out of 'hot boxes' and shed 3-4 pounds prior to races. "I loose about 1000 pounds per year," he remarked jokingly. Clearly, any inspiration was lost on me because at that moment I was stuffing my mouth with a second breakfast burrito.
The program two weeks later, we were treated to jockey Bobby Walker, Jr., whose articulation and style is, er, somewhat different from that of Aaron Gryder. However, he's a popular fellow here in this circuit, and he's quite a character. I'm under the impression that he does not have a nutritionist; he has a mixologist.
As for the barn tours, the trainers that volunteered their services, such as Dallas and Donna Keen, and J.R. Caldwell, have been most inviting and informative. And the fans participating in the barn tours are respectful and adhere to the rules: no flash photography, no cell phones, and don't touch the horses. Usually there's some dumb dork that ruins it for everybody but so far I haven't encountered any dorks.
Jockeys & Java has been an entertaining, informative, and delicious program, at the same time providing horse racing revelation to fans. I, for one, am an appreciative fan and hope that the program continues in future meets.
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Backstretch bonus: Bonnie Blue Flag, at Lone Star Park to race in the Cinemine Stakes May 31, 2010, enjoys North Texas sunshine. A real treat to meet this beautiful filly!