Getting to the Paddock
For Sports Creek Raceway, exit I-69 at Morrish Road (exit 128). From the east, turn right at the end of the ramp and proceed south a short distance (just across the overpass) to the track entrance on the right. From the west, you will be facing the track entrance at the end of the exit ramp. Proceed west on the track access road approximately 0.25 mile to horsemen parking on the right. Stop at the guard station and sign in.
Entering the horsemen parking lot, the ship-in barns are on the right and the paddock building is located straight ahead. Sports Creek has a twelve race paddock, so if your horse is in a later race (12-16), your horse will be in the ship-in barn until the appropriate early race clears the paddock. The access gate for the paddock building is located at the southwest corner of the parking lot. After you’ve unloaded your horse, proceed to the paddock gate and check-in with the guard. Enter the paddock through the doors at the south end of the building. Again, in most cases, you can follow the lead of the other horsemen.
Finding Your Stall
Sports Creek has an eleven race paddock—more or less—and they typically have a sixteen race card. In an effort to fit as many horses in the paddock as possible and minimize the number in the ship-in barn, each available stall is used. Depending on the number of horses in each race, the location of stalls for a particular race and post will vary—just look for your back pad (number) and make sure your horse is in the correct stall.
If you are in race twelve through sixteen, your horse will need to wait in the ship-in barn until the appropriate early race clears the paddock. Conversely, if you are in the first through fifth, and you have multiple horses racing, you will need to vacate your paddock stall shortly after the race and move your horse to the ship-in barn.
The paddock stalls at Sports Creek have both gates and cross-ties. No shavings, sawdust, straw, or other bedding is permitted. Once your horse is safely in its assigned stall and you’ve unloaded your equipment, it’s a good idea to check out the facility layout, so you know where everything is located.
Around the Paddock
The Paddock Judge’s office is located between the two main aisles, approximately in the center of the paddock building. Near the south end of the building, you’ll find the testing area on the east side, the lasix veterinarian on the west side, and the rest rooms and break room in the center. Upstairs at the south end is concessions, driver locker room, rest rooms, and the Michigan Harness Horsemen’s Association office.
Licensing, Judges & Race Secretary Offices
The Michigan Gaming Control Board offices and the Race Secretary’s office are located in the building directly south of the paddock. To reach the MGCB licensing office, go through the gate located in the southwest corner of the horsemen’s parking lot (just behind the paddock check-in guard station). Then, turn right and proceed west approximately 50 yards to the door straight ahead.
Backstretch Traffic Flow
Horses generally exit through the doors at the north end of the paddock building to warm-up and race. After warm-ups or races, they generally re-enter the paddock building at the south end. The one-way flow helps reduce congestion and enhance safety. However, please keep in mind that horsemen will use the doors in both directions as a matter of convenience, especially when loading up horses for the trip home.
General Race Day Preparation Information
Experienced horsemen will find very little discussed here that they don’t already know. Getting a horse to the track is a surprisingly complex process requiring detailed planning but, for most horsemen, it’s routine. The purpose of this section is to help explain race day preparations to those new to the industry or simply curious about the sport of harness racing. Every trainer has their own way of doing things, so while we touch on the many tasks required, preferred methods do vary.
Acquiring and training a horse is a challenging and exciting process. First, you do the research necessary to acquire the right pacer or trotter. Then, you invest weeks or months of care and training to get it into peak race condition. Finally, you pick a date, and race that fits your horse’s capabilities and enter your horse. Everything you’ve done—all of the hard work—culminates on race day. It’s an exhilarating and stressful time, especially if you’re new to racing, but knowing what to expect can help alleviate some of the stress.
Efficient and successful race day preparations begin with good everyday management of your horse’s training schedule and effective organization of its equipment. Everything that trainers and grooms do throughout the week is designed to ensure your horse’s peak condition on race day. After all, successfully getting to the track on race day doesn’t mean much if the horse isn’t ready to perform once it gets there.
Part of a Team
If you’re an owner, you probably rely on your trainer to prepare, transport, and paddock your horse on race day. Many owners choose to enjoy race day in the clubhouse and meet their horse in the winner’s circle if everything goes to plan. Over the years, it’s been the most typical ownership model and many trainers prefer it that way. But more recently, hands-on ownership has gained in popularity and trainers are beginning to embrace it. Many in the industry recognize that it’s a great way to encourage and expand participation and investment in harness racing.
Of course, if you want to be a hands-on owner, you need to learn how to handle horses. It takes an experienced horseman to safely transport and paddock a horse on race day. It’s a big responsibility, but along with it comes with a tremendous sense of satisfaction. Owners who never experience that part of racing are missing out. It requires hard work and dedication, but take the time to learn—you’ll be glad you did.
Learning the Ropes
A good way to start is offering to help around the barn. Learn how to properly ‘pick’ a stall. It’s where every good horseman starts—and yes, there is a right way and a wrong way. You’ll always be welcome if you’re willing to clean a few stalls. Then learn how to safely move horses from one place to another—whether it’s putting them in the cross-ties to clean their stall or taking them out to the pasture. Eventually, you’ll start to feel confident and comfortable around the horses and you’ll learn more about them along the way.
It’s Race Day!
Preparing for a trip to the track can be intense, because there’s little room for error. Once your horse is entered to race, any number of mistakes can result in being scratched. The process starts with preparing the horse and equipment at the barn and culminates in a flurry of activity leading up to race time. Every step happens on a strict schedule at the track and it can be very intimidating for a new horseman. Despite the pressure, there is great satisfaction in being part of the team that gets your horse on the track.
Know the Plan
The first step in a successful race day is good planning. Make sure everyone on the team understands the plan—what’s the schedule and who’s responsible for what? Get to the barn on time and knock out the chores. Decide what time you need to depart the barn to get to the track on time—leaving room for surprises along the way. Be sure to account for weather, traffic, border crossings, or even a flat tire. Of course, if any of the horses making the trip are on lasix, everything moves up by several hours.
What You Need
The equipment and supplies needed on race day fall into one of three categories—transport, racing, and post-race care. It’s a common mistake for inexperienced horsemen to focus only on those items needed for the race itself. However, if you aren’t prepared to safely and comfortably transport your horse, and properly care for it before and after the race, everything else you do could be wasted effort.
Tack, Equipment & Supplies
At most stables, there is a set routine to help ensure that the necessary tack and equipment is ready to go on race day. The harness bag holds the harness, race halter, bridle, hobbles, head poles, boots, and other equipment worn by the horse for its warm-up and/or race. Race day equipment may not be the exact ‘rigging’ used during training, so be sure to double-check the harness bag before you load. Wash and water buckets are commonly used to carry other needed material like wraps, towels, blankets, liniments, soap, cross-ties, etc. It’s a good idea to set the gear out in advance, so you have it all in one place.
A container (bucket, pouch, tackle box) of items that serves as an ‘emergency’ kit at the track can come in handy. You never know when you might need a clasp, scissors, string, an extra tongue-tie, or some other item in order to solve a problem. As an example, while most track stalls have cross-ties, it’s a good idea to have your own set just in case. An extra clasp can be a life-saver when one is missing from the wash stall.
Double-check and load your tack, equipment and supplies before you even think about taking the horse out of its stall. Try to minimize the amount of time horses spend in the trailer and be ready to roll once the horses load—especially during the summer.
Safe and efficient transport starts with the trailer and the truck that will pull it. Are both licensed? Does the truck have the horsepower to pull the trailer? Does it have the correct hitch and is it rated to pull the load? Are all of the trailer lights working? Do you have a spare tire, lug wrench, and a tapered block to change a tire on the roadside? There are plenty of other questions, but you get the idea. A test run with an empty trailer is a good idea and will help answer many of these questions.
Preparing the inside of the trailer for the trip will help ensure that the horses have a comfortable trip. Inspect the inside carefully for any maintenance issues. Be sure all of parts are secure, especially the floor or floorboards. Check the doors and latching mechanisms and confirm they are working properly. During the summer months, check for wasps, hornets or other insects to be sure they haven’t built any nests while the trailer was parked. Closing your horse inside a trailer with a swarm of stinging insects is a recipe for disaster.
Depending on the distance to the track, you might want to put down a bedding of wood chips, sawdust, or straw to provide cushion during the trip. Some people transport with a hay bag to provide a little food and distraction, but many trainers prefer to avoid the risk of choking. Depending on the weather, close or open the windows to maintain a comfortable temperature during the trip. Stopping along the way to check on the horses is good idea and gives you an opportunity to make any necessary temperature adjustments.
Another thing to consider, in advance, is how your horse will load into the trailer. Experienced race horses usually load without a problem because they know the drill. Less experienced horses might decide they don’t want to go inside. Loading problems can be a real challenge, especially if you’re running late. One trick to consider as a last resort for hesitant to load horses is covering their eyes with a towel. However, your best bet is to practice loading long before race day.
One safety precaution you can take is using a transport halter when you transport. It’s a modified halter with padding to help prevent injury in the event your horse rears up while loading or unloading. Another is to protect your horse’s legs with cotton wraps. The primary purpose of wraps is to prevent injury from kicking, or being kicked, but many trainers will also rub the legs with a liniment prior to wrapping in order to ‘tighten’ the tendons.
Once you load the horse(s), get rolling as quickly as possible. Horses are generally more content while the trailer is on the move. In fact, some horses will demonstrate their discontent with the lack of forward motion by moving around or kicking the trailer.
In transit, focus on providing a safe and comfortable ride for your equine passengers. That means a keen awareness of what’s ahead, so that stops are as subtle as possible. Rumble strips, loud trucks, and various other traffic noises can be a source of anxiety for the horses. Be sure any stops are as brief as possible, especially during the summer, and check on the horses when you do.
Getting to the Paddock
When you arrive at the race track, most will require some form of check-in at the gate. Know what horses you have on board and have your racing license(s) ready. At some tracks, you go straight to the paddock, but at others you’ll be given a ‘ship-in’ stall assignment. If it’s your first time there, don’t be afraid to ask for directions. In most cases, you can follow the lead of other horsemen.
© 1998 -