Saturday, December 31, 2011

Leigh and Arnaud Delacour, Trainers

Today’s blogger is trainer Leigh Delacour, who runs Delacour Stable with her husband, Arnaud. They currently campaign 30 horses at Tampa Bay Downs. A University of Virginia graduate with degrees in biology and economics, Leigh won 25 races as a jockey (with 25 seconds and 25 thirds) before working as an assistant under Kentucky Derby-winning trainers Barclay Tagg and Graham Motion. The Delacours were married in 2007 and immediately began their own stable. She trained Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint third-place finisher Her Smile last year at Tampa Bay Downs before Her Smile was sold.

When you’ve grown up working on the grounds and working so hard with every horse every day, you realize how so much effort by so many people is put into each horse before it gets to the races. We employ between 15-20 people here full time, and we have five or six more guys as contract labor. Arnaud and I get here around 5:30 every morning and check the legs and temperatures of every horse and have a good look before the boys put the tack on to go to the track.
We take all the horses out every day for some form of exercise. Each of our riders gets on six horses in the morning. That includes me. We have five or six horses in each set. We walk up together to the track, stand for a few minutes and kind of talk about who’s going to do what – ‘Tony, gallop a mile and a quarter,’ ‘Leigh, you’re going to jog once around because that filly breezed the day before.’ We work as a team together, which makes it nice.
By the time we get back to the barn, the second set of horses is already tacked up. We don’t have much time in between. Gosh forbid you drink too much coffee, because you don’t have time to ride to the ladies room.
Most trainers have a system of what they like to do with a horse. A standard regimen would include breezing approximately once a week, having an easy day jogging or walking the day after a breeze, and racing about once a month.
After they run, we’ll give them a couple of easy days where they walk a day and jog a day, then we’ll jog them for a week or so and give them some easy gallops until we bring them back to a breeze. How far and how strenuous the breezes are depends on where the horse is in its fitness level.
Right now, every horse we train is owned by a client. The only horse we own is our pony, and we left him at home in Fair Hill, Md. at our training center. We may occasionally buy into a partnership, but that usually is more a goodwill gesture than a financial decision.
We’re finished training most days by 10 a.m., when the track closes. I am supposed to help clean the tack with the guys, but they are all very helpful and usually do it for me. Guys like Pablo and Erasmo know what to do and make my job easier. There is a lot of organizational work to be done. We update all our charts on the computer and keep individual files on each horse. When I was working for Graham Motion, I would travel with a small string of 12 or less and could keep the information in my head, but once you get to 15 or more horses you have to have it very organized.
Schooling horses is a very important part of our training, and we’ll school horses a couple of days a week. First, we ask the paddock judge, Sam Siciliano, for permission to take horses up and school them during the first race while our grooms are still here. They walk up with the runners, walk around in the paddock during the race and walk back.
So they don’t actually run, but they get the experience of going to the races. Then, when it comes time for them to run, they’re not nervous about going to the paddock. They go there very self-confident, they don’t sweat or wash out and they have less likelihood of misbehaving.
I am very much a horse person. By nature, I’m kind of introverted if I’m allowed to be. I really like animals, horses in particular. I know that sounds kind of girly, but horses have always been there for me. I think my parents, who live in Annapolis, think I’m a dairy farmer because we are at the barn all the time.
Arnaud makes fun of me when I push the feed cart, because I get distracted so often. It must weigh 1,000 pounds when it’s full, so it takes two people – one to push it and the other to dole out the food. Arnaud says it doesn’t work very well when I push it, because I’m thinking of things I want to do for each horse and it takes forever to get down the shed row. So that’s one thing we don’t do together.
We’re usually back at the barns at 3:30 in the afternoon to walk the horses, let them have a pick of grass. We pay hot walkers to come back in the afternoon and help, but we are here pretty much all the time. That is the way it should be – trust, but verify. Things always go wrong when you aren’t here, but when you’re here they go wrong less.
Arnaud is the most influential person in my career. I already had a very good work ethic because I care so much about the animals, but his work ethic has been a major influence. This is a job that requires your attention all day, every day. When you have a bad situation, you figure out how to fix it and move on. There is no point stressing out about something. You may have a problem with one horse, but you can’t lose sight of the fact there are 29 others depending on you to steer the ship.
Honestly, I’m not in horse racing because I really love the sport. I do realize it’s a fun adventure for people to wager on the races, but that is not why I do it. I do it because I like the animals and you can make a living in horse racing, where if you are an event rider you need to have a sponsor or beg, borrow and steal enough money just to feed your string.
Between the purse structure and owners being able to afford to race horses – realizing they are a luxury commodity – Arnaud and I don’t have to starve to make sure we can take care of the horses properly.
If there is one thing I would change about my job, we would have a vacation. Still, when I am able to get away for a day or two, I feel as if I haven’t done any exercise because I didn’t ride. If I go see my parents for Christmas or something, in two days I am ready to come back. Arnaud and I jump out of bed at 4:30 every morning, and that is hard to say about any job.
For us, it is always about doing the right thing for the horse and the right thing for our clients, and the right thing for our employees. We are very minimally influenced by what other people think. Arnaud has a very strong sense of ethics, and that is something that is coveted in any business.
At the end of the morning, I usually have the sensation of ‘that day went well.’ No one fell off, no one went lame, no big disasters struck. The breezes went well and according to plan and no owner fired you. That’s when we look at each other and say, ‘That was a pretty good day.’

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Allison DeLuca, Racing Secretary

Our first blogger is Allison De Luca, the director of racing and racing secretary since the 2006-07 season. In addition to her duties at Tampa Bay Downs, De Luca is the stakes coordinator at Keeneland in the fall and at Churchill Downs after the Kentucky Derby. In 1987, she became the first female racing secretary at a recognized meet when she was hired at Sportsman’s Park in Illinois.

When you’re a racing secretary, you end up saying ‘No’ a lot. Turning people down who would like to come here or having to tell them we don’t have extra stalls is difficult, but it’s part of my job. Or, someone may come in and ask for a race and I have to turn them down because it’s coming up in the book later or it’s just a race we don’t write.
You hate to be the bearer of bad news, but most people are very nice about it. I try to stay calm and state my case and not get someone any more upset than they already may be. I’m not saying I’m perfect at it, but that’s what I try to do.
I think all racing secretaries get accused of favoritism. It is just a natural thing, if you think about it. People especially think that of the leading trainers, that I get everything done for them. Really, it’s laughable. Jamie Ness has been leading trainer here for quite a while, and I rarely talk to him.
Sure, everybody has people they get along with better – that’s human nature. But actually, if you are a friend of mine, I probably treat you worse than someone I don’t know because I don’t want anyone to say I’m doing you a favor.
I’ve given up trying to be liked by everybody. I guess I’ve kind of matured in that sense. The people who I need to like me are my friends and my family. Don’t get me wrong – I’m a people person, and I try to be fair and not be mean to anybody. And I don’t feel I’m in a position of power to lord over anyone. The bottom line is, I want to try to make things work, and if I can help you, I will.
I just want you to call me back if I call you. I don’t care if you say ‘no,’ but we need you to say it so we can move on.
Filling the entries and writing the condition book are the two aspects of my job that take the most time. I always end up doing the book at home, because there are people in and out of the office all day and you just can’t concentrate. You kind of need to step away and let your mind relax before you start on it.
It probably takes a few days to write; you just do it in bits and pieces and work on it when you can. Ask any racing secretary – when they finish that book, it is like the weight of the world is off of you. But before you know it, three or four days later you have to start the next one.
The most hectic time of the day for us is from 9-11 a.m., when we’re taking entries and trying to fill the races. There comes a point when you can see certain races are not going to fill and that’s when we start calling people on the phone. If we need to fill more than one race, I start handing them out to everybody to start making calls.
It’s not always fun, but it’s an accomplishment when you get it done. What feels best is when you ask someone to run their horse in a race and they win. It’s already happened a few times this meet.
What I’ve always liked best about my job is the camaraderie with my fellow officials, both around the country and the ones I work with. My closest friends are racing officials, and we’re a very tight-knit group here at Tampa Bay Downs! Stanley Shina, Judy Clark, Gerry Stanislawzyk, Henry Cambone, Eddie Cantlon, Diana Pimental, Jennifer Moore, Lawrence Waite, Pat Bovenzi, Sam and Carol Siciliano, Pete Antonucci, Joe Waunsch, Ron Dill – they are all important to me and vital to the day-to-day operation.
I have had many influences on my career. (Current Tampa Bay Downs steward and former racing secretary) John Morrissey and I have always stayed in touch. I worked for him at Keystone, and he helped me get my first major assistant’s job at Hawthorne. A lot of people are always calling him for advice. He pretty much knows the answers to what every racing secretary needs to know.
My son, Henry Montgomery, is my inspiration. I would say he is the reason I get up in the morning. Henry is a college graduate from the University of Kentucky, where he majored in political science. He is an avid sports fan. He’s 23 now and is trying to be a professional poker player. He is very smart and quiet, which is probably one of the reasons he’s so good at poker – people don’t know what he is thinking! I am also very close to my two brothers and two sisters.
This job doesn’t leave much time for hobbies. I am very interested in politics, sometimes too much so. If I retired, I would like to be the person in the neighborhood who takes people to their doctor appointments, things like that. I love older people, and I would like to do more of those type of things.
I will never be on Facebook. Remember I said that. I know social media can be used for good and evil, but I think people are putting too much of their personal information out there, and I don’t think that’s  healthy. The Internet can be a good thing, but too often some nitwit will say something and have it catch fire and be accepted as truth, when it’s not.
I know I’ve done a good job when I’ve tried my hardest and finished what I set out to do. When I finish my tasks, try to put together a good card and am able to help someone in the process, I feel like I’ve had a good day.