Grooms: the unsung heroes of horse racing

Dec 02, 2018 Jennifer Caldwell/

Racing is not just a sport, it is also a business. And like any business, there are several levels that make it up.

At the top is, of course, the owner, or the person (or persons) supplying money to run the business. Next comes the trainer, or manager. He/she is responsible for developing a plan to carry out the owner’s wishes (i.e. get my horse to the Kentucky Derby or Breeders’ Cup Classic). Next comes the assistant trainer, or assistant manager, who ensures the trainer’s instructions are implemented for each animal and is available to make on-the-spot changes if needed.

Of course, this is an extremely simplified explanation of the racing side of the industry and doesn’t take into account the farms themselves. But the one thing which rings true in both business and racing is that the bottom level is where things actually get done.

In a lot of cases, trainers and assistant trainers have too many horses and responsibilities to take care of their charges’ day-to-day needs. So, just like in business where workers are hired to carry out management’s decisions, so too do trainers hire workers to care for the equines they’ve been entrusted to guide.

These unheralded and often overlooked workers are the grooms.

On average, a groom cares for four horses, and a typical work day includes feeding and watering, mucking out stalls, cleaning both the horse and his/her equipment, physical inspection for any problems, and treating any minor ailments according to veterinary advice. Understand, these are just basic descriptions and doesn’t break down what each task involves. It also doesn’t include a multitude of duties grooms perform on race day.

A groom’s day begins long before most people are awake and can extend into the evening hours, depending on if the horse is racing that day or not. They typically work six days a week, including weekends, and often travel from track-to-track as the racing season, and trainer, demands.

Grooms are rarely recognized by racing fans for all their hard work. The trainers and jockeys normally receive all the accolades.

However, the racing industry does its best to acknowledge the blood, sweat and tears contributed by those working in the barn areas, or the backstretch as it’s called. Many tracks hold “Best Turned out Horse” competitions during races and award prizes to the winning grooms. Some of the individual state racing associations have “Groom Appreciation Awards” and farms themselves recognize the hard work their employees put in each and every day.

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