Monday, October 31, 2011

What you don't see on the program.....Buffalo Wings

When you move from a fan to an owner to a trainer you learn a few things about the business of horse racing.
One of the most important things you learn is that what you see on the racing program is not really all there is to know. Sometimes you see the odds of a horse so out of whack with how it looks on paper that it makes you wonder. Those are the easy times to figure that something is there that you don't see. Or know.
Most times however there is much more to it and both the program and the odds board don't ever reflect that.
As you race horses you learn this: In every race, every person and every horse has a story. Many you never know or learn. But those stories are still there. This is one such story.
It was a Sunday afternoon and I had just got home from the long trip to Sudbury and back. Racing at Sudbury was a whole day and night affair. You prepared in the morning, left by lunch time, if not earlier, got there by dinner time, grabbed some fries, unloaded the truck and trailer, spent all night racing two horses,  put them away, grabbed some sleep in a room or in your truck, got up at the crack of dawn, drove 5 hours back to home base, then fed the horses and went home for some rest and sleep.  24 hours of go go go.
This Sunday was no different. I had 6 horses in training.  Two I had raced the night before and two I had raced on Friday night. I did all the work all of the time, so there was work to be done when I got back to the barn. But this time I was tired and I wasn't up to it. I put the two I had just raced in their stalls, put the two who had raced on Friday night in the big paddock so they could run all day and put the other two in the small paddock so they could move around a bit before I got back later to do a bit of work on them. The two who had not raced were Buffalo Wings and King Herc. As with all of my horses I had bought them when they were older and had not named them.
When I got back to the barn at 8pm it was still light out, and the heat had subsided. Just a nice October night. No wind, No rain. Just a calm night. I was rested and it was time to get to work. I took the two out of the big paddock and brought them in. Then I took the two had just raced the night before and put them in that paddock to stretch their legs, eat some grass and reward them for their good efforts the night before. I had come home with a thousand bucks from Sudbury. A nice haul, and the usual. That's why I made the effort to go all the way there. The money was good and the horses were soft. I could race just 45 minutes away and sleep in my own bed, but the competition was tougher and the money much harder to come by. Now I had to get the two I had in the small paddock ready.
The two in that paddock were Buffalo Wings and King Herc.
King Herc was still not racing. He was a project. A favor and a project I took on for a friend in the barn. He was still about 4 weeks from being ready to race, if he ever raced. He had the legs of a warrior and was not to keen to be a racehorse anymore. But he was a nice little horse and I enjoyed working with him. He was a Sudbury horse as well, and had made lots of money there when he was in his prime. He was also a good paddock mate for Buffalo Wings. Two geldings who pretty much ignored each other and went about eating grass and grazing. I had put them out together so they would come back in one piece when I got back to the barn.
Buffalo Wings was an all around nice horse. Sound clean legs, big strong smart horse, nice to work with and would do whatever you wanted with him. He was no champion, but he was a steady earner and I had already made quite a bit of money with him. I bought him with the idea that he could clean up in Sudbury and he had done just that. He was in to race again on Wednesday in Sudbury and this time I was going with just him. He was very low maintenance and just needed to graze all day and eat the rest of the time. I rarely jogged him. He raced every week and stayed in shape that way and with his daily runs in the paddock.
I prepared dinner and breakfast for all the horses then went out to get King Herc and Buffalo Wings. King Herc came right to the gate. He wanted in. Suddenly, though, I noticed that Buffalo Wings was not there. Not anywhere. Normally, when a horse gets out of his paddock (which happens a lot) they usually run to another paddock, or just find some fresh grass and graze. Sometimes they just wander back into the barn and go right into their own stall. In this case none of those things happened.
There was no one at the barn, so he must have wandered off somewhere. I didn't panic. Buffalo Wings was a very sensible horse and I was sure I would find him. I gathered King Herc and led him back to  his stall and to his dinner. All present and accounted for except for Buffalo Wings.
I began the search. It was almost dark now, so if he was far off it wasn't gonna be easy. I had been at this barn now for 4 or 5 years, but other than the barn, the track and the close paddocks, I had not really ever explored all the surrounding land, of which there was lots. This night was going to show me every inch of it, and then some. I learned a lot about what was there, and things I had never seen.
We had horses get loose many times before and we had a gate to keep them away from the road, which was only seconds from the barn. When I had gotten to the barn that night, the gate was not closed. This happened often. Most of us didn't pay much attention to it, and this was the first time that it had come back to bite anyone. I searched through the woods,  which was just on the outskirts of the property. It was dark now, so my only recourse was to call out his name as I searched. My hope was that he would come towards me or at the very least would be startled and run and make some noise so I could find him. It was now 10pm and there was no sight or sound of him. I decided to search farther. By this point I was now off the property, but still well within where he could be.
As I approached a hill I noticed a deep depression. I stopped just short of it. Deep in the small valley, which was very steep,  there was a huge pond. If he had run free and towards this he could have fallen down deep into the pond and drowned. It was dark, and there was nothing I could do about that if he did. Nor could I see if he had. I looked for hoof prints, but I didn't see any. That was a good sign. My mind was racing now. All my hard work, my searching and scouting to find him, making him a better race horse, doing what needed to be done to make a good buck with him, that was all in jeopardy and could be all gone.
I traced back through the woods on my way back to the barn. Still no sight or sound of him. It was now close to 11pm.
He was not in any of the paddocks, nor in the barn.
I went and got the two horses out of the paddock and brought them into their stalls. It was almost midnight. At this point I had no choice, I had to get in the truck and start driving through the back roads, in the hope of finding him  running loose. The trailer was still attached, so if I did find him, I could bring him home. There was always the chance I would find him dead, hit by a car or truck, but really I had no choice at this point but to trudge on and hope for the best.
I jumped in the car and started with the back roads. The barn was located right off of Woodbine Avenue, which was a major street, but if he was there, there already would have been sirens and police cars, or he would have been dead. Either way, not a good place to start. I had been down many of these back roads before. When you ship horses as much as I did, you find that taking them is much easier than having impatient drivers driving up your butt and making you uncomfortable. But I never really paid much mind to them. When you ship horses and take the long trips I did, you zone out your mind and one driveway or farm starts to look like all the rest.
This time though I had to pay attention. So many places he could be. It was dark and late as I mentioned before and there was no light to speak of, other than the headlights on my truck.
I made my way slowly, but it was pretty obvious to me that this was futile. As I got to the end of the first back road I was now at the main road, Warden Avenue. This was quite far but horses when motivated can travel a long distance in a short time. I made a left turn and followed the road. Lots of light this time but still no sign of him. I guess that  was good, the longer I didn't find him on any road,  the more likely he had stumbled onto some farmers property and was being held until daylight.
As I got to end of Warden and hit the intersection of Bloomington Road I made a left. Lots of farms along the South border, and many with horses, so I could easily see him wandering into this area. They were heavily fenced, but horses are crafty and always find a way around that. I knew that to be true this time, because that is how he got out in the first place.
As I drove down Bloomington still no sign of him. I made the left turn at Woodbine and then in seconds I was back at the barn. I got out of the truck, checked on all of the horses and then decided I would go watch tv in the lounge room. No point chasing around at this point and I was getting tired again.
Grabbed a nap for about an hour, and it was now almost 2am. Still no sign of him. I decided I would take another drive around the neighborhood. Being 2am and a very rural area, there was not a car to be seen, so I made the rounds quickly this time. Back at the barn in 10 minutes, I decided to take a short nap in the truck. As I awoke, it was now 3:30am and I got up refreshed. I have always been the type that knew things would just work out if you kept your cool and remained calm, and I was doing that this time.
As I got out of the truck I began to walk the whole barn area again. Still no sign of him. The night was very still and calm, but now quite a bit cooler. I decided to take another run at the forest area, to see if he was anywhere to be found.
As I got far out enough, the brush was now wet with the dew and it was very cold. I did not have a jacket on,  as with all the ruckus of the day turning to night I had forgotten to do that.
Suddenly, I heard a noise. I moved towards it. As I got closer, it was obvious: It was him. Luckily for me, I had put bandages on him, as I did all horses I turned out. That probably saved his legs from many cuts and bruises, and in the end allowed him to still be in good enough to be raced 3 days later.
Unfortunately for me, I did not bring a lead shank out with me.
No matter what, I was not gonna let him go. I had done too much all night to find him, and had stuck with it to this point.
Leading a big strong horse in the dark from the forest, with all the bush and branches, was just asking to get step on or kicked. But it was a risk I was willing to take. Buffalo Wings was such a calm sensible horse that I could trust him to not bolt or kick or bite me. In many ways I felt that he was tired and happy to see me show up and lead him back to the safety of his stall, where his dinner awaited.
After about twenty steps I had him out of the bush and we were walking on the paved pathway back to the barn.
Got him back to the barn and now put him in the cross ties. Now to see what kind of damage may have been done. As I got the bandages off, all appeared good and in order. I noticed some blood near his feet and ankles, and as I cleaned it off it was clear that it was a minor cut, so I treated it and bandaged him back up.
Back in his stall, back in my truck, gate closed and back home to rest up.
I arrived back at the barn around lunchtime, and there was the usual hustle and bustle. No one was any the wiser that a loose horse had gotten away. I went about my usual daily chores and jogged Buffalo Wings to see if there was any reason to scratch him. There wasn't . He was his usual self. Lazy and going about his business, doing what he was told  and barely doing whatever he needed and was asked to do.
I arrived in Sudbury on Wednesday night, raced Buffalo Wings, got a solid 4th, another 800 bucks,  and went home. The patrons and bettors, as well as all the trainers and grooms at the track had no idea what it took to get that horse to that race, and how close it came to not happening. I also didn't know about what might have happened with their horses. Most times, you never do.

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