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    A Look Behind the Curtain of Horse Racing
A Look Behind the Curtain of Horse Racing
Parx Racing. Source: Thoroughbred Daily News

A Look Behind the Curtain of Horse Racing

Much like a Hollywood production, live horse racing involves a large team working behind the scenes to ensure everything runs smoothly. At Pennsylvania's three thoroughbred tracks—Parx Racing, Presque Isle Downs, and Penn National Race Course—the daily operations are meticulously planned and executed by officials such as stewards, the racing secretary, the assistant racing secretary, and the bookkeeper. Meanwhile, various other officials closely interact with the horses and jockeys.

The Role of Racing Officials

The racing secretary publishes a condition book listing potential races and their conditions, aiming to offer competitive, fair, safe, and exciting events. The Pennsylvania Horse Racing Commission, under the state's Department of Agriculture, regulates the state's horse racing industry, ensuring the integrity of the sport across its six racetracks. Three state-appointed stewards at each thoroughbred track oversee and enforce racing laws, acting as the track's police and judiciary. Everyone involved with the racetrack, from horse owners to trainers, must be licensed by the state, with stewards having jurisdiction over all racing officials and licensed personnel.

Pennsylvania Horse Racing Commission. State: Pennsylvania Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association
Pennsylvania Horse Racing Commission. State: Pennsylvania Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association

Daily Responsibilities of Stewards

Michael Melendez, a steward at Parx, explained that their duties include enforcing Pennsylvania Horse Racing Commission rules and the track's private rules. On race days, stewards review films of previous races for any violations and monitor live races. On non-race days, they hold hearings and manage other business. Stewards are essential to maintaining the integrity of horse racing, with the authority to issue reprimands, investigate illegal activities, impose fines, and suspend or revoke licences.

Racing stewards. Source: ABC
Racing stewards. Source: ABC

The Racing Secretary’s Role

Similar to a producer and director, the racing secretary writes the condition book and organises races. David Osojnak, director of racing/racing secretary at Parx, shared that his duties include writing the condition book, organising races, managing horses, and allocating stalls. He strives to present competitive races with evenly matched-horses. The assistant racing secretary collaborates with him in planning the racing schedule and analysing past performances. Racing secretaries act as liaisons between trainers and management, aiming to offer a range of suitable races while remaining impartial.

Denzil Miller – former racing secretary. Source: Quickgallop.com
Denzil Miller – former racing secretary. Source: Quickgallop.com

Financial Management

The horseman’s bookkeeper is another vital component of the racing office, handling all financial transactions, distributing purses, and paying jockeys. These key positions ensure the smooth functioning of a racetrack.

Behind the Scenes: The Life of a Racehorse


Racehorses are transported to events in trailers to conserve their energy for the competition. This ensures they are in peak condition for the race.


Horses are typically fed before travelling and given additional feed upon arrival. However, they are not fed an hour before the race to avoid running on a full stomach, which can hinder their performance.


Before and after the race, horses are kept in stables where a vet assesses them for any injuries or health issues. This area is secluded to provide the horses with a quiet space away from the action.

Pre-Parade and Parade Ring

Upon arrival, horses are placed in the pre-parade ring, where their grooms walk them to warm up. They are then moved to the parade ring, where racegoers can observe them before the race. Jockeys gather here to discuss their strategies, attracting even more spectators.

Loading Up and Post-Race Procedures

As race time approaches, horses are moved into the loading stalls, a critical moment as they can become anxious. After the race, the winner is checked for illegal substances via a urine sample. All-clear horses are confirmed as the true winners.

Cooling Off

Post-race, horses are walked to cool down gradually, allowing their heart rate to decrease naturally. They are hosed down with cold water to reduce body temperature and rehydrate but are not fed immediately to prevent choking.

After a race, horses are given a few days off to recover, essential for restoring their energy and preventing injuries.

Horse racing attracts thousands of spectators yearly, but the behind-the-scenes efforts often go unnoticed. The training and preparation involved in producing a top-tier racehorse are extensive. Racing demands significant energy from horses, requiring careful management and recovery time. The combined efforts of everyone involved ensure the horses are well cared for and perform at their best.


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