Weather can be a drag for horse racing

Farm Forum

When it comes to pari-mutuel horse racing at the Brown County Fairgrounds, the weather on race days is of paramount importance.

“When we make a decision to cancel, it’s based solely on the safety of the riders and the safety of the horses,” said Mike Schmidt, general manager of Northeast Area Horse Racing.

Schmidt added that rain is the bane of horse racing.

“Two to 3 inches could put the races in real jeopardy,” he said. “Anything over 3 inches would lead to a cancellation.”

The May 10 races in Aberdeen had to be canceled after it rained much of the weekend.

Preventative steps are taken to protect the track from adverse weather, including using a tractor pulling a track conditioner. The conditioner rolls and seals the track. The treatment, which is done every night, helps to keep any rain that falls from soaking in.

Still, despite the best of efforts to protect the track, Mother Nature sometimes gets her way. The decision to cancel the races, Schmidt said, is sometimes made by the track’s management and at other times by the jockeys.

“Sometimes, jockeys will decline to ride under certain race conditions,” he said. “They’ll run a race or two, then decline to race the rest of the card because of safety issues.”

There are also times, Schmidt said, that the decision to cancel is a mutual one by track management and the jockeys.

When races are canceled, it can have a ripple effect that reaches from spectators to the event’s bottom line.

“It’s a loss to the spectators, especially those who travel quite a distance to watch the races,” Schmidt said.

Northeast Area Horse Racing, a nonprofit organization, sponsors three weekends of horse racing in Aberdeen each year during May.

“It impacts every aspect” of the races when a day is canceled, Schmidt said. “We just have to redo our budgets and stay in line.”

A lost day of racing, however, need not be a complete washout, he said. Steps can be taken to make up for the loss, including adding races to subsequent weekends. For example, a normal eight-race schedule might be expanded to include nine or 10 races instead. Plans for the final weekend of racing, on May 24-25, are to run eight to 10 races a day, he said.

However, Schmidt cautioned that the plans are contingent upon the number of horses entered into each race.

“We try to have six to eight horses per race,” he said, “but we have run with five on occasion.”

Even accounting for the weather and its effect on the track, horse racing can be risky.

“We try not to let the track conditions have any role in accidents,” Schmidt said, “but sometimes accidents are unavoidable, such as when horses clip their heels or when they stumble and fall. Those are just unavoidable accidents that can occur regardless of track conditions.”