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1600 Exposition

A story of who goes where: The entry and post draw process.

Every September, I go to Frederick, Maryland to announce their harness program during that city's fair. One of the most enjoyable parts of those mornings for me before we race is sitting in on the entry and post position draw process for upcoming cards of the meet. The procedure is straightforward: After putting together the written entries she has gathered over recent days, Racing Secretary Bev Hubble produces dice from a well-worn leather jug-like container that when shaken and emptied, serves yet again as the decision-maker like it has over many decades of racing at that track. Drawing post position for upcoming races is quite the social event inside her office, with drivers, trainers, and most any of us with a job at the meet clustered together in a shed row office, all to watch a slice of history live on. Sure, everyone's racing for their share of perhaps five hundred dollars total per mile, yet there is no mistaking the sense of anticipation, and the hopes for the preferred post a horse's connections often make no secret about. Moments like those reinforce exactly why I love being connected to this industry.

While we'd need to rent at least a medium-sized theatre hall if those connected to Cal Expo's entry-taking and post draws decided to hold a Frederick-style event, it is that experience in Maryland for me that led me to want to tell you the story of how that critical process is conducted at a major harness track. At Cal Expo, several people get together to conduct the event. Fred Kuebler has been the Racing Secretary at the track for well over thirty years, and along with Assistant Racing Secretary Brent Bridges, Placing Judge Kathy Poor, and a Steward that always manages the post numbering portion and supervises overall the whole activity (this week it was Grant Baker), the staff comes together at nine in the morning each Tuesday of a racing week to do this work, which is easily one of the most critical parts of administrative business a racetrack must conduct.

Barring a special event by which those representing a competing horse (such as a trainer) are given a chance to select post position, the process of putting together a card and determining post is basically done the same way across all of horse racing; irrespective of breed or format. It's a multi-day process at Cal Expo that starts on Sundays with the release of a condition sheet. The condition sheet is an offer of possible races that specify the terms under which a horse must meet in performance to be placed into the event. Much of the conditions center on how much a horse has been winning or earning money of late, although from time to time (and we are presently in that time) the focus will be on placing horses into a lettered class based on overall performance.

Entries are taken in within a ninety minute window the next day. "Towards the end of the time we take entries, the last half-hour, the phone goes crazy!" explained Assistant Race Secretary Brent Bridges. Once those entries are taken in, all the appropriate forms are prepared and packaged up alongside previously declared "conditions" which are developed that maximize the situations which are present at the track. On my arrival, each of the four people directly involved took moments to explain to me what was happening or about to occur. The groups of entries are packaged in such a way that what will be perceived as the most challenging races are placed into the multi-race wagers such as the Pick-4 or Pick-5.

Fred then made an interesting offer to me. I was invited to stand on one side of the counter in front of a wooden paper holder and be the person who randomly grabbed entry slips representing the horses entered to race this week. For the next hour or so, eyes staring off at the ceiling, watching every other person's work, or taking in the overall atmosphere of the racing office, I randomly grabbed entry forms that Kathy was placing into the paper holder. As she took the sheets, she would line them up post order as numbers were called, then at the end of each group or condition fulfilled by assigning a number, restate the outcome. Once completed, that sets up a race.

We did twenty-eight rounds of this.

As we drew these races, I found myself looking quite often at the drawing of numbers out of a plastic container which was going on to my left. Grant Baker, a veteran racing official throughout California and Idaho across many years, was handling this portion and referred to the numbers as "pills" which he was placing onto a wood tray after each sheet I pulled. Watching that part of the process took me back to the times in Maryland that sit as some of my favorite moments I take away from those trips each year, and even though it's a routine task all around for everyone, I noted that like what I see back east, the work is strong in ritual, tradition, and even bits of good humor. Apparently, the job I did is sometimes filled by an available horseman. In one session, the entire week's program is drawn, and at the end, I was given a chart cover to sign that certified I had been a participant in the procedure.

As sheets are reviewed on the conclusion of each race's draw, attention is paid to driver requests that are listed on the individual forms. Connections to the horse often specify multiple driver preferences in order. In some races, there will be several duplications in the requests. This is where "scratch time" comes into play. By that point on Wednesday, drivers with multiple competing offers must declare their choice of horse to drive. As the late Cal Expo announcer of years ago, Joe Alto would be inclined to say, this Wednesday deadline is "crunch time", and that's because all of this work must be settled in order to be able to present the entirety of draw data for the racing program on Friday and Saturday nights.

- Leighton Worthey