It starts with a quiet birth in Louisiana. Not in a hospital with a proud father, anxious waiting family or doctors and nurses surrounding the mother. No, the birth of a thoroughbred foal is a simple and beautiful miracle witnessed usually by the breeding farm manager and possibly an extra hand. The thoroughbred foal ignites a dream for its owners of future races and riches and leaves them asking if this new baby could be “the one” — the one foal that is faster than the rest and proves his/her worth on the racetrack. On Saturday, an industry that employs 60,000 people, generates millions in tax revenue and over a billion dollars in economic development for Louisiana fulfills some of those dreams with the running of Louisiana Champions Day at the Fair Grounds.
It’s a day to celebrate the best Louisiana born and bred horses and Louisiana breeders. But it’s not just the horses the day is honoring. Sure the purse money goes to the owners and the trainer and the jockeys of the horses, but there is also a share of money that goes to the farm that bred the horse and started the horse on a journey that began at a foaling barn and culminated with a spot in the starting gate running for hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Louisiana horse breeders pay money and respect on Saturday to the best Louisiana-bred horses — those foals that were born in Louisiana. Louisiana breeders own a mare and mate the mare with the sire to produce the foal we watch Saturday. These horse matchmakers are usually the owner of a mare or the owner of a breeding farm, who own both the sire and the mare. These are folks who are there when the foal takes that first miraculous breath and stands up on shaky legs. The breeders do it with the hope that their next match could result in a Kentucky Derby winner or a Champions Day winner for themselves or for the buyers of the foal.
It’s a long journey to be sure, and horses have to be lucky to make it to the top of the sport and run in races like Champions Day stakes, but they also have to have dedicated, hard-working people who care about horses along the way — the grooms, hot walkers, veterinarians, farm managers and exercise riders. More than likely, these folks won’t be in the winner’s circle trying to squeeze in the official photo after a winning race on Saturday. No, they will be at home or on the farm coming in from another early morning and hard day of work, and they will watch and remember the early days of a young foal on the farm, running aimlessly in a pastured paddock, not knowing whether they were destined for the upper echelon of the sport or relegated to the more common races for a career as a race horse.
But, it is these hard-working fellow Louisianans who should celebrated, because the horses that are running on big race days, and the ones running on a Thursday for lesser purses, all get the same attention and care from the beginning of their lives till the end. They get the care from people who love their jobs and love the horses even more. Without these sometimes-anonymous folks on the farm and those who help along the way, the 6,000 jobs and the billions in economic development that is generated would go somewhere else, like Texas or Florida. So, on Saturday, when you watch the owners, trainers, and jockeys celebrate in the winner’s circle for winning a prestigious Louisiana Champions Day race — do a little celebrating for the Louisiana horse breeding industry because they’ve earned it too.