The reading was 19 degrees on the thermometer outside the stable gate at 1 p.m., post time for the first race at Bowie yesterday.
"A real warming trend has set in," the guard noted. "It's up six degrees since 10 o'clock."
Indeed, Monday's program at the Prince George's course had been canceled because of the cold weather and a frozen racing strip. Part of the track had been resurfaced, during the free-out, and the going was good but slow. But for the men in the jockeys' room, being safe was hardly a complete substitute for being warm.
It's the worst I've ever ridden in," declared young Robert Gilbert, who was sill basking in the afterglow of Piped Aboard's victory Saturday in the Bowie Handicap. "'Course, I've only been riding two years, but the only think that could make it okay would be to wear an overcoat over the silks."
Nick Shuk, one of the veterans, agreed that riding in the cold had rarely been worse.
"Only once, in 1950 at Charles Town (W.Va.) can I recall it being much worse, with the wind-chill and all," Shuk said. "It was cold and the track was sloppy, with ice underneath. They called off the program after the first race. But for that was after six of the horses in the field of 10 had fallen."
The worst riding day Shuk ever experienced, he said , was at Narragansett Park near Pawtucket, R.I.
"About 10 years ago up there it was five above, actual temperature, and they said the wind-chill factor made it 45 below."
Nobody knew just how bitter it was riding yesterday at Bowie, but the young jockeys and the old-timers alike agreed it was tough trying to guide 1,000-pound horses through the wind and the cold at roughly 30 miles an hour.
"It's the going in and coming out, five times a day, that adds to the discomfort," Gilbert remarked. "Maybe if you just stayed out it wouldn't be so bad."
The 19-year-old jockey was prepared, however, as well as any rider could be for the occasion.
"You start with long-johns or thermal underwear," he said. "Insulated riding pants help a lot; they help plenty. Up on top, I wear a tee-shirt, then a thermal top, then two rain jackets to help break the wind."
The sleeves of his top jacket are cut off at the elbow to allow better arm movement. He then wrapped a rubber band over the wrist of each sleeve of his silks.
"That helps keep the dirt out and the cold air from running up your arm," Gilbert added. "What you can't keep out are the little clumps of dirt or the salt on the track, which burns, from hitting you in the face, even though I put on this orange ski mask and these goggles every time out."
Yesterday's masks gave many riders the appearance of goal tenders in the National Hockey League. The goaltenders, fortunate, are better protected for their line of work.
"About the only help you get from the horse is during the post parade," Gilbert said. "You can wear two pairs of gloves; I'm wearing just one, light ones, which I ride in. Some guys put a second pair of heavier ones over top the lighter ones, then take them off at the gate, but I sometimes lay my hands on the side of my horse's neck and the horse's body temperature helps a little.
"The gloves make you lose your touch a little bit, but you got to wear something. Just like, on the feet, some riders wear fur-lined boots. I don't, I just Put extra-heavy socks inside my regular boots."
So what is the best strategy, during a race, if a rider wants to stay a little warmer?
"My advice would be stay in the middle of pack, back off the lead, so you're not the first one cutting through the wind," Gilbert commented. "There's only one trouble with that, of course. You can't make any money staying back there."
Gilbert's mount, Rough Copy, was on or near the lead until the eighth pole, in the first race, then faced. His horses then got "colder" as the day grew longer. At $22 for a losing mount, it was a tough way to make a living.
"The horses don't mind it. They seem to prefer the cold to the extreme heat in the summer," Gilbert said. "I just didn't have any hot horses to ride today, I quess."
In truth, no one did.