"No racing at Bowie today."
While those words do not greatly affect the world at large, they have a profound impact on the colorful, insular, frequently misunderstood community known as "The racetrack."
This was to have been the last week of Bowie Race Course's winter meeting, with Pimlico slated to open Monday. A strike has scratched Bowie's cards since Saturday, and it is questionable whether there will be anymore racing at the track until summer.
The merits of labor and management positions aside, the fact is that the walkout affects many more people than the 550 striking members of Local 692, Retail Store Employees Union, which represents mutuel clerks, parking attendants, admissions and security employees, 'jockeys' valets and the starting-gate crews at Bowie and Maryland's other major tracks, Pimlico and Laurel.
The racetrack is a self-contained community, a little world unto itself. And when there is no racing, its life-blood coagulates.
Bowie, like all Gaul and all tracks, is divided into three parts. Three groups of people make it go:
THE HORSEMEN. Approximately 930 horses are stabled in Bowie's 22 barns. They represent some 500 owners, and are ridden by some 60 jockeys, although a small number of these dominate each day's program.
There were 95 trainers registered for the winter meeting and assigned stalls. Some of them have only a handful of horses. Others -- such as the "Kingpins" of the Maryland racing circuit, Buddy Delp, King Leatherbury and Dick Dutrow -- handle the bulk of the horses.
Each trainer employs a "shed," including a foreman, exercise boys and girls who gallop the horses, "hot walkers" who "cool out" the horses by walking them for 25 or 30 minutes after workouts, grooms and stablehands.
Collectively, the stable area and the people who inhabit it are known as "the backstretch" or "the backside." Their work, the care and feeding of thoroughbreds, goes on, strike or no strike.
TRACK EMPLOYEES. During the winter meeting, Bowie employs 360 mutuel clerks, 62 admissions people, 200 concessionaires and catering workers, 62 parking-lot attendants, 80 guards, 30 maintenance people, and various other personnel, including some whose voices are more familiar to the public than their names: announcer Richard Woolley and switchboard operator Mabel Spiegel, for example.
The executive offices include the general manager, track superintendent, admissions director, parimutuel director, publicity director and attending physician.
In the racing department, headed by the stewards and racing secretary, there are clockers, placing and patrol judges, the film patrol, starting-gate crew, jockeys' room attendants, clerk of scales, paddock judge and timer, and other such specialized personnel as the identifier, Jim Rowan, who is responsible for checking the number tatooed on the lower lip of horses that against a foal certificate -- a means of insuring that "ringers," impostor horses, are not slipped into races for which they are overqualified by breeding and past performance.
There are also 20 people technically employed by the Maryland State Racing Commission but paid by the track --(who test winners for illegal drugs), veterinarians and security personnel.
PATRONS. These are the people who "pays their money and takes their chances."
The price of admission to Bowie is $4 for the clubhouse, $2 for the grandstand. Children 12 and under are admitted free. Cumulative attendance for the 53 days of racing before the strike was 457,458. They bet a total of $55,412,423.
The average crowd at Bowie on any given weekday, rain or shine, is 8,200 people. On Saturdays and holidays, it is approximately 16,000. They wager an average daily handle of $1,065,623. Of that, 85 per cent is returned to winning bettors. The state takes 5.34 per cent of the remaining 15 per cent. The track takes 4.16 per cent.