Kevin is a groom at Bowie Race Track. He cares for three horses every day, with no day off. He starts work at 5 a.m. and is usually finished by 5:30 p.m., sometimes later.
He is paid $150 a week.
Kevin, 32, has been living and working at the race track for 17 years. He now shares a tiny 12 by 12 foot room above Barn 16 with another groom, Don.
Their room has one tiny window and Kevin says he's lucky it has a screen. Above his battered cot, on one side of the room, is a 24-inch pole he uses to hang up his belongings.
Kevin also has a black and white television, a small refrigerator and a fan. Because of fire regulations, he is not allowed to have a stove, not even a hot plate. On a recent summer day, the room was stifling hot. It is always that way, he says.
If either one of the grooms (whose names have been changed to avoid recriminations from track officials) has to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night, he must get dressed, go down a flight of stairs and walk over to the next barn.
The men's room in Bowie's Barn 15 makes those of the New York subway system look like models from House and Garden Magazine.
It looks like a horse's stall. The floor is made of damp cement with a drain in the middle. The re are two open toilet stalls, one urinal, two old sinks and a larger sink for laundry. There is little ventilation.
The shower stall in one corner has a floor of wooden slats. The only light is emitted from a single bulb. The stench is overwhelming.
Says Kevin: "The Bowie backstretch is the ghetto."
Living conditions at Maryland's thoroughbred race tracks (Bowie, Laurel, Pimlico and Timonium) are substandard compared to other states. As one trainer says, "The conditions aren't good anywhere. They might be a little better at Timonium, but Maryland is the worst."
At all these thoroughbred tracks the stables and the rooms are provided to the trainers free of charge. "But they (track officials) don't want to spend money on fixing it up," one Bowie groom said. "If the Health Department ever came in here, they'd shut the place down."
Although thoroughbred racing shifted to Timonium July 21, many track employes continue to live at Bowie and Pimlico, where many horses are stabled. Throughout the year, three of the four Maryland thoroughbred race tracks remain open for stabling.
Kevin lives on the Bowie backstretch along with 150 other men and eight women.
The cold, harsh reality of life on the backstretch simply doesn't jibe with the romantic image of rosy-cheeked boys and girls lured to the race track to ride all day and care for the horses they love.
The realities at Bowie include:
Frequent unannounced searches of employes' rooms. Track officials claim theyh are checking for cleanliness and drugs. If the rooms are found dirty, the employes are brought before the stewards and fined.
Drugs such as Valium, Quaaludes and marijuana are conveniently attainable and easily brought in from the outside, despite track officials' searchings of employes' cars. One trainer said, "It's okay to be an alcoholic, but not a drug addict."
Long hours and low wages.
Deplorable living conditions.
Alvin A. Karwacki, vice president and general manager of Bowie, insists the track is not responsible for the squalid conditions. He blames the horsemen and grooms.
During a recent interview in his track office, he produced more than 100 Polaroid photos of living quarters and the backstretch taken by the track superintendent, L. F. (Buddy) Kreitzer, to prove his point.
"We ask horsemen to help us keep it clean, but we get no cooperation," Karwacki said. "Sometimes they defecate in the corner of the room.
"We ask the horsemen to report anything that is broken to the guard, who has a form to fill out and pass along to the forman. The foreman then sorts them out as to plumbing, electrical, etc., and passes them on to the appropriate person to fix."
Karwacki explained that a firm, Maryland Maintenance, has a contract with all the tracks to clean and maintain the facilities every day. "We try to stay on top of it," he said, "otherwise we'd never catch up."
Karwacki is particularly bothered by the condition of the manure pits, an area next to each barn enclosed on three sides by a four-foot wall of cinder blocks. At least half of his photos, with the trainer's name on the back, show that horse manure is not properly placed in the area.
"They are supposed to keep the manure pit, look at that," he fumed, looking at one picture. "They just walk so far and dump it. They're lazy, that's all. They don't put it in the pit. It gets picked up every day. And they blame us."
Deep into his tirade on the horesmen's mistreatment of track property, he said, "They complain about running water and dripping faucets. Who turned them (the faucets) on the the first place? Don't blame me."
Many of the horsemen have complained to the Maryland Racing Commission about Bowie's conditions. In response to those complaints, Karwacki wrote a letter to the commission dated June 20, 1980.
"During the 10 weeks that Bowie was dark last winter, he said, "we spent a total of $130,714.53 on the horsemen."
Items listed included $15,814.97 for barn doors, $26,132.63 for repaving in four barns, $2,547.50 for rain gutters, $4,182.20 for new manure pits, $2,857 for new fencing, $12,112.23 for resurfacing the racing strip and $29,592 for labor.
And because the Prince George's County Health Department served notice of the substandard condition of the septic system in Bunkhouse No. 2, $2,575 was spent on toilet facilities.
Not one penny was spent on the living quarters.
"Most of the time we go (to search) between 6 and 8 p.m., Karwacki said, "although if we receive information that would make it necessary to go late, then we do."
Karwacki said one groom recently stole a television from another. "We couldn't very well make an announcement," he said. "Sometimes you have to make it (the search) late. They steal from themselves and our security has to find it."
A track security man, Dave Weaver, a retired Prince George's policeman, said visitors would not be allowed to walk through the backstretch without a racing badge.
Karwacki responded later, "That's a former policeman for you," acknowledging that most reporters are free to roam the barn area.
"I'm afraid she's on a witch hunt," Weaver said when he called the publicity office to verify a reporter's presence. "I don't want to make the press hostile, but I think it's a witch hunt."
Weaver later used his passkey to open the room of a female groom to show its conditions.
Women have been allowed to live at the track the last two years. "At first we were not happy. We assumed they would create problems," Karwacki said. "We were concerned for their safety and I'm still concerned."
According to Debbie Karmazyn, 21, who grooms for trainer Dean Gaudett, "They (the male grooms) are all common. They say little things to you. But I just keep on walking."
"It's like the Getapo," said a groom who works for trainer Bernie Bond. "They (track officials) come in here at any hour they want. They ask me if I have a mop and I tell them no. Then they tell me, 'Get a mop or get out.'
"You do it their way or you don't have a job. It's like something out of Helter Skelter. They come in here like storm troopers. They say they are checking for dirt and they never warn us."
He also said that on three successive Sundays the electricity had been turned off for repairs without notice. He lost $83 worth of meat he had just purchased.
"They treat you like spit," said another groom. "They think you should feel lucky to have a room."
When several track employes were asked whether their rooms could be photographed, all but one refused. Several said they feared they would lose their jobs if they were seen talking to a reporter.
"At Pimlico it's much worse," said groom Karmazyn. "They would search the wall boxes (where medicines and bandages are kept). I was one of the lucky people. They didn't go through my stuff. But they were just looking for anything. They went through the cars and just anything, a little roach (of marijuana) and they would get you."
"They're more interested in going in the room and getting after the kids than in security," said another female groom.
"I was talking to Dave Weaver about the problem just last week," said trainer Richard Shockey. "Anybody's house might be messy when company comes around unannounced. I suggest they say which days the rooms will be inspected and give the grooms some time to clean up. These guys work hard. They don't always have time for housecleaning."
"They don't do anything for the people on the backside," said trainer Greg Wilson, adding that his grooms often complain that security people barge in checking for drugs.
According to Prince George's Policeman Fred Holzberger, who moonlights two days a week as a security man at Bowie, "We check for unwanted people and as long as we're here, most of the bad people stay away."
He said it is a Bowie guard's duty to check badges and take messages.
"Our job is enforcement," said Holzberger, who has been policing the backside for 10 years. "They used to have regular stabbings here, but that was some time ago. Now there is a better class of people.
"If there is a criminal violation (such as fighting or disorderly conduct) we have the prerogative of taking the violator to District Court. It's called taking criminal action. If there is a felony, it would go to Circuit Court."
Holzberger added, "We check the bunks for unauthorized people (women are not allowed in men's rooms) and other violations of the racing commission rules such as cleanliness."
If the rooms are dirty, violators confront the stewards committee and are fined. If they are caught smoking in the barn, a fine of $10 is levied the first time and a stiffer one the second time. The third time, they can be thrown off the track.
Weaver says his major concern is fire. "Some of these horses are worth $100,000 so there is a big investment," he said. Most of the stalls are made of cinder block, although some in the Blueberry Hill section of Bowie and parts of Pimlico are wood.
The availability and use of drugs is another major concern.
"Many of the people here are hooked on either drugs or booze or both," said one trainer, who estimates that one of every three backstretch employes uses drugs or alcohol.
"Most of the drugs are either Valium, Quaaludes or grass," he continued. "That's about all they can afford and that's about all they would want."
Of the use of cocaine, he said, "It's just too expensive for the people back here. Not only that, if they could afford it, it wouldn't be their kind of drug. They want to slow down, not speed up."
"Most of the people bring it (drugs) in from off the track," said groom Karmazyn. "They say they check the cars, but you can bring anything in here you want."
Wages at Maryland's thoroughbred tracks are notoriously low, the hours long. Benefits vary.
"The pay is much lower in Maryland than it is in New York," said trainer Sharon Maloney. "People complain they can't get good help, but they aren't willing to pay. I would say $200 a week for grooming would be tops."
Exercise boys or girls earn $125 a week, hot walkers $90, plus $5 for cooling a horse after a race. Many who work on the backside must supplement their income with two jobs. Tom Atwell, for example, works as an exercise boy in the mornings and writes for the Daily Racing Form in the afternoon.
Some girls exercise horses in the morning, then pony horses to the gate in the afternoon, which earns them an extra $10. But they must own and maintain their own horses. Other exercise boys park cars and work at the mutuel windows. But, as Maloney points out, "The grooms don't get the afternoon off."
Frequently, trainers pay their employes in cash, avoiding paper work and evading minimum wage requirements. Some employes prefer their wages in cash because they avoid taxes. Some collect unemployment and welfare benefits.
"A lot of guys who come around looking for jobs won't take one unless we pay in cash," one trainer said. "That way, they can collect unemployment, too. It's not uncommon."
"Some guys say they have four dependents and then don't file income returns so they don't pay taxes," said trainer Katharine Voss. "I knew one guy who wasn't even living with his wife and they both claimed four (dependents). He ended up getting caught and it took him years to pay it off."
Karmazyn has been working at the track for three years, makes $200 and admits, "I have one of the better jobs on the track." She says she took the job with an eye on the future. "I want to get some horses and train some day. I'm not doing this for the hell of it. I'd like to get something out of it."
Coworker Judy Vanek, 26, a graduate of Maryland Art Institute, has been on the backstretch for five years. She awakes at 4:15 a.m. every day and drives from Ellicott City to care for four horses.
"The whole morning is the process of getting them ready to go to the track, taking care of them afterwards, brushing them off and taking care of the legs," she said.
Vanek does it, she says, because "I thought it would be fun and I wanted to be outside." She also wanted to earn money to keep her own horse in oats. And, like most of the 30 grooms interviewed, she says, "I love horses."
Most trainers have insurance in case of injuries to employes in the barns. The Maryland Horsemen's Assistance Fund also offers aid to backstretch employes. However, there is no group health plan.
Wayne Wright, who is the secretary-treasurer of the Horsemen's Benevolent Protective Association in Maryland, West Virginia and Delaware, said, "The employes are investigated and if they are found to be a good backstretch citizen, not a stumbling-down drunk or a drug addict, then they can get money. It would cover all kinds of dental and hospital care."
Asked why many grooms interviewed seem unaware of the program and the number who have used it, Wright responded, "Don't believe everything those guys tell you. We pay out a lot of money." He was unable to estimate how many backstretch employes took advantage of the funds.
Dan Seamans, welfare director of the Maryland Horsemen's Assistance Fund, added, "It (the assistance program) is a nonprofit charitable fund (which paid out $140,000 in 1979) established for aid to needy racetrackers. It's misleading to say it's insurance. It's for indigent people."
The HBPA, which states that one of its objectives is to improve backstretch conditions, is financed by 1 percent from the top of all purses. The HBPA offers an insurance program for trainers and their wives. It also provides financial assistance to anyone engaged in racing during illness and disability.
When asked about poor living conditions at Bowie, Wright replied, "We have worked toward improving them. They are bad, aren't they? But when you live at the stable, its not exactly the downtown racquet club."
Even though stoves and hot plates are prohibited in the rooms, many backstretch employes keep cold foods in small refrigerators.
If employes don't eat in their rooms, they can use the track kitchen. Most employes say the food is passable. A dinner of liver, potatoes, squash, watermelon and a drink is $4.50 at Bowie, about $1 less at Pimlico.
"If you don't have a car and you live here you're right out of luck," Kevin said. "The kitchen is the only place, and they close at 1 on Sundays. If you don't get something before then, you starve."
Others complain about lack of recreation, although the softball league includes teams from the various stables. At Bowie there are a pool table and pinball machines. At Pimlico, there is no recreation room.
"All they care about is getting that attendance," said groom John Long, who works for trainer Tommy Field at Pimlico. "Maryland is the pits, and Bowie should be closed down."
Trainer Wilson says, "They don't do anything for the people on the backside. They lead such a dull life and if you don't have a car, you're in trouble.Most of them can't afford a car."
"They are concerned with the people who come to the races," said Shockey. "If you look at the barns at Bowie, from the grandstand they look freshly painted. But when you get back there, you see only the sides that are visible from the grandstand are painted."
In the bathrooms, nothing but the bare essentials are provided and employes say they are lucky to get toilet paper.
"I walked by there one day at the beginning of the meet," said one trainer, "and I think they painted them (the bathrooms). They have a crew that's supposed to come around but sometimes they don't come. You're halfway scared to walk in. If it's possible I try to find somewhere else to go."
John Koontz, director of environmental health at the county health department, explains, "We don't check the living quarters. There are no regulations to deal with that. We can only check the food, water supply and the sewage disposal."
Aside from a notice to install a new septic system at Bunkhouse 2, Bowie has also been served notice by Prince George's County and the State Health Department to upgrade its current sewage treatment plant in the main facility.
There are no coin-operated washing machines or dryers. When the people on the backstretch have to wash their clothes, they either go elsewhere or use the machine they use each morning to wash leg bandages and saddlecloths. They hang their clothes out to dry next to the leg bandages.
"I've been to (thoroughbred tracks in) Delaware, Maryland and West Virginia," Kevin said. "And Maryland stinks. It's the worst."
"They're living like they did 100 years ago, when the grooms slept in the stalls," said another trainer.
"Maryland is so far behind, they can't ever catch up."