There are no palm trees or warm breezes circling Bowie's race track, only galloping horses whose breath rises like a plume of whitish smoke.
For the horseman who does not establish winter quarters in Florida or California, the cold months at smaller tracks might appear to be mean, lean times.
Fields are smaller than in the fall and spring, and the quality of horses also drops.
Purse sizes do not drop, but competition does, because some owners prefer resting their horses to racing them nonstop.
Trainers, jockeys, owners and bettors each have different ways of coping, while enjoying the view of racing they have chosen. THE TRAINER
"How tough is it to get a living out of racing? Very tough, very much so," said Wayne Bien, who has been doing it nearly five years. "People don't see how hard you have to work to get there."
Before he became a full-time trainer of racehorses, Bien worked as a Maryland bank manager. "I didn't like it," he said. "I did it for a while because I didn't think you could make a living just doing this all the time. I had seen how hard people had to work to make it in this business--you need an awful lot of luck."
But Bien had spent most of his life around horses, first riding in the show ring and later on steeplechase courses. Bien was working for another trainer while he did his banking stint, and in 1979 started training full-time for himself.
Usually Bien has three to five horses racing. Right now, he has only two, both owned by his parents. "I got them interested in racing," he said. "Not as a full-time business, but just to enjoy it. If they make expenses and break even, they're happy."
Bien's current horses are Mio Host, a 13-year-old "who's never been sound a day in his life," and Holy Gee, a 5-year-old.
Even training just two horses, Bien puts in long hours at the track. "I do it all myself," he said. All in this case means just that: mucking stalls, feeding, grooming, cooling out. "It's to save on expenses, yeah, but I enjoy it, too," Bien said. To handle all the chores, Bien begins his days around 5:30 a.m., after a commute from Bel Air, in northeastern Maryland, to Laurel, where his horses are stabled.
"Then I try to be over here (Bowie) every day, before going back to feed again," he said. "You may get home around the time normal people are home from work, but you've just been awake and working so much longer."
Bien's wife, who still works in the bank where they met, comes to the track only when Bien's horses race on a Saturday, but when Bien is at Bowie, it's often to check out claimers he might want in his stable.
"I keep notes on all of them, so I know what they can do," he said. Bien will tell his owners about a horse with potential, and they may decide to claim it.
"When you're looking at a claimer, especially a $5,000 horse--at that point, they've all got problems or they're very, very slow," Bien said. "But so far, I've been pretty successful with the ones I've claimed. I kind of have to work with whatever I've gotten, and I haven't had much trouble.
"If you didn't think the horse had a chance, you wouldn't claim him, or race him," Bien added. "And every trainer thinks his horse has a chance."
Bien isn't sure what direction his life at the track will take. "Usually you end up with either a large stable of claimers or a smaller stable of better-quality horses, racing in allowances and stakes," he said. "I've thought about it, and I don't know which I'd prefer."
Frustration can be endless for trainers like Bien, people with a small string of animals racing for relatively low purses. "You have to be totally devoted to racing," he said. "And you have to realize it'll take a lot of years to really make it. The only way to make it is to have some big owner in back of you, sending you horses all the time. Otherwise, you have to hustle, talk to people, hope they see that you're winning, which is the only way you'll ever get any attention so they know what you can do."
In between winning, when a trainer gets a share of a purse, his only income is what his owners pay, fees that vary with the trainer and the horse.
"What you charge per day is what you live off," Bien said. "It can pay your bills, yes, but you can't make any money unless you're winning."
When Bien began training, he won the very first race he entered. "I couldn't believe it," he said. Eight months passed before he had another winner. "I couldn't believe that either," he said. "That was really frustrating."
Not frustrating enough to return to the bank. THE JOCKEY
The jockey works from the back of a thousand-pound animal with legs as fragile as its brains, and to succeed, he must ride as often as possible. Not just every day, but several times every day.
"In this business, you're up one day and down the next," said John K. Adams, whose grandfather and father were jockeys. Several hours before Adams was scheduled to ride recently, he sat in the Bowie jockey's room and contemplated a rider's existence.
"It's tough to make a living if you're not in with the right crowd," he said. "You know--the big names, the people who put you on their horses all the time. In Maryland, you've got to get out and work hard. You can make it, but you've got to work at it."
During the winter months, when major trainers take their stables to gentler climates, Maryland fields are small--one race last week had four starters--and hustling mounts can be tough.
"I don't have all that many customers," Adams said. "When you've got a big outfit to fall back on, where they put three, four, five horses in every day, you get plenty of work. You get your confidence up. It's tough to do that and get rolling when you don't know when you'll be riding."
There was a time when Adams didn't know if he would ever ride again. In February 1978, his horse fell and Adams suffered a punctured lung, crushed rib cage and concussion. He was unconscious for 10 days, in and out of consciousness much longer.
"They said I would probably walk again, but that I would never be able to get on a horse," he said. "I was walking before I was even fully conscious, just up and strolling around. As soon as I got out, I got on a horse, just to see if I could do it." He could, but his equilibrium was "messed up."
Unlike many jockeys, Adams doesn't have an agent to book his rides. "If I have an agent, my specification is that the agent should work as hard as I do. And they see how hard I work and don't believe it."
In the afternoons, Adams said, he gets on horses. At night he gets on the phone to line up more horses.
"The leading riders don't have to work as hard, because their agents do all that for them," he said. "A lot of this game is luck, but work is part of it." THE OWNER
Erwin L. Mendelson got into horse racing about seven years ago because his legs told him to stop playing softball and baseball.
"I was 39, and too tired for those games any more, but I wanted to get into some sort of competition," said Mendelson, a Washington accountant. He had a few jockeys and agents as clients, so he said, half-kiddingly, that he'd like to buy a horse.
"I finally got a $5,000 horse, and Ron Alfano was my trainer. Before you know it, I had 12 claimers racing in Maryland," Mendelson said. Three years ago at Bowie, three of them won on the same day, a first in Maryland.
Mendelson made money early in the game, the fantasy of everyone who thinks he'd like to own a thoroughbred. "It hit so quickly. I came along and in one year, won 49 races . . . We kept taking the money and plowing it back into more horses," he said. "We were taking in between $35,000 and $40,000 a month in purses."
When Mendelson's Century Prince, a horse he bought for $27,000, won the Maryland Futurity and was named best-bred 2-year-old in the state, he said, "I knew I had hit the home run."
Eventually he and his current trainer, Butch Linzini, cut back on stock and began concentrating more on the breeding side, going to the sales for a good yearling to bring along or buying a few broodmares and putting together a syndication group.
"At the breeding end of it," Mendelson said. "the monetary risk is much less, although you're not going to hit a home run in the breeding shed." THE BETTOR
The crowds near Bowie's parimutuel windows on any afternoon are a mixed lot: well-dressed, imitation preppies mingle with those wearing raveled jackets and three-day stubble. Many bettors seem to have ignored the recession, lining up in front of the $50 window and backing every hunch with cash.
Serge Tolstoy, who claims he is the great-grandson of Leo ("War and Peace") Tolstoy, is at the track almost every day, placing bets and picking up enough money to pay his rent. "
Tolstoy, more commonly called "the Count," bets conservative amounts, but bets every race.
"I watch the (jockeys') agents, and if I see one place a big bet, I know something's going on," said Tolstoy, who adds to his income by giving French and Russian lessons.
Tolstoy became interested in horse racing when his mother took him to the track as a child in France. The passion has endured, through a lifetime of part-time jobs, including some intelligence work for the U.S. Army during the war.
One day recently, Tolstoy was still ahead by the middle of the afternoon. He will bet maybe $8 on any one race. He remembers betting more, much more than the rent, at Delaware Park once. "It was an exacta, and then they took the horse down (from first place)," he said. "It was a sure thing, but I didn't collect, and that's when I decided: no more big betting. You can't let yourself go."