Saturday, August 1, 2009

The John Deere Tractor

I told a friend (well, not entirely a friend, but a pleasant acquaintance who lives in Las Vegas) that I want to drive a John Deere tractor. He's driven trucks in the army and passed off my comment rather quickly. I don't think I'll get to drive one in this lifetime, but I find watching a group of three John Deeres slowly being driven down the track fascinating.

He had come along with me to watch the races last Saturday and I benefited from his particular observations. He quickly noticed that the heads of the horses moving around the oval bobbed up and down while the jockeys held steady.

And we talked about a sport in which a vet and an ambulance for humans drive so closely behind the race. That afternoon one horse broke down and had to be taken away in an equine ambulance. If it had been badly hurt, broken a leg for instance, it would have been put down behind a screen held up by track workers. I knew the woman who trained that horse, watched as she ran along the inside rail, hurrying to get there as the vet examined the injury. The jockey, who must have been thrown, walked past her on his way to the paddock, unhurt.

It was interesting to see how folks I know responded to a man. Obviously a woman who knows nothing about racing, who doesn't own a horse, and is just a familiar face because she's hung around for five years, learns facts slowly. In just ten minutes he'd been told that a horse has to earn $20,000 a year (at least I think it was a year, it may just have been a meet lasting from the beginning of May until the end of October) to break even given the cost of everything that goes into upkeep.

I've had the remarkable opportunity to help out in a barn in the mornings, scrubbing water buckets and setting out feed. Often I leave just at the break in morning exercise. That's when the tractors roll along, pulling the harrows. I'm sure they're so familiar with the surface that they put on the correct depth of prong according to the track surface and the weather conditions without thinking too much about it.

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