There has been one certainty the last two summers at Canterbury Park whenever either of the two tracks has been the subject at hand.
Horsemen, fans and management always knew the lay of the land, figuratively and literally, under track superintendent Javier Barajas, a man valued for his knowledge, dedication and hard work.
When he took the job in 2013, Barajas brought with him a wealth of experience having grown up at the hand of his father, a fastidious track manager himself, as well as his own learning experiences at sites as far-flung as Dubai, where he oversaw track construction and grooming for the World Cup in 2009 and preparations for that prestigious event each year since.
Barajas impressed nearly everyone around him with his work ethic and attention to detail, On a tractor trip around the main track prior to the 2013 Canterbury opening, Barajas stopped periodically to retrieve a small rock or other object, invisible to anyone without his trained eye for obstructions, no matter how small, to a safe racing surface.
“The two toughest jobs on any racetrack,” said HBPA president Tom Metzen, “are racing secretary and track superintendent. No matter what you do, somebody is going to think it’s not right.”
Now, Canterbury will search for a new track superintendent. Barajas announced last week that he will take over those duties at Keeneland Race Course in Lexington, Ky.
“They gave me such a great offer and package,” he said.
Moreover, the job will allow him to stay put year round and create a more stable homelife, something he has done without for many years.
“My wife (Silvia) and I will be able to spend more time together now,” he said.
That has not been the case in recent years. When Barajas accepted the job at Canterbury, his wife and daughter, Elizabeth, stayed behind in the United Arab Emriates so Liz could finish high school.
There was another period when Barajas spent three days a week overseeing the Fair Grounds in New Orleans and the rest of the week at Arlington Park in suburban Chicago, commuting between the two racetracks.
Barajas agreed to remain with Canterbury through the remainder of the meet, but will start at Keeneland this week nonetheless, directing matters there on the dark days in Shakopee.
The Keeneland job enabled him to give up the assignment in Dubai. “I sent my resignation to them about a week ago,” Barajas explained.
Despite the kind of scrutiny track superintendents undergo , or _ perhaps more acccurately _ as a target for blame whenever something goes awry with a horse during a race, Barajas has been perhaps the least criticized track superintendent in Canterbury history.
“It’s harder to blame someone when you know how hard they’ve worked at something,” said Eric Halstrom, Canterbury’s vice president of racing operations. “He’s an extremely talented guy. He’s been doing this for 40 years and he outworks anybody you can find. You’re automatically smarter by the time you spend at a job.”
Barajas’s work ethic was never in question. He was often at Canterbury by 4 a.m., to check on track conditions or oversee preparations for the upcoming day. Although not considered a taskmaster, he insisted on hard work and attention to detail from his employees.
“The good news is that he has an extensive web of contacts and will be here to help us find out what to do next,” Halstrom added.
Nonetheless, horsemen know that racing doesn’t abound with people of Barajas’ caliber.
“We really hate to lose him,” said Metzen. “It’s tough to get a good track man.”
by Jim Wells