by Jim Wells
THE SHRINKING DOLLAR
Several trainers were seated at a table in the stable dining room the other morning when the subject turned to rising prices in the care and conditioning of racehorses. Skyrocketing prices for gasoline have impacted just about anything you care to name in the nation this summer, and the stables at the nation’s racetracks are affected as much and maybe more than many aspects of society.
Doug Oliver, Valorie Lund and Bob Score, who moved their stables to Shakopee from Turf Paradise in Phoenix, were commenting on the reasonable prices in the stable kitchen when the subject of soaring costs was broached. Score was seated in front of a plate of ham and eggs, eating a late breakfast. “Look at the nice, thick piece of ham and everything that goes with it,” Oliver said. “You’d pay $8 or $9 at another restaurant. It’s five bucks here.”
That was the only positive comment on costs from that point forward. The stables are reeling from rising prices. Feed is up 30 percent in many cases and even the farrier and his prices have risen. “June 1 the prices on horse shoes, nails and everything else are going up 20 percent,” Score noted.
The price of shoeing a horse is around $100 to $110 and due to rise even more. “They used to deliver the tack here free of charge,” Oliver added. “Not any more. Gas prices make it too expensive to deliver.”
The cost of straw and shavings for stall bedding has risen substantially, too. Oliver says it takes at least a $5.65 to bed a stall per day. It costs Score $1,600 a month to bed and feed his five horses, “and that doesn’t include supplements,” he said.
Oliver commented that the price of corn oil to flavor feed has risen noticeably. Corn oil that high? Score uses olive oil. “A lot of people with seven or eight head of horses are cutting back to three or four,” Oliver added. Oliver said that rising costs have forced him to raise his day rates by $3. “That won’t cover all the increases,” he said, “but you can’t price the owner out, either. You have to consider what it’s costing them.”
The breeding end of the industry is impacted, too. “People with, say, 10 broodmares are cutting back,” Oliver added. An increase in gallop fees is another rising cost to the stable.
All of it is tied in one way or another to rising prices for fuel. “I think the auto manufacturers and the oil companies must be in cahoots,” Oliver said. “We used to get 21, 22, 23 miles a gallon with our pickups years ago. Now, you get 14 or 15.”
Whatever the reasons, the immediate economic future appears bleak to some conditioners.”It’s really hard on the little people who own their own horses,” Oliver said. Score is one of them. “We have to win races or we’re out of the whole thing,” he said.
SNEAKING IN THE BACK GATE
The other morning the fellow who checks in the golfers at Water’s Edge made a call to a friend. “Hey, he said. “There’s a short guy out here who must be a jockey and he’s driving his cart all over the place.”
The fellow making the call was Charles Remington, who occasionally attends the races at Canterbury Park. Sure enough, the fellow in question was Jason Lumpkins, a new addition to the jockey colony at Canterbury this meet who was introduced to the game by another rider, Cory Black, a year or more ago.
Lumpkins can guide a thoroughbred with considerably more finesse than he apparently does the golf cart. He’s been riding since 1988 but playing golf not even two years. On the back of the jacket he was wearing on the backside the other morning was the simple appellation: Lumpy.
Lumpkins wouldn’t have worn anything of the kind on those mornings he used to lock his bike to the chain-link fence outside the 7/8ths pole and sneak into Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore. You don’t want to draw attention to yourself as a 14-year-old boy who doesn’t belong there, among the thoroughbreds, grooms, exercise riders and trainers in the early hours of morning. “I was too young to get a work permit,” Lumpkins added.
Many days, Lumpkins had an accomplice waiting for him and simply hopped into the back of his big Cadillac and rode on through the gates unnoticed. “Jack Kaenel used to sneak me in. I’d ride in the backseat of his car,” said Lumpkins.
Long-time Canterbury fans will remember Cowboy Jack Kaenel as one of the riders who was part of Shakopee’s first jockey colony in 1985, a colorful character known around the nation. Twenty-three years later, Lumpkins, a 38-year-old journeyman who’s ridden all over the country and world, has landed at Canterbury trying to find a spot to renew himself and his career. Business has been slow as local trainers come to know him and what he can do.
Lumpkins found a job walking hots and grooming in those early clandestine days at Pimlico, was married at age 16 and needed to find work to support a growing family. At age 18, he rode his first winner at Delaware Park for long-time ABC announcer Jim McKay. “The horse’s name was Sue Ling Yourself,” he recalled.
Lumpkins, who has nearly 2,500 career wins, later established a name for himself, dominating the riding at Mountaineer Park and then winning six meets at Thistledown (which conducts four meets a year) and four overall riding titles. Then came the peripatetic stage of his career. He headed west to Northern California and then to Saudi Arabia to ride for one of the Sheiks.”I got there after the gulf war,” Lumpkins said. “I saw some God-awful, unimaginable things.”
Certainly Shakopee, Minnesota is a much quieter place by comparison, although Lumpkins could use a little more action, particularly when it comes to mounts.”It’s been a little slow,” he said.In the meantime, perhaps his agent, Chuck Costanzo, can help out. First, by lining up more mounts, but also with the driving skills. On certain dark days at Canterbury, Costanzo races cars at Raceway Park. Some of those skills might be transferable to a golf cart.