LQHBA Insider - By Martha Claussen September  21, 2017

MOTHER NATURE HAS CHALLENGED LOUISIANA HORSEMEN IN 2016

Let's face it; Mother Nature has not been kind to Louisiana! An astounding 28 tropical storms or hurricanes have caused major damage to the state since 2000, and not just the Gulf Coast region.

It has been a very tough year in regards to the weather in Louisiana. Members of the racing community have been tested multiple times in 2016, beginning with the March flooding in the Bossier City area.

But this special group of individuals don't let it get them down; they band together to overcome the many challenges Mother Nature presents.

Evacuation at Louisiana Downs in March

In the first week of March, Louisiana racing was on the ropes when the Shreveport area flooded. On Thursday, March 10, Louisiana Downs officials ordered an evacuation of the track's backside, urging all horses to be out by 10 am the next morning.

Kenneth Roberts, Sr. qualified Heisa Hot Ticket and An American Outlaw for the $86,190 Mardi Gras Derby, and had sent them back to his farm following the trials. However, he still had 44 horses stabled at Louisiana Downs and had to mobilize very quickly.

"I called owners, friends and everybody I could think of to come help," explained Roberts. "The support was amazing; I didn't think we could get all the horses out, but we did!"

Roberts had been through the drill before when Hurricane Issac hit New Orleans in August, 2012 and over 700 horses were evacuated from Fair Grounds. The final of the $264,480 Louisiana Quarter Horse Breeders Association Sale Futurity was shifted to Evangeline Downs.

He commended the efforts of Trent McIntosh and his staff at Louisiana Downs.

"They tried their best for us not to move, but we understood their decision," said Roberts.

It just reinforced the adaptability of people in the Quarter Horse industry. Lanny Keith is another trainer who had to set a plan in motion. With meets at four tracks throughout the year, Keith knows the drill of hauling and setting up shop. But that task becomes much more complicated when weather emergencies arise.

"I got the call at 10 pm that we needed to evacuate," recalled Keith. "We had 42 head stabled there and had to act quickly to haul to Opelousas."

Torrential Rains Hit the Second Day of the LQHBA Yearling Sale

The 2016 LQHBA Yearling Sale was held in Kinder, Louisiana on August 12 -13. A very impressive catalog of 577 yearlings was scheduled to pass through the sale ring on Friday and Saturday, the second day of the sale was badly compromised by historic rainfall and flooding conditions.

"Friday was a very good day with a sale topper going for $105,000," said Tony Patterson, LQHBA executive director. "However, Saturday's weather conditions were severe, and we had virtually no one in attendance for the final few hours of the sale."

Patterson credits the tireless efforts of Mr. Francis Comeaux and his crew for maintaining the barn area to help keep all of the yearlings safe.

"I think they began around 4:00 am on Saturday and we cannot thank them enough," he said.

"Amazingly, we still had 266 yearlings pass through the ring on day two," Patterson added. “That is a tremendous tribute to our breeders, consignors, agents and all of our sale employees.”

Butch Stevens, LQHBA president, was hoping for good numbers from the sale, but knew that they were in for a major challenge on Saturday.

"There were many horsemen who attended the sale on Friday, but could not get back the next day," said Stevens. "Roads were closed and many of the out-of-town buyers who were fearing flight cancellations, just packed up and left early."

The LQHBA Yearling Sale is one of two annual sales presented by the association (the Fall Mixed Sale will take place on Saturday, October 29th in Opelousas).

"The proceeds from our sales keep our office running and are a big part of our revenue," stated Stevens. "The timing of the storm was tough for us, but, overall, things are going very well for Louisiana racing and breeding."

Hauling in the Rain

No disrespect to Gene Kelly, who danced his way through the iconic "Singing in the Rain", but hauling horses in the middle of a raging storm is no picnic.

Louisiana was pelted with as many as 25 inches of rain in mid-August, just days leading up to August 17, opening day of the Fair Grounds Quarter Horse meet. It represented a nightmare for horsemen hauling for the LQHBA Sale Futurity trials.

"It took me nine and a half hours, but we made it,: said Bobby Martinez of his trip from Elgin, Texas. "Kenny Roberts helped me a lot; he told me which roads were closed and that made a big difference in getting there safely."

Trainers and Jockeys Deal With Thunder, Lightning, Snow and Sleet

Generally, races are either delayed or cancelled in the event of thunder and lightning. But three years ago, rider David Alvarez and trainer Bobby Martinez were part of a very intense weather situation when Runaway Wagon ran in the $50,000 Sam Houston Classic (G2).

Despite driving rain and lightning that pretty much lit up the sky, the son of Pyc Paint Your Wagon broke sharply and drew off to a two-length victory under rider David Alvarez.

"He was perfect," said Alvarez. "The rain did not bother him a bit; he is a wonderful horse." Trainer Bobby Martinez watched the race from Delta Downs, where he was running in trials for the Louisiana-Bred Graduation Stakes.

“It was nerve wracking, for sure but he ran a heck of a race," said Martinez of Runaway Wagon's game victory. "I was running horses at Delta, so I had to watch it from there. We knew he could handle an off track, but I was nervous seeing the lightning and heavy rainfall."

Rider Alfonso Lujan has ridden his share of races in the pouring rain and explains the difficulties faced by jockeys during a downpour. Maybe the best way we can understand it is to imagine if you were driving down the highway and your windshield wipers failed to work.

"What we do in every race, even in good weather, is difficult," stated Lujan. "You have to make split second decisions, and when it's raining hard, some horses get pretty nervous."

You'll see Thoroughbred jockeys flip up to five pair of goggles during inclement weather, but in the short, Quarter Horse sprints, that is not possible.

"In the hook races, you might have time, but not in the straightaway races," he said. "Sometimes you can't see what you are doing!"

Lujan thought he had seen in all, but last January, he added one more weather woe to his career arsenal: snow and sleet!

"I was in Shreveport during that winter storm with snow and ice," said Lujan. "Racing was cancelled, but I couldn't get home to Elgin due to the road conditions."

Racetracks Have Faced Major Losses

Don Stevens, the popular announcer at Delta Downs has seen the ravages of Hurricane Ike, Tropical Storm Edourd, Hurricane Gustav, and the worst damage caused by Hurricane Rita. "We lost all live racing in 2005-2006 as a result of Rita," recalled Stevens. "Delta had over $50 million dollars in property damage to the main grandstand, barns and other parts of the facility. The eye hit just west of our track." Fair Grounds Steps Up

Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots made a very generous donation of $27,847 for flood relief to assist the Tangipahoa Parish and Capital Area Region flood victims. The New Orleans racetrack, in conjunction with First American Bankcard, Inc. sent a check to the United Way of Southeast Louisiana.

The donation is a compilation of funds provided by both Fair Grounds and First American, as well as a portion of the admissions from the well-attended exotic animal racing on Saturday, August 27.

"Our hearts go out to the thousands affected by the recent rainfall and we are confident that the United Way of Southeast Louisiana will use it to continue the incredibly impactful support that they are engaged in across the region," said Tim Bryant, president of Fair Grounds.

Horsemen Band Together

Mother Nature cannot be altered or controlled; it's a fact of life that faces everyone. Hurricanes, tornadoes and floods will always be a part of the Pelican State. This won't be the only obstacle that Louisiana horsemen face, but you can be assured that they will band together to make the best of these daunting challenges.

"It speaks volumes for how fast the Quarter Horse people can pack up and leave," stated trainer Lanny Keith. "But it is phenomenal how we all pull together. It really boils down to this: you want to beat everyone come race time, but if you are in a bind, someone's going to help you."

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The LQHBA Insider is a monthly feature written by Martha Claussen for www.lqhba.com. She served as publicity director at Sam Houston Race Park for ten years. She continues to be active in writing, fan education and Quarter Horse racing publicity in Texas, Louisiana and other regions in North America.