Another Nocturnal Creature

A formidable scholar on sleeping habits of the horse, we are able to comment with doctrinal authority on the recent granting by the California Horse Racing Board of four night dates this meeting to Hollywood Park.

The dates--all Fridays--were requested by the track when samplings showed that night cards on Friday drew between 30,000 and 40,000, contrasted to 12,000 on Friday afternoon.

It didn’t require excessive cogitation to conclude that night racing was better for business.

But arranging these four nights at Hollywood Park wasn’t easy, because a segment of trainer argued that nocturnal action disrupted the life style of the horses, not to mention their keepers.


Horses, we were reminded, rise early, meaning that if they went to sleep at, say 11 p.m., they would be tired the next morning.

“But of the 4,000 horses stabled at Hollywood Park,” one interjects, “only about 80 would be going to bed later than usual.”

“You are a horse ignoramus,” the interrogator is told. “When those 80 runners return to the stable after they race, they wake up others.”

“Why can’t they come in quietly?”

“No matter how quietly they try to come in,” you are told, “the stable dog will hear them and start to bark.”

And, of course, when one dog barks in the neighborhood, all the dogs bark.

A diligent researcher, we ask Laffit Pincay Jr. why horses get up so early.

“They get up early only because people wake them,” he responds. “You let them alone and they’ll go on sleeping like the rest of us.”

Mel Stute, who has trained horses for 44 years, agrees with Laffit.

“At riding academies,” says Mel, “horses often will sleep until 9. No one disturbs them.”

Same at police stables. If a demonstration is scheduled downtown at noon and it looks like a case for the mounted unit, the cops figure they won’t need the horses until 10. So they let them sleep.

“This business of getting horses up at dawn started long ago,” Stute explains. “The horses had to be worked early so that the track could be cleared for the afternoon program. It was a slower process before, because the exercise boy not only worked the horse, but walked him.

“Today, in this age of specialization, the exercise boy works the horse and turns him over to a hot-walker. We even have hot-walking machines that will accommodate four horses at the same time. So having only to work the horses, the exercise boy today can get a lot more done in less time, meaning there is no need to start so early.”

It is Stute’s position that if night racing will help the industry, he isn’t bothered over disrupting the schedule of a horse, who is just as adaptable as a person. One way or another, either will get his rest.

The phenomenon of sleep has been a subject of study for centuries by medical scientists, who suspect that sleep in mammals results from chemical change related to fatigue of nerves and muscles.

In Vienna, where we did our residency under the famed Dr. Labbermacher, laboratory experiments were conducted with horses whereby they were awakened in the middle of the night and taken to the bathroom.

In seven cases of nine, the horse returning to his bed fell asleep and woke up fresh, meaning it is doubtful that a horse disturbed by a stablemate coming in at night will be adversely affected.

“Racing people fail to reckon with the adjustable nature of the horse,” Labbermacher lectured. “At breeding farms, it is the custom to breed horses during the day. But if you bring the horses together at night, do you have any doubt they would breed?”

“What if a dog who heard them started barking and woke up other horses?”

“The stud would give him a sleeping tablet,” Labbermacher answered. “The horse is resourceful. You have to laugh at men who describe the horse as a dumb beast. Have you ever seen a horse bet on a man?”

“Neither day nor night,” we reply.

“The foulest of beverages is the mint julep,” Labbermacher continues. “At the Derby, have you ever seen a horse drink one?”

Reviewing the evidence, you are challenged by Labbermacher to decide who is the dumb beast.