- Associated Press - Monday, February 10, 2014

HOT SPRINGS, Ark. (AP) - When the thoroughbreds take to the track early in the morning, the eyes and ears of the assistant trainers are on them — watching how they perform that day to report back to the trainers. It takes a hard-working individual with attention to details to be a good assistant trainer.

With temperatures below freezing on Thursday, Oaklawn canceled its card for the day. Oaklawn’s track crew worked the track overnight Wednesday and continued through Thursday to ensure the weekend’s racing would not be affected.

Even when the weather is not favorable, the assistant trainers at Oaklawn are still working to make the most of the next available day, whether for training or racing.

When the assistants come in to work, they look at the schedule made by the trainers the night before, showing which horses train that day and what times they go out to the track.

“Unless I make the decision prior, the assistant then picks which rider takes which horses,” said Mark Casse, trainer. The assistants also determine which horses, if any, need vet work that day, he said.

After the horses come off the track, the assistant puts his comments next to each horse’s name on a spreadsheet and discusses their progress, and what they noticed, with the trainer.

“And on race days, the assistant gets the horse saddled and over to the paddock,” Casse told The Sentinel-Record (http://bit.ly/My1D5g ).

For Casse, a good assistant is someone who does more than just watch the horses as they train or race. A good assistant is able to determine the horse’s strengths and weaknesses that day.

“Anyone can come out here and watch them run, but a good assistant knows the important things to look for,” he said. “A good assistant can tell you if a horse is running good or bad, and if that horse is happy or sad, which really means a lot when you’re training a winner.”

David Adams, assistant trainer for Casse, knows the importance of doing this job well.

“I moved to Canada from Barbados in 1998 and started working with Mark as a groom in 2001,” Adams said. “By 2006, I was an assistant trainer and I’ve been with him ever since.”

Adams, who starts his day at 4:30 a.m., looks over the sets when he first shows up. Based on that, he tells the grooms which horses go out first and which ones go on after that. He makes sure the ones that need medication are taken care of, and that their temperatures are normal, as well as checking the horses’ legs for swelling and minor injury.

“I report all of this back to Mark, tell him how the horses are doing and then send them on their way,” he said.

As he watches them train, Adams looks for how the horses are moving, making sure there are no inconsistencies.

Around 3 p.m., he returns to the barn to feed the horses and close up shop before the next day’s work, and much like the other people working in the horse racing industry, the love of the thoroughbreds makes the long hours worth it for Adams.

“When I was 4 years old, my dad started taking me to the racetrack in Barbados,” he said, as the sport used to be very popular in the country. “I just kept coming back and knew that I wanted to work with these horses. My life has revolved around the racetrack.”

He started working with race horses in Barbados when he was 10, but what he knew about the racing world was completely different when he moved to Canada.

“I got to learn so much more when I moved to Canada, and I’ve been able to travel more and meet people from all over,” he said, adding that in a typical year he travels from Canada to Gulfstream to Keeneland.

And according to Casse, Adams is an excellent example of what an assistant should be.

“He’s been with me since he started, much like a lot of my assistants, and he’s been a huge part of our success,” Casse said. “He really is my eyes and ears, and that’s very important.”

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Information from: The Sentinel-Record, http://www.hotsr.com