Javier Barajas brings 38 years of experience and family history to his job as track superintendant at Keeneland.
He started working at tracks at age 13, when his father was in charge of the turf course at Arlington Park in Arlington Heights, Ill. At the Chicago-area track, he worked his way up to track superintendant, a job he held 13 years.
His most recent job was superintendent for the Dubai Racing Club, overseeing the Meydan Racecourse, home of the $10 million Dubai World Cup. He came to Keeneland last year, where he is becoming accustomed to Kentucky's April showers as well as not-so-common phenomena such as late-winter, foot-plus snowfalls.
We caught up with him Wednesday morning to learn a bit about his job.
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Herald-Leader: Tell us about your job.
Javier Barajas: I have to make sure that the track is uniform and safe for the horses to run on.
Q: What is a typical day like for you?
A: It started last night, because we had an inch of rain on top of the eight inches we had on Thursday. I go on the track to make sure we're not running, or what they call washing, losing material. I have to look at the training track, the turf course and the main track. Then I come back at 3:30 in the morning to see if we need to loosen up the track, so it's not too hard for the horses to train on. Meanwhile, we're constantly looking at the Doppler to make sure we don't have any more rain coming and walking the turf course to make the decision whether we're going to run on the turf or not run on the turf. It's quite a busy day.
Q: What are the hours like?
A: A typical race day is 3 a.m. until typically around 6:30, 7 o'clock at night. Especially when we get storms, we have to stay up and watch the Doppler.
Q: What do you like about it? Obviously it's a demanding job.
A: I kind of like that it's a thankless job, because I'm always trying to make it safe for the horses. After that, I have to listen to the trainers and see how their horses are reacting to it. Some of them will say it's too hard, some will say it's too soft, so whatever I do, some of them are not going to be happy. In racing, if you have nine races, there's only nine happy winners.