'Sport of kings' in trouble as gamblers prefer casinos to tracks

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — The horses prick up their ears as a flamingo hue bleeds into the dawn sky. They chortle through their velvet nostrils. They nod their silky heads. The sun is rising at Calder racetrack in this suburb north of Miami and the horses are ready to run.

Eddie Plesa, trainer of thoroughbreds, moves around the barn with a brisk gait, from tack room, to office, to stalls. He talks to riders, grooms, jockey agents, a veterinarian and a blacksmith while overseeing a routine that never changes. There are poultices to be applied, flanks to be rubbed and a hopeless case named Malini, who runs like he's in quicksand, to be shipped to a farm.

In Calder's backside village, Barn 74 is the home of Edward Plesa Stables, symbolized by the black diamond P. Every day for 40 years his horses have run around the track and walked around the shedrow, generation after generation of winners and losers, round and round.

"How'd you go, Pete?'' he asked an exercise rider aboard To Heir Is Human.

"Real smooth, boss,'' Pete Shelton said after galloping the gelding through a workout.

Plesa, 59, started hot-walking horses and filling bags of clover for 50 cents when he was 5 years old. His father was a jockey and one of the first trainers at Calder. His wife's father was a jockey, and her brothers are trainers.

Plesa's daughter, studying equine science at the University of Kentucky, longs to become a trainer. But he hopes she finds a different passion.

His livelihood, and a way of life, is vanishing.

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