Kerry Lawson's new office isn't inside the Turf Club at Les Bois Park or in the grandstand for that matter. The new Les Bois general manager said he's more comfortable in a small building nestled near the backstretch of the racetrack. His office is a furlong away from hundreds of stables where horses, owners, trainers and jockeys are all anxiously awaiting Wednesday, May 2--pending day of the track's first full season in four years. The Garden City track held an abbreviated 15-day schedule in 2011.
Lawson, 51, has spent his entire life around horses. His dad, a sugar beet farmer from Grand View, also raised horses.
"I remember always coming to race tracks in Idaho and California when I was a kid," he said.
Lawson even recalled training and racing his first horse, Rocky Mist, back in January 1982. He came in second.
You've trained and owned horses most of your life. Did you ever see yourself doing something like this?
Not at all.
When Les Bois is going full-tilt, mid-season, how many people are working here?
We're looking at almost 160-180 people.
Is your operating budget more than $1 million?
More than $1.5 million?
It could be that number real easy, but we're trying to keep it down.
You're a few weeks away from opening day, but it appears as if there are a lot of horses here already.
We opened up March 1 and close to 150 horses moved in that week. We're currently at 400 head. We'll have all of our 820 stalls filled. We had over 1,300 apply to come here this season.
How early in the morning are you at your desk?
I'm here by 6:30, but our track crew is out by 4 a.m. Horses and trainers are out on the track from 6 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. Then the track crews are back. You're always having to fine-tune the track--put down an ideal blend of soil, sand and bark, but it goes away. You have to work it every day to keep that bounce in it and keep the track safe.
You have 36 racing dates this year.
We'll open the Wednesday before the Kentucky Derby. I think because of the area we live in, so many people have things to do on weekends. That's probably why Wednesdays have been very good for us. We'll run Wednesdays and Saturday, and beginning in mid-June, we'll go to three days a week, adding either Fridays or Sundays to the schedule.
Isn't it very difficult for a live racing operation to be profitable?
Are the simulcast operations the main revenue generator?
Most of the money at the simulcast operations goes to other tracks, but we get a percentage of that and it can add up over the year. All of that goes to the horsemen for their purse accounts [winnings for live racing].
Will you be able to attract a higher caliber of horses as you build your purses?
Right now, when we have a purse between $2,500-$3,000, most of the horses and trainers are local. But some of the quarter horse races, like the Bitterroot Futurity--that will be about $100,000. That's big time.
What's the difference between a good racehorse and a great one?
Breeding, heart and determination. You can have a horse with a lot of talent, but on race day, he just doesn't have the desire or the heart.
Isn't it true that the athletic prowess of a jockey is usually underestimated?
These horses are powerfully strong. The more you try to strong-arm a horse, the tougher the horse can get. But it's amazing what some of these little guys can do.
What kind of tips can you give us at the betting window?
You know, I read the form and think I have a race figured out, but then I end up looking at the horse, trainer and jockey in the paddock and I change my mind. It's a gamble.
Is there any part of this operation that's a gamble?
It's a sure bet. You just can't do it without support and strong partnerships. Everybody needs to know that we're going to be here a long time, and we're going to supply a great product. We're pretty excited. And for me, it's a lot of fun. I've been around it my whole life.