Cut the audio on a day at the races, and you’d still have a completely interpretable scene. The bettor, slumping his shoulders and running a worn hand over his worry-creased forehead, equals losing. The trainer, leaning forward in his box and jumping to his feet, beaming, as his horse crosses the wire, equals winning.
The post-race dialogue between a losing trainer and jockey can become an irate pantomime, especially when the trainer believes his directions were not followed to the letter. The trainer, disgusted, gestures vehemently to the turn, or the stretch, or the tote board. The jockey, defensive, makes pumping motions and weaves a hand through the air, perhaps describing his trip, or his horse’s path through the field. The trainer shakes his head, the jockey shrugs and walks away. He has to get ready for the next race, for another shot.
The horses themselves communicate through a series of movements that, to the experienced horseman, make perfect sense. Relaxed, a horse strides along with a lengthy, loose step, head down, ears at half-mast, alert but unafraid. Tense, he keeps his head up, shortens his back, takes bunchy, bouncy steps, rolls the whites of his eyes at unfamiliar objects. Aggressive, he flattens his ears against his skull and snakes his neck rapidly, barring his teeth. Curious and friendly, he pricks those ears forward and lowers his head to gently nose the object of his interest.
Horses react to their handlers’ body language, too. A raised hand turns them away. An elbow shoved in the crook of the arched neck serves as a reminder to slow down. Stand in the path of a loose horse while waving your arms and you may halt its wild gallop – but then again, you may not. Take your chances.
The pony boys slump over in their saddles as they wait between post parades, exhibiting boredom.
The security guards cross their arms and present authority.
The journalists, pens hovering above paper, pressing ever closer to their targets, display a sense of urgency.
And even in photographs, the beauty of the racetrack still sings.