Christine Salvino -- The Soprano in the Paddock

The following excerpt is from Women in Racing: In Their Own Words. Published September 2001 from Eclipse Press.

I was a patrol judge for two years. Then Allison (DeLuca) asked me about being the paddock judge. I thought, "This is great. Now I'll have the closeness with the horses." I've been doing it ever since.

What I do first, before each race, is call the horses over (from the barns). When they get to the paddock, we check them to see if they're wearing blinkers if they're listed to wear them. Then, it's just basically getting all the horses saddled. We're on the clock. You want ten-minute post parades. If we have a horse lose a shoe in the paddock, we have to have the blacksmith work on him in there. You want all the horses to go out at the same time. They're all supposed to have their weight up for the same period of time. So, if I need to hold one horse in the paddock, to have a shoe put on for example, then I've got to hold them all in there. We've got to get everybody out of there in one piece. You're dealing with a lot of horses in a very compact area.

You make concessions. These horses have minds of their own. We've had some hellacious things happen. We've had horses rear up and go through the ceiling in the paddock.

The first time I had a two-year-old race, first-time starters, I was a nervous wreck. I thought, "Oh my God, this is going to be a nightmare." But it wasn't. What's really funny is that horses don't seem to show any bad traits until their second or third time in the paddock. The first time they come in there, they're wide-eyed. They're in awe. Looking around, they're like "what's going on here?" But the second or third time, they've started to get a sense of "wait a minute, I know what's coming." That's when you see the changes in them.

I had one horse who would not go out the regular entrance of the paddock at Sportsman's. Would not do it. He would absolutely plant all four feet and wouldn't budge. But I learned if I sent the rest of the field out first, we could get this horse to run out. That's the only way he would go, on the dead run. We used to have people running behind him in order to keep him moving out onto the track.

There was another horse who would not let himself be saddled. Every time you would go to throw the saddle on his back, this son of a gun would rear up in the air. One day I noticed that when the bugler would start playing (call to the post), this horse would all of the sudden start standing like he was in a trance. They could saddle him then.

So I told the trainer, "I might be crazy, but I've noticed that when the bugle plays you can do anything with this horse." What they ended up doing is they put the bugle call on a cassette tape, and they would bring that into the paddock every time this horse ran. They would turn on the tape, he'd go into his trance, and they'd saddle him. They never had a problem with him after that. It was beautiful.

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