Stories and Voices from the Thoroughbred Racetrack
A moving revelation of the many essential workers and their lives on the backside of thoroughbred racetracks
Stable Views offers an inside look at the thoroughbred racing industry through the words and perspectives of those who labor within its stables. In more than fourteen years of field research, Ellen E. McHale has traveled throughout the Eastern Seaboard, Kentucky, and Louisiana to gather oral narratives from those most intimately involved with racing: the stable workers, exercise riders, and horse trainers who form the backbone of the industry. She interviewed workers at Saratoga, Belmont, Tampa Bay Downs, Keeneland, the Evangeline Training Center in Louisiana, and the Palm Meadows Training Center in Florida.
Workers within all sectors of the thoroughbred world have long histories of involvement in the racing industry, with many individuals shifting occupational roles throughout their lifetimes. The thoroughbred racetrack operates as a multicultural workplace that relies upon apprenticeship and mentoring. Many workers speak to the history, the joys, the hardships, and the miracles of horse racing along with the changes that they have experienced through their long careers. Included in the book are discussions about luck, the occupational language of the racetrack, race and gender, and recent changes in the industry, all in the words and voices of the stable workers.
This is an important book for those interested in the sport of thoroughbred racing and ethnographies of work. It is very difficult to represent the occupational folklife of a work culture that has so many divergent contexts and participants. McHale has done an excellent job immersing herself in this world and presenting it with clarity, honesty, and integrity. As a true test of the quality of McHale's work, Stable Views will be read with interest by backstretcher and folklorist alike.- Journal of Folklore Research
Stable Views offers a rare opportunity to examine the occupational folklore of stable workers and others behind the scenes at thoroughbred racetracks. McHale's insightful examination constitutes essential reading for scholars and racing fans alike.- Debra Lattanzi Shutika, George Mason University
McHale's description of life on the backside takes up Archie Green's passionate entreaty to take seriously the cultural traditions of working-class occupational life. She balances the passion for horses and horse racing that so many workers clearly articulate, with the hard, punishing work that the industry has come to demand of them. The reader discovers a system that must be flexible enough to move from track to track around the country, but structured enough to provide the kind of stability needed to ensure safety across these different venues. This necessary balance between flexibility and stability puts one in mind of the relationship between tradition and dynamism that folklorists have found so useful to consider as part and parcel of the same process. A thoroughly enjoyable read.- Tom Mould, director of the Honors Program and professor of anthropology and folklore, Elon University
This is an important book for those interested in the sport of thoroughbred racing and ethnographies of work. It is very difficult to represent the occupational folklife of a work culture that has so many divergent contexts and participants. McHale has done an excellent job immersing herself in this world and presenting it with clarity, honesty, and integrity. As a true test of quality of McHale’s work, Stable Views will read with interest by backstretcher and folklorist alike.- Robert McCarl, Boise State University, Choice
Those of us who thrill to the speed, grace, and excitement of thoroughbred horse racing are often unaware of the behind-the-scenes traditions, customs, and occupational drama taking place in the 'backstretch. ' This winning new study by folklorist Ellen McHale introduces readers to the colorful world of 'flat track' workers—the world of bug boys, hot-walkers, exercise riders, judges, and grooms. The author lets us listen in on fascinating conversations with the men and women who, in-between 'ponying,' 'walking the hots,' and 'breezing' their horses, recount their eventful careers on the racetrack circuit. McHale provides readers with a delightful and engaging 'inside track' to the world of racing.- Nancy Groce, senior folklorist, Library of Congress