Hawthorne Racecourse (4/15/12)
Contact: Ron Uchman
PERFECT COORDINATION: Debbie Lindsay
We often cover the more visible members of the Hawthorne racing community, especially jockeys, trainers, and owners, but like most enterprises, there are a number of personnel who are essential for a successful race meet. Stakes Coordinator Debbie Lindsay is one of these.
“I’m from Casey, a little bitty town in southern Illinois, just east of Effingham. It used to be the crossroads of Rt. 49 and Rt. 40 when they were prominent routes in that area. My dad actually ran county fairs when I was little.
“I was working at the bank. I went to work there right after high school. It was probably the best job in town but I was tired of it. I had been working there three years but I knew it was a dead-end job and I really didn’t like working inside. My brother Danny (Miller) was working at the horse farm in Casey. I wound up joining him at the farm.
“Trainer Francis Ball came back to the farm for December. He was taking Danny with him to Hot Springs to gallop his horses in the spring. He agreed to take me along. He thought Danny would be happier if I was around. He wouldn’t hire women before that but he hired me to be a hot walker.
“After the meet was over we came north. I was supposed to go back to the farm to work with the babies and Danny was supposed to go to the track. But Danny ended up going home and I came up to Chicago. I’ve been here ever since.
“I rubbed horses for a number of years, then Ricky (trainer Ricky Lindsay-he was still a jockey at the time) and I married (37 years). I still rubbed on and off after that.
“I started working the switchboard here three nights a week. Back then there was racing day and night. During the downtime Mrs. Dygert would have me come around and help in the general office occasionally. I was doing a little bit of everything. I did a lot of typing for her. One day Chrissy Salvino got sick and they asked me if I could fill in and type the overnight. I figured I could. That was my introduction into the racing office.
“We raced harness at Hawthorne that summer and Chrissy didn’t want to work the meet so Frank Arsenault hired me to work the Hawthorne meet. That was in 1987. Then Chrissy moved on to be Paddock Judge at Sportsman’s so they hired me to work the racing office over there.
“I think I’ve done about every job at the track except for riding in a race and working on the starting gate. I’ve been a jock’s agent. I had my trainer’s license. I get an assistant trainer’s license every summer when I’m not working in the office.
“I’ve been the Stakes Coordinator for about 12 or 13 years. I think I came in the year after Gary Duch took over as Racing Secretary. I always started early because we work on stalls and condition books and such in the racing office. Gary didn’t really have anybody to work on stakes at that point and asked me to do it since I was already here. I’ve been doing it ever since.
“I never gave up the program. Most racetracks have both a Stakes Coordinator and a Program Coordinator. I like doing the program. We really don’t have many stakes races so doing both hasn’t presented a problem.
“I work really hard early in the year. We have the early nominations that close in February and then it gets a little hectic when the late noms come in.
“This Illinois Derby has been a dream. I’ve worked it every day since the late closing. I’m always on the phone with somebody (the phone rang repeatedly while we were doing the interview).
“It’s gotten easier with computers and e-mail. A lot of my contact with trainers comes that way. But, especially with a race like the Illinois Derby I have to go through race after race, all over the country, and find horses that I think could be Derby material. I call to see if they want to make an early nomination. I wound up with 90 early nominations this year, including some of the top 3-year-olds. Then when late noms were coming up, I had to call around again and still look for runners I might have missed. We ended up with 20 late noms. Then after the race closes, I’m back on the phone, calling to see if they’re coming.
“In a typical year, I could go through the lists and pretty much tell you who was coming. This year was a different story. This year was more of a challenge. We had so much interest. I had to make sure I didn’t tell somebody to ship when they weren’t going to be able to get into the race (a full field of 14 started and there were three more runners on the also-eligible list). I’ve had a number of trainers compliment me on my honesty but it makes no sense for me to try to get somebody here that has no chance of getting into a particular race. I want no surprises.
“When I was calling people about the Illinois Derby, I’d also be promoting the Sixty Sails (April 21) if I knew they had a good filly. Coming up at the end of the month we have Illinois Day with six races for Illinois breds that carry purses of $125,000."
Debbie’s work for the meet will be over in a couple of weeks but she’ll be back at it late in the summer, putting things together for the full slate of stakes races during the fall meet, headlined by the Hawthorne Gold Cup.