Ed Crane has sounded the bell for all but a handful of races at Remington Park, more than 30,000.
Crane, 66, was the starter when the racetrack opened on Sept. 1, 1988, and he will be the starter Monday when the Oklahoma City track officially celebrates its 25th anniversary.
As the starter, Crane stands near the rail and watches the gate from several feet away. It's his call when to push the button to start the race.
When he does, the gates flash open, the bell rings, and the horses race down the track.
Sounds like an easy job, but it is Crane and the gate crew's responsibility to ensure a fair and safe start for all.
Crane intently watches as the horses walk in, waiting for the moment when the entire field is still and calm. The decision to push the button is based on instinct and experience.
He doesn't want to wait long. He starts the race at the first opportunity the entire field appears ready. The longer the horses are at the gate, the greater the chance that something will go wrong.
“It doesn't always turn into a good start,” Crane said. “Sometimes you have to take a start when everything is going to turn south on you.”
The most important work done by Crane and the gate crew is not done at the race, but in early morning training sessions with young quarter horses and thoroughbreds, trying to acclimate them to surroundings around a starting gate.
“The horses have to know when they come here (to race), they have to do what they are supposed to do,” Crane said. “They have to walk in the gate and stand there and look down the racetrack and leave when it comes time.”
The work done in advance helps things go more smoothly on race day. Most of the time. At times, even a schooled horse doesn't cooperate.
“I had one the other night refuse,” Crane said. “We pushed the button and he just stood there.”
Loading a 1,400-pound horse into a racing gate can be difficult. Sometimes, they will rear up. Sometimes they will sit down. Occasionally, they will even get underneath the gate.
“You will be surprised the position that they can get themselves in,” Crane said. “I've seen horses flip all the way out of the gate and not touch anything. Not many. I think three since I've been here.”
Walking into a starting gate is probably the most unnatural thing a horse does, Crane said. Some horses never get used to it.
“Some of them, you cannot school,” Crane said. “The ones you can't get anything done with, they are usually claustrophobic. Like people who have a psychological problem and have panic attacks (in enclosed spaces). It's the same way with horses. We have had a few of them here. You just can't run 'em.”
In one way, Crane is much like an official at a sporting event, trying to ensure the game is played fairly. And, he gets cussed like one on occasion, too.
At the start of the race, he hides the button behind his back and out of sight of the jockeys.
“They will get to trying to guess you,” Crane said. “If they guess wrong, they can cause a wreck.”
And sometimes, Crane will hear an earful from someone who disagreed with his decision to push the button. But at least no one has taken a swing at him yet because of it.
“There have been a couple of times they were cussing me I wish they would have so we could end all that,” Crane said.
“I understand when (their horses) don't get out of there, they are going to be mad. There are some trainers, they know that bad stuff happens and they never say anything about it. There are other ones, maybe they are not doing as good as they want, so they are looking for a reason to get mad.”
Being a starter, however, is not a thankless job, Crane said. There are many people who appreciate the job Crane has done for 25 years as the starter at Remington Park, with no end of his employment in sight.
“I don't get up in the morning and think, ‘Oh, damn, I have to go to work.' I have never felt that way,” Crane said. “If I did, I probably wouldn't be doing it.”