Back in Bossier, Crawford takes key role at La. Downs

HAPPY HOMECOMING:  Once a trainer at Louisiana Downs, Matt Crawford is coming back as racing secretary.

By TONY TAGLAVORE, Journal Sports

Matt Crawford would respectfully disagree with author Thomas Wolfe.

You can go home again.

Louisiana Downs’ new racing secretary — Crawford began part-time last week and will be full-time next Monday — is back where his horse racing career began.

“It’s ironic,” Crawford said. “I started there, and I will probably end up retiring there.”

The 65-year-old married father of three launched his thoroughbred training career at the Downs in the early 1980s. Crawford’s claim to fame was “Big Sturgeon,” owned by Crawford’s father. In 1987, “Big Sturgeon” was named Louisiana Downs’ Horse of the Year.

“I was fortunate to have him. We won quite a few stakes races. 1987 and 1988 were my big years there. I had 40-45 horses.”

But as happens often with trainers, Crawford’s numbers went up and down.

“I started out with a few horses, then built up to a 40 (horse) stable, then I got back down to 10. Then I built myself back up in the late ’80s. Then I went back down again to seven or eight horses. It just got discouraging. That second time around, when you lose a big stable — your numbers fall off — it wasn’t financially stable for me. I was ready to retire.”

Ready to retire from training, but not from the racing industry.

Eventually, Crawford moved into administration. The Wheeling, W.V. native, who was raised in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, has worked at tracks in Texas, Florida, Louisiana, New Mexico, and Minnesota. He comes to the Downs from Lone Star Park in Grand Prairie, Texas. Since 2020, Crawford has been the racing secretary for Lone Star’s quarter horse meet, and the assistant racing secretary for its thoroughbred meet.

Which begs the question—what does a racing secretary do?

Think of Crawford as a restaurant owner, deciding which dishes to put on the menu. Except Crawford has to do that for each day of the meet.

“You write a condition book, which compiles different conditions for the horses on the backside. You’ve got your races laid out for one day. Agents and trainers are entering horses for that day. The racing secretary is responsible for how many horses go into these races, and trying to compile the best race card he can for that day.”

Remember those years Crawford was a trainer? That experience has paid off — and continues to benefit him.

“I used to be one of the guys that I’m writing races for, and helping to fill races for those guys. I do the conditions, I know the horses, and can relate to the trainers on the backside because I used to be one of them. They respect that more — the guys on the backside.

“‘Hey, you used to be one of us!’ I know where they’re at on horses. I’m not rushing a guy. ‘Hey, you got this horse that fits the race, but I know you just ran seven days ago.’ The guy’s telling me he needs some more time. I respect that. I’m not going to convince him.

“A non-horseman would say ‘C’mon, please run in this race.’ They don’t think like a horseman, where that horse needs time. It’s just really beneficial in a racing official capacity if you have any horse background.”

But there’s another part of Crawford’s job that will be just as important at Louisiana Downs. Crawford will be a salesman, trying to get the best horses — and the best horsemen — to come to Bossier City.

“You tell them the purses are going to get better. Granted, we only run seven races a day, but come, and you’re not going to sit in a barn. You’re going to run your horses.”

The better the purses, the better the horses.

“If you get better horses, you get better handles. People want to bet you. You get more recognized trainers, and a better-quality field of horses. People start betting you across the country, and your purses get raised. I think there’s a good future for Louisiana Downs.”

Crawford has a suggestion when it comes to ensuring that “good future.”

“One thing that’s going on in Louisiana that needs to change is the overlapping dates. The horse population has really decreased in America. That’s why there are smaller fields. For Evangeline (Downs, in Opelousas) and Louisiana Downs to run at the same time … all you’re doing is killing your state. They need to restructure the dates.”

And, if needed, Crawford will be here, back home, to help.                    

Louisiana Downs races Saturday through Tuesday. Weekend post time is 1:45. Weekday post time is 3:05.

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Mr. Menu is an advertising company that produces in-house and take-home menus for locally owned restaurants statewide. The menus are full color, printed on heavy stock paper and provided to the restaurants at no charge. The menus cycle every three to four months and they allow advertisers to speak to the customers of popular locally-owned restaurants.

Mike Whitler became the owner/operator of Mr. Menu in 2006, and has since grown the business to include dozens of menus and hundreds of advertisers across the state of Louisiana.