Getting Ready For Opening Day At The Fair Grounds

November 4, 2019

A Chat With Corale “Bunky” Richards

The 148th season of the historic New Orleans Fair Grounds is going back to their traditional Thanksgiving Day opening, and the racing purists couldn’t be happier.  For the past few years, opening day has been the weekend before Thanksgiving Day, and to tell you the truth, some of those purists didn’t even know that. To them, the Thursday known as Turkey day, has always been their opening day.

While some trainers are trying to decide when to arrive for the November 28th opening, and what horses to bring, one Louisiana-born and raised trainer, Corale “Bunky” Richards is stabled at his 20 acre, Independence, Louisiana farm, enjoying the laid back atmosphere of farm life. After the conclusion of the Evangeline Downs summer season, Richards loads up the van and heads to the farm.

“This not only give me a sense of relaxation, but it does the horses good to be away from the track. After giving the horses off for a week or so, then we go back to galloping on our 1/2-mile racetrack. The difference is there are no other horses on the track, and nothing is rushed. We move at our own pace, and everybody, including the grooms and exercise riders, love the farm atmosphere. It’s a welcomed change for everybody”, according to Richards.

“Bunky” Richards is no stranger to good horses. He’s had a few in his career, and one that he’s always ready to reminisce about is Orleans Artist. In 1977, Orleans Artist, a colt Richards bred and raised, ran in the Louisiana Derby, and finished fourth, almost unheard of back then for a Louisiana-bred. 

Orleans Artist won the Crescent City Derby and the Vieux Carre Handicap, and finished his career with earning of a little over $100k, when a $100k was a lot of money.

Richards continues to maintain a 30-something horse stable, and primarily races at the Fair Grounds and Evangeline Downs. He’ll ship a horse to Louisiana Downs or Delta Downs but would much prefer to race where he’s stabled. “Shipping is a huge expense for an owner, and it’s hard on the help, but we will do that if it’s the perfect race or the exact right timing. My goal is to give my owner’s every opportunity to make money with their horses”.

In 2017, “Bunky” lost his wife of 54 years, Beverly.  Although Beverly was not a hands-on wife of a trainer, she always watched the races on TV, and was a silent cheering section for the Richards stable. Two years after Beverly’s passing, “Bunky” got remarried to Cynthia Sharp.

Cynthia was already involved in Louisiana racing as an owner and breeder, but her marriage to Richards stepped up her involvement big time. They not only became partners in marriage, but they also became business partners in both breeding and racing.  Since their marriage, the two have claimed numerous horses and have made numerous trips to the winner’s circle.

“My enthusiasm for racing has been rekindled because of Cindy’s passion for the game.  She’s a regular at the barn and her opinion matters.  She knows the game.  Hell, now our racing operation has become a real family affair.  My son Trace runs the farm in the summer, and is my assistant in the winter at the Fair Grounds, and my daughter Taryn, now a horse owner, comes to the races a lot in Lafayette and at the Fair Grounds”.

Life is good for the 79-year-old horse trainer. He’s a racing secretary’s dream, because he runs, and he wins.  He runs because he comes to the Fair Grounds with the right balance of horses, and he wins because he runs in the right spots.

“Of course, having Louisiana-breds is the key, and we’ve been lucky. We have the condition book covered to fit in a lot of categories. We’ve expanded our stable to run in the higher priced claiming races and allowance races. My owners have been great about stepping up and claiming higher priced horses, and even Cindy and I have upped our game. We’re breeding better horses and claiming horses for more money than we have been”.

“Bunky” sits on the porch of his farmhouse and watches his horses train every morning. He has a birds-eye view of everything that is happening in his couple of barns, the racetrack, the walking wheels, and the turnout paddocks. “I can see everything going on from my swing on the front porch. The stress level is nonexistent here. Even some of the more high-strung horses seem to be more laid back.

This is a great way for everybody to freshen-up before the tough, grueling Fair Grounds meet gets started. Once we ship-in, and the horses get acclimated, then we’ll start breezing on a regular basis, and we’ll be ready for opening day. This has worked for the last few years, so I don’t see anything going any different”.

The Richards Stable will be ready.

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