Lâche pas la Patate: The Quarter Pole Training Center
It was quiet at the Quarter Pole in Rayne on a cool and overcast Friday morning visit. Definitely a far cry from its former days of racing glory in the early 1970s, there were no enthusiastic crowds drinking beer and catching up on the weeks' news while placing their bets. However, there was some activity. Horses were being exercised on hot walkers, and jockey Brent David was breezing horses around the track. While most of the bush tracks around Acadiana consisted of two straight lanes separated by rails, the Quarter Pole has a half-mile oval track.
The track is known locally as having been a training ground for some of the world’s greatest jockeys. On any given Sunday, you could find a young Kent Desormeaux at the track entrance, begging owners to let him ride their horses. With his Cajun lilt and easy confidence in the saddle, jockey Brent David talks about his first race as a fourteen-year-old. “My dad had to sign a paper for me to ride. After that first race, I had to do it again. It was like a fever.”
As for the actual races, anything went. There were no rules and people would do anything to win. Rocks in a beer can was an effective way to get a horse to run. Tie it to the horse’s mane and the noise would scare the wits out of it, sending the horse flying down the track. Roosters were similarly effective.
Ronald Ardoin is one of the most successful riders who emerged from Louisiana bush tracks. He says, “You’d race against a horse with a fighting rooster, or a bag of rocks. I’ve raced against horses ridden by monkeys. The only thing you could do was hold on and whip that son of a gun.”
The Acadians have a saying, lâche pas la patate, which means “don’t let go of the potato,” or “don’t give up”—an apt description for the Quarter Pole, as it has changed ownership many times over its history, and it still functions as a track. However, rules and regulations have ended the days of utilizing roosters and monkeys as a means to win. The proof is seen on a sign hanging on the side of the barn, warning riders “no galloping of horses in the opposite direction, no galloping on the inside rail, proof of workman's comp, chin straps must be buckled at all times, vest protection must be fastened.” But the electricity of the crowd and excitement of the sport remains, and Acadians can still get a taste of what was a favorite Louisiana pastime for over 150 years. So, grab your favorite person and a chili cheese hotdog from Menard’s Cajun Grocery in Duson, and head out to the Quarter Pole to catch the races which take place on the first Sunday of each month.