Garden City — It's 5:30 a.m. on the eve of opening day at Les Bois Park. There is a bite in the air and the sun is hidden beyond the Foothills, but the north side of the facility, just past the dirt track, is a hive of activity.
At best, the weather is chilly and the work is anything but glamourous. Stables are being cleaned, and horses are being fed and warming up for a trip around the track.
It happens every day - long before most of us are getting out of bed.
They do it for the love of a 1,000-pound horse.
Or is it the racing?
"You do it for that feeling you get when your horse crosses the wire first," said trainer Sean Williams, 25, of Star.
Les Bois' old and dirty stables are home to a little more than 500 horses. Williams is in charge of 18.
The son of horse owners, he is living a dream he's had since he was a child. After feeding his lot and tidying up the stable, Williams is ready to take a few horses out on his own for an early workout.
"They can't just train themselves or treat themselves if something isn't right - we've got to get up every day and take the best care of them we can," Williams said.
Williams isn't alone in what could be described as a small city of chaos.
It's 6 a.m., the darkness has started to fade, and the work of many is just starting.
With just enough light for exercise riders, jockeys and horses alike to see a few feet in front of them, the first runs are taking place on the track.
Even though he shattered his ankle after jumping off a horse about a week ago, jockey Robert Burney uses a walker to reach the rail and soak in the morning atmosphere - he makes sure to test the track condition himself.
Fellow jockey Jay Conklin has won more than 1,000 races in his 20-year career, but the fact that there are plenty of different horses to ride, and some react differently than others, always provides a new challenge.
"There's a routine, but no day's ever really the same," he said.
It's 6:30 a.m. at trainer Paul Treasure's stables, and he's starting his "$500 a day habit," the typical daily cost of feed, paying exercise riders, bedding and vitamins.
Treasure, 57, of Hammett, has been involved in one way or another in horse racing since he was 12.
"I've raised a lot of them since they were real young, so they end up being kind of like your kids," Treasure said. "There's really no pride like seeing them win."
By now, about 100 people are buzzing around the stables. Some, naturally, are on horseback, while others, like Treasure, cover ground more quickly on golf carts. In Treasure's stables, groom Peter Andrews of Boise is brushing the horses, saddling them and walking them out of the stables to begin warmups. As more people are around and the oats have been consumed, the horses start to get fidgety, anxious to get out and run.
"Each has their own personality, so you've got to figure that out," Andrews said. "Once they get out and run, they calm down quite a bit."
It's 7 a.m., the temperature is slowly rising, and the sun has finally crested over the Foothills to the northeast. Jockey Elliot Bachicha arrives and quickly hops on a horse, the first of about a half-dozen he'll ride Tuesday.
Bachicha, who has been a jockey for a little more than four years, will ride for the first time at Les Bois this season. He resides in New Mexico from October to December, but has lived in Florida, Oklahoma, Montana and Arizona to race in his short career.
"Wherever they want me to ride, I'll be there," Bachicha said. "I'm not a big morning guy, but being out there can be kind of relaxing - when you're on one that's cooperating."
It's 7:30 a.m., and Conklin, 38, is joking around with a few old friends, and some a bit newer. He began his career at Les Bois and is back for the first time in two years.
Conklin has a wife and daughter in Los Angeles, where he often races, but his wife suggested he come back to Boise after a back injury forced him out for more than a year.
"I'm glad I listened," Conklin said. "It's like a reunion, it's a family here for me. You go through all this and you become pretty close. It's priceless."
After Conklin and Bachicha ride, they help Williams take off the horses' leg wraps, and the horses get washed down. Awaiting them in their stalls is fresh bedding, placed while they ran, and then they're given heating blankets or ice boots to help speed up recovery.
"They're athletes, and there's an investment in every one of them," Williams said.
It's 8 a.m., and the track, already having seen dozens of horses tamp it down for two hours, is about to be re-raked. The process of horses being run, cleaned up and treated continues for another three hours or so.
On race days, the work may not end until after 10 p.m., but those closest to the horses consider a long day at the office just another part of the job.
"No days off - it's a grind,'' Treasure said, "but if you love it like most of us do, it's worth it.''
Dave Southorn: 377-6420