Some fans drift toward the receiving barn to see what they can learn. They're almost all clutching a can of beer, and they will, by and large, keep drinking until no beer is left at the bar or until they fall asleep. The trainers gossip freely, but they tell different people different things.
"That horse you got in the fifth, he look pretty good?" a customer asks.
"He looked good when he woke up, but he don't look so good now," the trainer says.
"Maybe he needs a nap."
"Well, he ain't gonna get one!"
Hovering close to the barn, too, are Joseph Meaux and Kevin DeVille, a pair of tough-talking young men who gallop horses in the morning for the sheer pleasure of it. Meaux and DeVille both smoke cigars, dip snuff and spit with authority. They will do almost anything to get up on a good strong colt, and their fondest shared wish—other than the wish to have steady girlfriends—is to be licensed jockeys, like Joseph's father, Claude.
"I like this heat," DeVille says as the mercury soars past the 100° mark. "My hands don't work right in the cold."
Brown spit drips from Meaux's mouth. "Cold don't bother me," he brags. "I go on trail rides in the winter."
"So do I," DeVille counters quickly. "I go on trail rides all the time! I ride through the lightning. I ride through the thunderstorms. I ride to meet my mother!"
In a shack near the paddock, an undersized fellow grills pork cutlets over a pecan-wood fire. "I'm a ladies' man," he says to no one in particular. "Oh, yeah, I am a ladies' man for real." He works the barbecue as a volunteer and a friend of the Abshires; only friends and family work at the track. Virginia Abshire presides over the kitchen behind the bar, where she's putting the finishing touches on her jambalaya, which goes for $2.50 a plate. She has had her hair done for the races, and she pats it as she offers a customer her gumbo recipe.