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Tracks with smaller collections of silks use a conveyor system similar to that used by dry cleaners, often with the owner's name printed above each hook.
"I don't like that kind of a system, either," says Smothers. "If I gotta stand in one spot looking for hook number 222, and I gotta wait for that thing to run around to me, it would be a waste of time. It would take a man all day long to get the colors down and hang them all back up."
Olah agrees. "That would never work here in New York, 'cause I got too many silks," he says. "They'd have to put two or three conveyor belts in. There's barely enough room in here as it is now."
He points to his eight aisles of silks, each organized according to the jacket's most dominant color. Blue is the choice of most owners, he notes, while gray and brown are among the least popular colors. Most owners supply two or three sets of colors; the bigger and more successful stables might have as many as six sets each.
Every color man comes up with his own method for storing the silks, and like a proud parent, each claims that his brainchild is the best.
"I think I had the best system in America," boasts Smothers, "and I've had Bill Shoemaker and Chris McCarron and just about every top rider in the country tell me that." Smothers's method was based on caste rather than color: top trainers like D. Wayne Lukas and Charlie Whittingham on one side of the room, wannabes on the other.
But while systems may vary from track to track, the color man's routine is essentially the same. Using a mockup of the next day's racing program—known in track parlance as "the proofs"—he completes a daily jigsaw puzzle, selecting colors that match a particular owner and horse. Later, the silks are hung on a large rack according to race numbers and post positions. As jockeys return to the dressing room, the color man washes and dries the silks—often 100 each day—and restores them to the proper spots.
When a particular set is missing, the color man may approximate its pattern using another owner's colors. Here, years of experience come in handy in deciding which owners will excuse the occasional substitution. Other times, the color man will use generic-brand silks owned by each racetrack. Either way, the result is often a bruised ego, for the owner or for the color man.
"Louie hates to run subs," says Pellegrino. "He feels it reflects badly on him, like he couldn't find the owner's colors or something. He really takes it personally."