The central nervous system of Emerald Downs is tucked away behind Sally and Joe Steiner’s Quarter Chute Cafe – the racing office.
It is the one spot possibly least known to the public. Without the daily work going on behind the chest-high counter, the gates do not open either for the public or the horses.
Bret Anderson has been the director of racing, often referred to as the racing secretary, for the past nine years. Prior to taking the director’s position, he worked as the assistant racing secretary beginning in 1990 at Longacres Park.
A race secretary’s job is filled with ad-hoc conferences, controversy and finding a way to keep the peace in a highly competitive and emotionally charged atmosphere.
Anderson said his days are filled with a dizzying array of tasks. One of the most critical jobs is writing condition books for race days. Condition books list all the possible races for about a 10-day period. Anderson also is responsible for reviewing and approving all the horses on the grounds. Emerald Downs has stalls for more than 1,200 horses.
He grew up in Rainier Beach and began working at Longacres when he was 16.
Anderson has spent four decades in horse racing. He began washing dishes in the cafe and later was a security guard and worked on the track maintenance crew.
He got his first job in the race office from Longacres race secretary Glen Williams, who Anderson said was one of his “best teachers.”
Coming up through the ranks has served Anderson well as director of racing.
When trainers are entering horses for the upcoming races and the office buzzes with activity, Anderson is always right in the middle of the action.
“I like to talk to the horsemen,” he said. “There is a better line of communication if I am out there rather than in my office.”
The job of a racing secretary is not without some controversy and criticism, but Anderson said he fell in love with the track as a teenager and the affair is not over yet.
“When they offered me the job I said I would do it for one year and if you don’t like me I’ll go back to what I was doing before,” Anderson said. “I’m still here.”
The race office takes a full staff to keep the operation running. The crew working with Anderson includes 18-year track veteran Jan McDowell, administrative assistant; Rene Harris, assistant race secretary; horseman’s liaison Dana Claxton; Vern Baze, stable superintendent; and Jan Baze, horseman’s bookkeeper.