Meet Gary Duch -- Hawthorne's Blue Chip Racing Secretary
Meet Racing Secretary Gary Duch!
By M. Scott McMannis
He can’t type, doesn’t take dictation, and he has skinny legs, but Gary Duch is a secretary, nonetheless. Duch became the Hawthorne racing secretary through several fortuitous incidents and acquaintances.
Duch hails from Chicago’s southwest-side Archer Heights neighborhood. He was a member of the first graduating class from Curie High School, the class of 1975.
“As a little kid I followed horseracing on TV,” Duch began. “I watched the replay shows, and I watched the coverage of big races on Saturday afternoons.
“When I was in high school my first job was that of Andy Frain usher,” Duch continued. “I got to work at Sportsman’s, Hawthorne, Arlington, and Washington Park. It was great.”
After high school Duch remained a fan while working for Costa Cruises for seven years. “I liked the job,” Duch revealed. “It was fun helping people plan cruises, and it didn’t hurt that I had to familiarize myself with the product by going on cruises myself.”
Costa closed their Chicago office in 1983 and Duch declined a job in their Miami office.
Then the series of fortuitous events began. Duch knew Bobby Belpedio, currently the State of Illinois clocker.
“In 1983 Belpedio was a clocker for Arlington and also worked in the HBPA (Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association) office there,” Duch continued. “He told me of a job in the HBPA office at Balmoral, and I ended up taking that job.
“After that meet Belpedio suggested I try being a jock’s agent, but that was brief,” said Duch. “Fortunately, I had met Joe Navigato at Balmoral where he was a state steward, and Joe also worked in the racing office at Hawthorne. He told me of a job in the Hawthorne racing office, introduced me to Frank Arsenault, the racing secretary, and Frank hired me for the fall, ’83 meet. I haven’t missed a meet at Hawthorne since.”
Duch did the same at Sportsman’s Park, beginning with the spring, ’84 meet.
Arsenault died unexpectedly in January, 1997. Duch was offered the racing secretary job and accepted, beginning with the fall, ’97 meet.
“I’ll always be grateful to Frank, Duch stated. “He taught me the job from the bottom up, and apparently told senior management at Hawthorne that I would make a good replacement for him should he leave.”
What’s the most demanding part of the racing secretary’s job? “Putting out the best product possible,” Duch responded. “My staff has to keep the betting public happy, keep the owners and trainers happy, and keep management happy.
“That’s a really tough job in the spring,” Duch added. “We depend on those stables that stay here over the winter, so we start in February with maybe 1400 horses in the barns.
Only a fraction of those are racing ready. Another fraction are turf horses that won’t start here until late in the meet, if we can schedule some turf races. Another fraction are two-year-olds that won’t start here.
“The spring meet isn’t part of a circuit so we can’t get more horses in here because so many other tracks are already running when we start up. We don’t get new horses in until mid to late April, and by then some of the stables that have been here are leaving for those slot-infused purses in Iowa.”
What’s the best part of the job? “Presenting a card that fans want to bet on,” Duch declared. “That, and watching stake horses from here do well elsewhere.”