Now he has a stable of four impressive stallions, including a horse that ran in the Kentucky Derby.
His sons have followed him into the horse world. One son, Will, is the trainer, and Steve is in charge of breedin.
And what is Jerry Meaux’s job? “I’m a sounding board,” he said with a chuckle.
Meaux’s sons said they both knew they would make a living from horses. At age 10, Steve was helping his father train horses in New Mexico.
Meaux said he enjoys working with his sons, and get.
satisfaction watching them follow his footsteps.
That might not have happened without slot machines at the racetracks, Meaux said, because by the mid-1990s horse racing was trailing badly in the entertainment backstretch. “The profitability for the tracks just wasn’t there anymore..
Meaux said additional money from slot machines at the state’s four racetracks has increased the amount of purses, and the industry has rebounded sharply.
Figures from the Louisiana Gaming Control Board shows that the four tracks generated more than $5 million from slot proceeds for purses in September, along with $4.5 million in tax revenue for the state.
“It’s meant a lot to the state,” Meaux said. “The state has reaped a lot from gaming but so has horse racing..
The Meauxs’ stable, Indian Ridge Farms (named because it’s halfway between Indian Bayou and Ridge) is currently standing four stallions, including Keats who ran in the 2001 Kentucky Derby. During its 3-year career, it had total winnings of $500,000.
“His first babies will hit the track this year,” Meaux said.
Another stallion, Fusiachi Rock Star, is owned by a Japanese businessman.
“We feel very fortunate to have this horse because this gentleman has one of the largest stables in the world,” Meaux said.
Will is training 30 horses and Steve will be breeding 100 mares.
But Meaux realizes that an impressive lineup of stallions doesn’t mean anything unless their offspring trot into the winner’s circle. “This is a tough game. If our stallions don’t produce runners, we’re out of it..
Meaux became interested in horses during his rodeo calf-roping days in high school.
His father had horses for farming, he said, “but he wouldn’t walk across the street to watch the greatest horse run..
From rodeos, Meaux became interested in quarter-horse racing. In its day, the bush tracks were the focal point for much of the entertainment throughout the Acadiana area.
“You had bush tracks all over with 2 and 3 lanes,” he recalled.
Small boys were picked for jockeys with no consideration for weight, except “the lightest you could put on a horse’s back..
He recalled it was common in those days to bet on which horse could cover 36 feet first. And for a true race, horses without jockeys would be run using tin cans full of rocks to speed them down the straightaway.
“In those days, you bet on anything,” Meaux said. “It was all hand-to-hand betting..
Those tracks have since faded into memory. The last one around, Clement’s near Abbeville, closed in the early 1990s. Acadiana Downs at Carencro is now a cemetery and funeral home.
“It was a lot more fun in those days,” Meaux recalled wistfully. “You did it for the fun of it. Now, it’s strictly a business..
But Meaux expanded beyond racing in Louisiana, trainin.
horses in New Mexico, Texas, Kentucky, Oklahoma and Ohio.
He said many horse owners looked to Louisiana to replenish their stock of quarter horses.
“For years, Cajun horses were the cream of the crop..
When Evangeline Downs opened in 1966, he said, the track had six thoroughbred and four quarter-horse races a day. Meaux expanded his stable for thoroughbreds.
The purses in those days at Evangeline Downs might be just $150 for the winner of a race, compared to $30,000 offered now.
The increase of the winning money isn’t just inflation over the course of several decades. Slot machines have been introduced at all four tracks in the state, with 15 percent of the slots proceeds earmarked for thoroughbred and quarter horse purses.
Louisiana is now among the five best states for horse racing, under Kentucky, California and New York, Meaux said. The Louisiana incentives for horses bred in Louisiana has improved the quality of horses, he said. A Louisiana breeder gets a 22.5 percent of a Louisiana-bred horse’s winnings.
“That’s why you’re seeing so many horse farms opening up across the state,” he said.
“Racing in the state is in good condition and the new racing commissioner, Charles A. Gardiner III, is doing a good job,” Meaux said.
Meaux was a member of the Louisiana Racing Commission when Gardiner came aboard.
“His passion has always been horses,” Meaux said of Gardiner. “He came into it as a lowly stable boy, then he became a steward..
Gardiner eventually became a lawyer, then took the commissioner’s job when it became vacant a few years ago.
Meaux was on the Louisiana Racing Commission under Gov. Mike Foster’s two terms.
Four tracks in the state with slot machines keeps racing going all year. Evangeline Downs starts its racing season in April and runs through September. Louisiana Downs at Bossier City runs from June until November. Delta Downs at Vinton is from November until July and the Fairgrounds in New Orleans is currently underway through March.
“I don’t think there’s a day of the year where there’s no racing,” Meaux said.
Slot machines came to the Fairgrounds this year and that will help save racing in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina and a devastating fire at the track, Meaux said.
Daily purses at the Fairgrounds often total more than $400,000, Meaux said, and that attracts top horses from across the U.S. With a carryover of slot proceeds from the 2007 season, next year’s racing at the Fairgrounds should be even more lucrative, Meaux predicts.
Louisiana has long been a steady source of national class jockeys such as Calvin Borel and Kent Desormeaux, but Meaux said that may not last long.
“You don’t have a any of the young jockeys coming up from here,” he said.
That may have resulted from a law that once banned anyone on the track under the age of 16, Meaux said, and as a result an entire generation has missed out on the sport.
Will couldn’t imagine growing up without horse racing. “My Sunday afternoons were at the bush tracks..
Howard Cormier, LSU AgCenter county agent in Vermilion Parish, said Meaux is a good example of a long tradition of horse trainers and owners in Louisian.
“He’s in it for the long haul,” Cormier said. “He’s a serious contender..
Meaux had a lot to contend with 2 years ago after Hurricane Rita devastated the stables, apparently as the result of a tornado.
“The only thing that was left was the four walls on this office. We had to rebuild quickly and we only had 3 months to do it. It wiped us out with no insurance..
Dr. Clint DePew, LSU AgCenter horse specialist, said a study showed that the horse business in Louisiana has a $2.45 billion contribution to the state’s economy. Horse racing made up 30 percent of that total, he said, with the rest divided between show horses and pleasure riding.
With help from slot machine revenue, purses have been increased four and five times what they once were, DePew said.
“It really has made a difference and brought a lot of good horses in the state,” DePew said. “It has changed the dynamic and probably doubled the number of racehorses in the state..
He said current estimates put the total number of racehorses in Louisiana at 25,000, about 10 percent of the total horse population.
DePew warned that getting into the racehorse business is not a casual endeavor.
“Someone who is successful in the racehorse business is someone who tends to their business well,” he said. “The top 5 to 10 percent of the horses get the money while the rest of them are just looking at it.”