Backstretch Bob Verhoest loves running. He still runs competitively. He has coached cross country and track. He loves to watch thoroughbred horses run. Running is and always has been a part of his life.
Del Mar has also been a big part of his life.
As a youth, racing was always a part of Bob’s life. His father, Raymond, and his mother, Madeline, were in the military. When Bob’s father left the military, he had a job working on a top secret aircraft and went to work on Monday morning and returned on Friday evening.
“As soon as my dad got home, he would pack my brothers, Gene and Eddie, and me in the back of our station wagon and we would go to Caliente and watch the dogs run on Friday night and then stay and watch the horses run on Saturday and Sunday. We would also go to Hollywood Park, Santa Anita and Del Mar. We loved every minute of it.”
When Bob was 15 he went to live with his brother in the summer. His older brother, Gene, was a jockey at Sunland Park in New Mexico. Bob got a job for $36 a day holding up a red flag at the starting gate. When the flag went up, the announcer and the spectators knew that the horses were set in the starting gate.
The timing of the race does not start until the horses are 10 feet out of the gate. That is where Bob stood. When the first horse passed Bob, he took the flag down and the timer started his watch.
“I got hooked. I got to see every race and I made 36 bucks a day. That was a lot of money for a 15-year-old kid then.”
The next summer Bob got a job at Del Mar Race Track where the surf meets the turf. “I started out walking hots. I would walk the horses after they worked out or ran. The second Monday I was there (on Mondays there are no races) there was an employees’ picnic. One of the events at the picnic was a mile race on the turf for humans. My brother knew that I ran track and cross country and talked me into running in the race. Like everything at Del Mar, bets were taken on the race. My brother told trainer Roger Clapp that I could run and in fact I did win the race. After the race Roger came up to me and gave a $100. He said that he had made a lot of money on me. My days of walking hots were over. I became his personal assistant for the rest of the meet.”
He decided to start working full time at Santa Anita when he was 17.
“I would go to work at 4 a.m. in the morning and I would then go to school in the kitchen at 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. on the backside of the track. I actually graduated from high school at Santa Anita. You had to be in school in those days if you were under age and wanted to work at the track.”