Off to the Races!
Portland General Manager William Alempijevic is a treasure trove of knowledge about horses and horse racing. He’s eager to share what he knows from a how horse racing dates back to the ancient world to all racehorses have the same birthday of Jan. 1. From the hooves of horses pounding the soil at Portland Meadows to the roar of the crowd as horses edge toward the finish line, William enjoys the grandeur, gallantry and traditions of horse racing. In 2006, William moved from Toronto, Canada to begin working at Portland Meadows and has been the general manager for almost six years.
How do you like the Rose City?
I love it! A bit of culture shock at first, as Toronto is so huge. Everything and everyone is always on the go and people seem to fill up their days a lot quicker, but here people seem more casual. It just feels like home.
What do you like most about Portland and/or Oregon?
I like the people, the lifestyle, the food and the weather.
I am not a fan of winter, and in Toronto we have four drastic seasons—I don’t miss the snow.
How long have you been in the business, and what has your progression looked like?
I started in guest services eleven years ago, managing the off-track betting sites–we have eight in Oregon. Then I slowly changed into a sales job, because we bring in races from other tracks for our customers to bet on and sell our races to other tracks. Eventually moved into the wagering side of the business before having learned enough to take over as a general manager.
Do you have a mentor?
I’ve been lucky to have a lot of great people teach me. Duane Yuzik was my boss at the track in Toronto. He came here to Portland Meadows before me, and when he left he recommended that I take his position as the GM. I was 28 or 29 at the time, and I got the job because of everything I learned from him and the trust my company had in his opinion. I hope to pay it forward.
When you’re not at the track, what are your top three favorite things to do?
I’m really involved in horse racing. So I am in constant dialogue with my two partners about buying new horses and the development of our horses and where they can go. I watch a lot of horse racing in my off time to get caught up. I like to know what is going on in the industry.
Other than that, I like the life of leisure. I like to read a little bit. I like to do yoga. Go out and eat. Cook. Wind down a bit.
So, you’re kind of a track addict.
Yeah, you could say that! I grew up going to the track. It provides me with joy, happiness and some sorrow–but I love it.
Did I read that you own a few horses?
I do. Growing up on the East Coast, Thoroughbred and Standardbred racing is very popular. One of my friends is a trainer and another a blacksmith, and we together currently have five standardbreds and bought our first Thoroughbred that just turned 2 and we are hoping he makes it to the races this year.
What does “to the races” mean?
When you buy a horse as a one year old, it is a risk. I don’t have the exact statistics in front of me, but maybe only 50 percent are good enough to make it to the races. And when I say good enough, I mean fast enough and can withstand the rigors of training to be competitive.
What does a day at the races look like?
There are three unique experiences. The first is you can come to the track when we don’t have live racing. We have bars and restaurants open for you to bet on the races via satellite feeds, so you can eat, drink, be merry and have fun. For the 49 live race days, there are two experiences within them. We run on Wednesday afternoons and Sunday afternoons. So on a Wednesday afternoon, it is still relatively quiet here. Not all of our concession stands are open—a comparison would be like when the Moda Center has everything open for the Blazers and less for other events.
Sunday afternoon has a party atmosphere. Stake a claim on a picnic table because everyone wants to sit in the sunshine. People dress-up. Horse racing is rich in tradition and people in Portland acknowledge and appreciate that. As part of that, they really participate and engage at a greater level.
Both Sunday and Wednesday, there is a horse race every half hour, and most people stay from three to four hours. The horses live on the backstretch and we run nine races on average. Every half hour, they come from the backstretch to the front, and get saddled by their trainer and the trainer staff. Then they post parade to show the public the horses before they go to the starting gate and run the race. We repeat that every 25 minutes through the day. You should buy a program so you know which horses are in each race and help you make an educated guess if you decide to gamble.
In the horse paddock, you get to see horses, trainers and jockeys 5-10 feet away. That also happens when they are coming down the stretch and you can feel the thundering of the hooves. And hopefully you cash a couple of bets, you go inside collect your money. Then enjoy the sun and enjoy another horse race.
You are passionate about this business. What drives you?
I want to see horse racing be a part of the local community here and in every other community. It is absolutely wonderful how humans and horses work together and watching them run down the track is amazing. I want to see the breeding industry in Oregon be a viable business. I want to see Oregon breed a Kentucky Derby winner. And I want to see people happy and having positive experiences at the track.