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    By Thomas Elmallakh
    Photos by Mickie Winters

    Outside one of the many stables at Turfway Park in Northern Kentucky, Tyler Picklesimer, the track’s racing secretary, picks numbered dies from a briefcase in the trunk of his car. Picklesimer, serving as a tattoo technician (one of his many roles), is preparing to ink the inside of the upper lip of a three-year-old gelding named Neighbor’s Outlaw. This registration number, provided by the Thoroughbred Racing Protective Bureau, will allow the horse to begin his racing career. (Racing officials double-check the number after each race to make sure they’ve got the right horse.) Each stainless-steel die, which sort of resembles a pestle, has spikes on the tip that form a number. Picklesimer dips the dies into a cup of black ink. “This one’s gonna be R13996,” he says, explaining that the letter at the beginning indicates the year the horse was born. “2014’s an R, 2015’s an S, 2013’s a Q.” This will be the second tattoo he has administered today. He does about 1,000 a year.

    The tools Picklesimer uses to tattoo the horses' lips.

    Picklesimer runs down the list of descriptions on Neighbor’s Outlaw’s certificate, a necessary precaution due to a tattoo’s permanence. “Dark bay or brown colt. A few mixed hairs in forehead, which we’ve got. Cowlick at top of eye level, which we’ve got,” he says. An assistant uses a foot-long steel clamp resembling a giant paperclip to roll back the lip, revealing large yellow teeth. Picklesimer takes each ink-dipped die and hardily presses it into the pink flesh, leaving behind a square blotch for each number. The horse doesn’t make a sound and hardly moves during the two-minute process. “The clamp probably numbs the upper lip a bit, making it less painful for the horse,” Picklesimer says. When he wipes away the excess ink, you can clearly read the large black print: R13996.

    Close up of the tattoo on Neighbor's Outlaw

    This originally appeared in the April 2017 issue of Louisville Magazine. To subscribe to Louisville Magazine, click here. To find your very own copy of Louisville Magazine, click here. 

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