Fans looks for winners in the Paddock at Santa Anita Park, Arcadia CA.
by Melanie LaCour, America's Best Racing.
Well folks, let us just be thankful that I was not counting on my Breeders' Cup winnings to stock my pantry for the winter because needless to say, I would be eating a lot of MSG-laden ramen noodles as sustenance for the foreseeable future. This past weekend was my first time actually handicapping and not simply picking horses upon which to wager by use of arbitrary means, and unfortunately it did not go as I had hoped.
My current hypothesis (read: rationalization) regarding this absence of luck is that Karma felt that letting me cash a winning ticket would have simply been too much, and the universe would have slipped off-kilter to the detriment of everyone involved. You see, my weekend began with an absolutely uneventful flight to L.A., my outfits, including my first foray into somewhat elaborate headwear, looked fabulous, my two best girlfriends and I were blessed with some incredible box seats for both Friday and Saturday, the weather was absolutely spectacular both days, we met some very nice people and had the chance to spend time with old friends we hadn’t seen in too long. So Karma decided that I had used up all my good fortune for the weekend and I guess I am alright with that because I had a magnificent time despite losing the shirt off my back. You win some, you lose some.
However, in my wagering defense, and just so you readers don’t judge me to be a complete handicapping failure, I did actually pick Trinniberg as the winner in the Breeder’s Cup Sprint on Saturday, but did not have the opportunity to place a bet on him for a very understandable reason. Here is the Reader’s Digest version of that story:
It all started with the Fascinator’s and Fedora’s contest, a very important occasion wherein men and women attending the races compete for a prize based on who dons the most spectacular headwear. My friends and I, excited by the prospect of like-minded fashionistas, had wandered down to the paddock area to observe the finals of this essential track fashion competition (I had entered, but my fascinator was on the modest side and so I was not chosen as a finalist). Unfortunately this event took place during the absolute hottest part of this southern California day and I immediately started melting in the direct sunlight. So, while my friends eagerly scattered to photograph the multitudes of fine millinery and volunteer as judges for the competition, I hung back and mingled with the crowd, shaking hands and posing for pictures with other fans of the fascinator, trying to keep from looking like I had just stepped in from a downpour. That was until I became suddenly and entirely overcome by the intense heat as if I were a corset-bound courtier of the early 19th century.
As I stumbled to a drink kiosk to procure some water, I came to the horrifying realization that I was in desperate need of a piece of furniture rarely seen at a racetrack, or anywhere else in these modern times – a fainting couch. In lieu of such, I staggered into the shady tunnel leading into the grandstand and collapsed onto a wooden bench, but not before my vision had completely forsaken me, I had come within two footsteps of fainting in public, and had been pointed at by some very curious passerby who no doubt thought I was drunk. To make a long story short, my entourage eventually found me, soggy and pale, yet mercifully conscious, and with the assistance of four people, two bottles of water and one ice cream drumstick, I was able to make it back upstairs to watch the next race. But I didn’t have time to bet. And of course my pick won. Such is the nature of life and low blood sugar, I suppose. A word to the wise: do not let your zeal for top class racing prevent you from keeping hydrated and properly nourished. Lesson learned.
Near-public unconsciousness and lack of luck at the mutuel window aside, I consider the weekend to be a complete success for one big reason: the acquisition of new racing fans. I have two instances of such to report, and that makes me feel like I have accomplished something big in favor of the sport I love.
The first occasion was when, right before the Classic, my younger sister sent me a text from her Upper-East Side accommodations in New York City to tell me that if she “had to bet…it would be on Handsome Mike.” I was pretty floored to hear this because this is a girl who had in the past shown absolutely zero interest in horseracing aside from going to Keeneland to tailgate once in a while as an undergrad at UK, and now she was taking time from her precious New York City Saturday night social scene to watch the Breeders' Cup and text her race-loving older sister her pick. I believe this is a big tribute to NBC airing the Classic during primetime on network TV. The media folks at Breeders' Cup succeeded in bringing people who wouldn’t have ordinarily cared to watch such a momentous race into the rush of the action because it was being piped directly into their living room.*
The second instance of new fan acquisition occurred when I offered an extra box seat to an old high school friend whom I had not seen in many years due to his relocation to Los Angeles. At one point during my college years at Kentucky he had driven down from Ohio to attend a day of Keeneland racing with me, and even though it poured the entire day, he had a fantastic time. However, he had not set foot in a racetrack since, and so I promised him that if he thought a regular day Keeneland was fun, he would be in for a treat if he attended the Saturday Breeders' Cup races at Santa Anita. So he tagged along and I explained how to wager (in retrospect maybe I wasn’t the best person for this job) and he hit the ground running. By the time Saturday evening rolled around, my friend had the confidence of a true horseplayer as he placed his win bet on Fort Larned in the Classic while Tony Bennett crooned in the background. And win he did, with my friend jumping up and down, screaming at the top of his lungs as if he had bet his life savings and first born child on that race. And so a fan was born. I received a facebook message the next day that said: “Awesome time this weekend - was so glad we could catch up! After picking the winner for the Classic, I may be semi-addicted...!” Ladies and Gentlemen, my work here is done.
* As a side note, my sister followed this text up with another that said “Bob Baffert looks like Ashley Schaeffer from Eastbound and Down” which is a preposterously hilarious HBO program featuring a reoccurring ridiculous BMW salesmen named Ashley Schaeffer, played by Will Ferrell, who does in fact bear a striking physical resemblance to Bob Baffert. However, I was just proud that my sibling was clearly watching the pre-race coverage.