I’m not sure that there’s anything as unexpected (well, for me at least) than my alarm clock going off at 3:15 a.m.; fortunately, when the reason for that mid-REM interruption is the Woodbine Mile, I have very few objections to getting out of bed!
So when my cell phone started blaring at an ungoldly hour this morning, I resisted the urge to hit the snooze button because I had a date with the premiere racing festival on Canada’s Thoroughbred calendar.
I collected my things, kissed my cat goodbye and was in a taxi and bound for LaGuardia within 45 minutes – not too shabby, if I do say so myself. Just for proof, here’s a photo of the clock on that annoying TV thingy in the taxi:
Fortunately at that hour, the trip to the airport was a breeze and the lines to go through security were almost non-existent. Bliss! I think my flight from New York to Toronto was really easy, but I'm not entirely sure because I slept the whole time.
Once I arrived at the Toronto airport, the only real delay I had was at passport control; this wasn’t because there was any problem, it was because the customs officer was awesome and we ended up chatting about the Woodbine Mile for about 15 minutes. Again, there was literally no one in line behind me, so I had no problem talking horse racing with him. Heck, I never have any problem talking horse racing with anyone!
After my chat with The Man, it was time to make tracks to Woodbine. I hopped in a cab and asked the driver to take me to the backside, which was met with a very odd look. After I clarified that I meant that I wanted to go to the track’s stable area, we were off and within 10 minutes we’d arrived at the barn area. I was met at the stable gate by Woodbine’s own Keith McCalmont; he’s @TripleDeadHeat on Twitter, and he’s the guy to know at Woodbine. Once we got my credentials taken care of, Keith brought me to the “Euro barn,” where the horses who would have accents if they could talk stay.
When we arrived, the first horse I met was Woodbine Mile contender Trade Storm: he’s a British horse, but he’s also been running in Dubai. This horse travels more than I do! Anyway, he’s a total ham, and every time I took his picture he’d stick his tongue out. Whatever, I guess it makes sense: he is a 5-year-old, after all!
After hanging out with Trade Storm, I got to see Meri Shika; she’ll be running in the Canadian on Sunday. Allyson Walker, who’s petting her face in the photo below, rode her this morning and said that she’s doing really, really well.
After that, I got to catch up with some old friends: my buddies Excaper (who will run in the Woodbine Mile on Sunday) and Fifty Proof (who is extremely large.)
Excaper is an absolute sweetheart, and he seemed to remember me. We had a very nice hug – I’ve decided that there really is no better way to recuperate from an international flight than snuggling with a top racehorse.
Photo courtesy of Keith McCalmont
Fifty was a little bit busy when I swung by to see him; he was getting his hair done, and I didn’t want to interrupt. If you need to know what I meant about him being a big guy, check out his groom standing on a bucket to reach his head. Please note that his groom is taller than I am, and no one has ever referred to me as short.
I also got to make a new friend: Riding the River, who’s making his third attempt at Woodbine Mile glory this Sunday. If you look closely, you can actually see me falling in love: he was a total sweetie. Also, not to become too much of a horse-crazy 7-year-old, but oh my gosh was he soft! I need whatever conditioner he’s using, because my hair feels like straw in comparison.
Photo courtesy of Keith McCalmont
We also ran into Emma-Jayne Wilson, one of Woodbine’s leading jockeys. She was playing with a sweet little filly named Niigon's Princess, who was giving Emma-Jayne a backrub.
Keith also got in a little time with Niigon's Princess – I can go ahead and add her to the already huge list of horses that I would smuggle back to my apartment if it were just a little larger than its 450 square feet.
After the welcome visit to the barn area, it was time to head to the front side of the racetrack for the Woodbine Mile draw; this is when horses are assigned their post position numbers, and it’s always a lot of fun. Woodbine had a beautiful spread set up, and between the food, the people and the trophies, it was a fantastic scene.
The Northern Dancer trophy
The Woodbine Mile trophy
Devon White was the celebrity drawmaster; he was a World Series-winning center fielder for the Toronto Blue Jays, and he seemed to be having a great time! He grew up around horse racing and seems to have a real soft spot for the animals at the center of the sport; I spoke to him after the draw, and he was emphatic in his admiration of their athleticism.
When all was said and done, the six contenders for the Woodbine Mile had been assigned their positions in the starting gate, and it was time to start counting down to Sunday’s main event:
After the draw was over, it was chow time! There was serious yumminess afoot, and so I practiced my usual lack of self-restraint and went ahead and ate everything. This pot pie of mashed potatoes and smoked brisket was so, so, so good:
And it was completely beyond possible to choose between desserts, so I went ahead and sampled all of them. There was fruit available, too, but that may have been healthy so I avoided it at all costs.
I think the winner was the chocolate raspberry tart over there on the right, but I’m not entirely sure; if Woodbine wants to send the selection on up to the Press Box so I can try them all again, I can live with that.
Lastly, I was lucky enough to score one of these very groovy Woodbine Mile jackets. This is going to be so useful now that fall’s almost here! I’m kind of obsessed with it.
That’s all for me today. I think it’s going to be an early night, so I’ll be back with lots more from wonderful Woodbine tomorrow!