Big ’Cap Diaries, Day 1: Anticipation at Santa Anita

Events / Travel

The Santa Anita Handicap, known among the horsey set as the Big ’Cap, is probably the most highly anticipated race of 2014 so far. It’s a $750,000 race for horses four years old and older travelling a mile and a quarter, and this year’s edition has a seriously stacked field.

Watch the Big ’Cap Saturday, 7 p.m. ET, FOX Sports 1

The 2013 Breeders’ Cup Classic has been hailed as one of the most exiting races of last year. In it, Mucho Macho Man narrowly prevailed over Will Take Charge and Declaration Of War, and those three horses were so close to each other that you could have thrown a blanket over them as they crossed the finish line.

Mucho Macho Man won his first start of 2014 in the Sunshine Millions Classic in January at Gulfstream Park in Miami. Will Take Charge finished a game second in his season debut to Lea, who set a new track record in winning the Grade 1 Donn Handicap.

The Big ’Cap runners also include Game On Dude, known as the King of California – this horse rules at Santa Anita, and at seven years old he definitely counts as the elder statesman of the race.

There are also a lot of dark horses in the field – Blingo could be a serious threat, and I’ve always liked Rousing Sermon. So it’s with a ton of anticipation that I’m looking forward to tomorrow’s race!

I was lucky enough to be able to come out to Santa Anita a day early; I had plans to come to the track early Friday morning to take in the scene at Clockers’ Corner, but unfortunately my plane was delayed and I didn’t get to my hotel until about 1 a.m. So I overslept a bit and missed out on morning works – bummer! But I fully intend to head on out there on Saturday morning to enjoy the ultimate Santa Anita Handicap day.

When I arrived at the track on Friday afternoon, the weather was absolutely beautiful and there was a great day of racing ahead of me. There are few pleasures in life that I enjoy as much as the moment that I set up my computer in the Santa Anita press box and get to revel in the amazing view afforded by the track of the San Gabriel Mountains:

It’s basically heaven. Add to that the fact that there are Drumsticks in the freezer and it’s a wonder that I ever leave the place!

Pictured: my version of Nirvana.

So on top of the view and the ice cream novelties, there was also some awesome racing to take in. The second race of the day was for maidens (i.e. horses that had never won a race) who are 3 years old; there were some impressive runners in this field who have a lot of promise, so I made my way down to the paddock to watch the horses parade for fans before the race.

The horse that really caught my eye was Dublin Up – he was a longshot in the race but he seemed to be calm and professional as he got ready to run. Plus, I thought he was pretty and really liked his name. Hey, sometimes a girl has her reasons for liking a horse that aren’t all that scientific!

As the horses made their way to the starting gate, I was interested to see who would come out on top; I hadn’t had time to bet, but I was definitely rooting for my new favorite guy Dublin Up. There was some tough competition on track, though, and I couldn’t wait to see who would come out on top.

I wasn’t disappointed, either: after a mile’s run around the dirt course, four horses hit the wire together – talk about a photo finish!

In the end, it was #7, Big Tire, who stuck his nose out in front; but Dublin Up was third, so I was a happy girl. I can’t wait to see where that horse goes next!

I also got a chance to see some of my favorite non-Thoroughbreds here – the carriage horses! Reggie, on the left, is actually in my Twitter avatar with me; and Sally, on the right, is one gorgeous big girl.

My next stop was to journey up the hill to the turf course – Santa Anita is unique among U.S. tracks in that short races on the grass begin at the top of a beautiful slope, and the horses run downhill to emerge into the homestretch to duke it out to the finish line. I decided to see if I couldn’t get some pretty shots of this race, and one of my fellow photographers was kind enough to show me a vantage point to get some pictures with a floral flair:

So how did I do this? Why, by playing in the dirt, of course! I am, at heart, still an 8-year-old farm kid, so the idea of laying in a bunch of flowers and taking photos of horses really appealed to me.

After that, I had a wonderful time just taking in the beauty of Santa Anita Park. This track is known as the Great Race Place, and with good reason: the views are stunning, the grounds are beautiful, and the racing is fantastic. It’s truly one of my favorite tracks to visit, and I count myself as very lucky that I get to share my experiences here with you.

Thanks for stopping by, and I’ll be back tomorrow with all of the Big ’Cap action out of Santa Anita Park! Let me know in the comments who you’re rooting for in the big races.

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