09/11/2009 11:20AM

Short Story


I'm not a big fan of the "bucket list" concept. Getting to the end of it would court the danger of a self-fulfilling prophecy. "Here's some cool things to do, and when I've done them I am outta here!" But what if I didn't kick off when that last item was checked? Which could happen, unless that last wish was something like jumping out of a perfectly good airplane without a parachute, or running with the bulls at Pamplona wearing swim fins and a red cape.

On the other hand, any self-respecting racing fan has a wish list of racetracks and races to visit and witness at some point, beginning usually with Churchill Downs, Longchamp, Santa Anita and Belmont Park, the Triple Crown events, the Melbourne Cup and the Breeders' Cup, and maybe even the Ralph M. Hinds Pomona Invitational Handicap at Fairplex Park (catch it on Sept. 27).


Last Monday, I got to check off the $2 million All American Quarter Horse Futurity at Ruidoso Downs, in a town where the population and elevation both come in at around 7,000. Good friends would suggest I'd lost my mind, especially since seeing it meant missing the Del Mar Futurity for the first time since, like, 1971, when it was a grass race (California, just trying to be different). I've never been a camp follower of the quarter horse sport in general. I know this sounds simplistic, but there seems to be only one variable beyond the comparable abilities of the participants. Either you get out of the gate clean, or you don't. The rest is running for a bus. There is also the issue of duration. Life is way too short--watching quarter horses makes it feel even shorter. My favorite line of the visit was shared by a couple who also leaned toward the thoroughbed side of equine endeavor. While trying to squeeze in a peek at the Hopeful from Saratoga on a TV monitor, a nearby patron looked at the screen and wondered, "How long is this race anyway?"

These are my issues, and I've had to live with the fact that I've probably missed a lot of great moments right here in Southern California at Los Alamitos, the West Coast home of the sport. Since the trip to New Mexico was planned to behold Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird lead the post parade for the All American and then watch him train, anything else, I figured, would be gravy.

Nothing, though, could have prepared me for what transpired. The Kentucky Derby crowd is loud, especially at the beginning and end of the race. But there are more than 100,000 of them, all drinking since dawn, so there should be some serious volumn. The All American crowd is loud, real loud, for the entire 21 seconds of the race, and the level of intensity is magnified by the setting of the track, which sits at the side of a valley. Think of the sound blaring forth from the L.A. Symphony in the Hollywood Bowl. The other day there were about 23,000 at the track, which is a record. I stood near the finish line, on the infield side, and suddenly they were upon me, blurs of colors slapping the tight, red track wet from the mountain rain. Running Brook Gal won it by a length and one-half, comparable to Mine That Bird's 6 3/4-length win in the Kentucky Derby. It was a romp. Deleriously happy people began crowding the winner's circle shouting "Utah! Utah!" which is where the winner was from, and something you rarely hear at Aqueduct or Philadelphia Park. But I blinked. I begged them to go out and do it again.

Tawny Madison More than 1 year ago
Jay, Riding a Harbor View burro is almost like riding Affirmed *um, okay, I'm teetering on the edge* I would like to throw some of the Asian tracks into the playlist. I understand that the Tokyo and Hong Kong tracks are magnificent facilities with enthusiastic crowds, huge purses, huge betting pools, some fine horses and no drug rules controversies.
Jay H More than 1 year ago
Tawny - Nope, Julie never rode a mule in a race, although she did try an ostrich once in an exhibition, and Patricia Wolfson let her ride the Harbor View burro.
Tawny Madison More than 1 year ago
I went from the stock market to betting thoroughbreds because I did not want to wait so long to see what my return would be. Then I went from the thoroughbreds to the quarters because I did not want to wait so long to see my return ("and they're off *very slight pause* it's a photo.") For about the same amount of wait time, though, there is mule racing, which is the most fun. Handicapping them includes the get-out-of the gate variable plus an additional layer of complexity: who will run in a somewhat steady direction towards the finish. I saw a mule deliberately plant his little hoof and make a sharp right turn, tossing his rider into the dirt. Because he had done that twice before, the stewards banned this renegade from further racing which is probably what the mule wanted. Reminds me of when Ladys Secret went wide on the turns - what I interpreted as her message to her connections that she was done with the racing scene. So, I am glad that you mentioned Fairplex, with that richness of multiple breed racing. p.s. Being an east coast girl, I bet that the only gap in Julie's resume is that she probably never raced a mule.
Michael M More than 1 year ago
Jay - A wonderful post. I, too, would like to "semi-Bucket List" the All American. What a thrill! As for the list you offerred - Bravo!...although you left out the Crown Jewel of American Racing - Saratoga Race Course. I fully respect that your space was limited but perhaps you could have substituted The Spa for Belmont - seeing as you did list the Triple Crown Events whihc, by extension, would cover Belmont Park... Just a thought. Keep up the excellent work! MM
Jay H More than 1 year ago
Bernard -- Space precluded listing all possible sites on a wish list. I chose the tracks that leapt quickest to mind as examples. I may substitute Cheltenham for Longchamp and see if I hear from the French.
Bernard Downes More than 1 year ago
Jay, From one of our earlier exchanges I guess you are not the greatest fan of British racing (apologies for being over-sensitive), but I was surprised that in your wish list of racetracks to visit, you mentioned Longchamp and Melbourne, but no British tracks. I accept that the food and wine are better in Paris, but Longchamp a better racecourse than Ascot? Never. Even on Arc day, most of the atmosphere has to be generated by the visiting Brits. As for the Melbourne Cup, I have only been once and it was a tremendous experience, but get yourself to Cheltenham or York on any of their big days and you are guaranteed great racing, the company of a large, enthusiastic and knowledgable crowd, and as much drinking as you desire. Regards - Bernard P.S. I could have also mentioned Epsom on Derby day, but that particular racecourse is not everyones cup of tea.