If you’ve ever seen any of the National Lampoon “Vacation” movies starring Chevy Chase, you have a pretty good idea how my trip to the Breeders’ Cup went. I’m not a huge fan of flying, so I thought a road trip with the family might be fun… I need to think less (or drink more).
Somehow, I forgot that my kids are teenagers, not toddlers. As a result, in between the squabbles over seating and music (if I never hear another Drake song again, I’ll consider myself a lucky guy), there was much weeping and gnashing of teeth over cell phone reception. After all, updating Snapchat with one’s latest selfie is of premium importance (if I weren’t so old and “out of it” I would realize this without my kids having to tell me).
Of course, it didn’t help that we underestimated the drive time from Colorado to California, as well as the mind-numbing effect of traveling through Utah (no offense to Utah residents). As Wiz Khalifa droned on about black and yellow from the rental car speakers, I found myself wishing for similar color options, instead of the brown and browner that was reflected in the passing “scenery.”
Our first stop was Las Vegas.
It may be the “town that never sleeps,” but the same cannot be said of me. Sure, it was late when we arrived at our hotel, but, after completing some work for US Racing, I was out like the proverbial light bulb.
Somewhere, the 20-year-old me was weeping.
We hit the road again early the next morning (a few minutes before noon) and reached California just as the sun was going down. Shortly after entering Los Angeles, we had our first celebrity sighting when we passed Matthew McConaughey going 25 miles per hour on the highway, seemingly deep in thought and oblivious to everything around him behind the wheel of his Lincoln MKZ.
Arriving at our hotel, we discovered that the room we booked a month in advance was taken, but, great news, a smaller room was available for the same price — score! We did get a free breakfast, consisting of one egg and a half a potato, out of the deal, so we couldn’t really complain — despite the rumblings of discontent from our stomachs.
But what really got me was the situation with the pool, where a sign was hung that read:
Oh, great, so now I’m being punished for eating that breakfast burrito at the Flying J? It was 50 percent off! That’s a great deal.
Well, rules are made to be broken, so I got in a nice swim anyway.
After I got dressed and showered — the chlorine discolored my skin — I headed to the track.
To say that Santa Anita Park is beautiful is akin to saying that Leonardo DaVinci was “kinda smart.” Outside of Keeneland and Longacres back in the day, I have not seen a nicer racetrack — and I’ve been to Del Mar.
With the San Gabriel Mountains looming like giant mountains (how’s that for a simile?) in the background, I felt like Ray Kinsella must have felt when he leveled his Iowa cornfield and only source of income to build a baseball diamond because a voice in his head told him it was the right thing to do.
In short, I felt like a kid again.
All at once memories of equine heroes such as Utah Canyon, Chinook Pass and Trooper Seven came flooding back like a flood (sorry, I can’t help myself) and I remembered guys like Clint and Tom Roberts, Jody Davidson, Hugh Wales, Gary Baze and Gary Stevens too.
I realized, once more, the love I had for the game, the sport, the spectacle. Sometimes, I think it takes these moments of clarity to help us re-connect with the people and things we most cherish. Looking across the infield, I softly whispered “I love you…” and, then, had to explain what I meant to Brian Zipse, editor of Horse Racing Nation, who happened to be standing directly in front of me.
No, I jest. I did not profess my love to Zipse, Santa Anita or anybody or anything else… well, minus that one taco vendor, but he earned it! I did get to meet Mr. Zipse for the first time, though, along with a bunch of other fine folks from Horse Racing Nation, Brisnet, Thoroughbred Racing Dudes and a variety of other turf publications and sites.
I even saw that guy “Mutton Chops” (John McCririck) and he looks just as homeless in real life as he does on TV (kidding, John, kidding).
But the highlight of my trip was getting a chance to hang out with my colleague Margaret Ransom and meet the US Racing Zippy Chippy Award winners Angie Cheak and Tara Cochran in person.
I also had the opportunity to chat with another classy lady and thank her for all the thrills she gave me throughout her 21-race career:
I made some money at the windows too, which is always nice. My best bet on Friday, New Money Honey, cashed at $15 and I hit a pick-3 that ended with Tourist in the Breeders’ Cup Mile on Saturday.
On Sunday, I visited Venice Beach with my wife and kids and, Monday, we were in the car headed back to Colorado.
Note to other husbands and dads: Loud, slightly off-tune renditions of John Denver songs are generally not appreciated when one’s family has fallen in love with the warm weather and palm trees of California.
I hope to go to another Breeders’ Cup soon… but, next time, no long drives and no discount food from the Flying J.