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Track Tracts

Things I Love About the Track
by Gordon Pine

� Santa Anita in the morning.

� Track coffee. This stuff proves the validity of classical conditioning. Recipe: mix a pound of dirt with a gallon of water, boil until scalding. And I love the stuff. But only because track coffee is always associated with morning at the track. Pavlov was right.

� The ladies at the concession stands. How can you do that job day after day and be that cheerful? If you don�t put quarters in their Styrofoam cup, the racing gods will screw you up.

� The art deco bulk of Santa Anita. Seen from the parking lot, with the San Gabriel mountains looming over it in the morning fog, it�s got to rival the pyramids.

� A brand new Racing Form. Full of the promises of youth, spring, adventure and true love.

� Female exercise riders. Pound for pound, the fittest athletes on the planet. �Nuff said.

� The bathrooms in the grandstand at Santa Anita. Lines of urinals reaching out as far as the eye can see. Built in the thirties when men knew how to piss.

� Trevor Denman�s calls. He�s the best, sorry, don�t even argue about it, period.

� A Frank Capra horse racing movie from 1950 called Riding High, starring Bing Crosby. Especially the song The Horse Told Me: "Oh, the owner told Clarence the clocker. The clocker told jockey McGee. The jockey of course passed it on to the horse, and the horse told me."

� Mickey Rooney in Black Beauty as a retired jockey.

� The general civility you encounter at the track. Horseplayers have their picks lose every day, but you don�t see them out in the parking lot overturning cars and setting police cruisers on fire (unlike college basketball fans). Sure, they may get a little rough verbally with losing jockeys on heavy favorites, but the average horseplayer has manners you could bring home to mom�s dinner table.

� When you box two horses in the exacta and they come down the stretch with open ground between them and the rest of the field.

� The horses. There�s not a lot of beauty left in everyday life, but these animals overflow with it. We�re privileged to be able to enjoy them.

� The smell of horse manure (from a distance).

� The elegance of a good betting line.

� A well-designed handicapping program.

� Anything you have to sign for.

� The paddock at Santa Anita. On a hot afternoon, grab a sandwich and watch them saddle horses while sitting on the shady concrete steps. Why bother watching the races? You can hear Trevor from there.

� The upper grandstand at Fairplex. Walk up a few steps to the betting windows and beer on tap. The best view of the L.A. County Fair is there, through the big chicken-wired windows. Also the best breeze.

� The breakfast burritos they used to serve in the morning at Hollywood Park.

� The hard-knockers still hanging on from the 1930s and 40s, complete with their checkered sports jackets and fedoras. My hat�s off to them. Anyone who can survive or thrive at the track for fifty-plus years deserves our admiration, nay, our awe.

� The technology that goes into making toilet paper about three molecules thick. Intel should definitely get in touch with the racing tracks� maintenance departments � they could learn something that might help them with their computer chip manufacturing.

� Satellite TV with five racing channels, available anywhere in North America. I can now live in a broke down trailer in the backwoods of Maine and enjoy the amenities of a civilized life. (Plan B if things don�t work out.)

� Women handicappers. They�re in the minority, but in my experience, they tend to be above-average in ability. Us guys go out in the exacta and trifecta jungle hunting for wild lions, tigers and bears, while the women gather the good stuff closer to home.

� A good handicapping predictor that the public doesn�t know about.

� A race that unfolds just like I visualized it.

� Winning a photo.

� Betting a solid horse to show in a race where a bridge jumper bets a zillion dollars to show on the favorite, who then runs out.

� Seeing a great performance in person � the kind that gives you goose bumps: Sunday Silence loping through a solo afternoon workout at Del Mar with Pat Valenzuela on top, and missing the track record by one tick. Spectacular Bid at Santa Anita, moving past the other horses with ease, like he was on one of those moving sidewalks at the airport, while they were stuck in mud. John Henry whenever he ran, with lots of ability but even more heart.

� Colored pens to mark up the Form.

� Little tracks like Prescott Downs in Arizona. The horses are cheaper, but the game�s the same.

"Laffit Pincay, when he took a 10-foot somersault off a horse, bounced off the rail, looked like he could have been killed, and was back riding in the ninth."

� Laffit Pincay, when he took a 10-foot somersault off a horse, bounced off the rail, looked like he could have been killed, and was back riding in the ninth.

� Jerry Bailey, when he snakes through horses, never loses momentum, and gives you another perfect ride.

� Eddie Delahoussaye, when he gets up just in time once again.

� Trainer Carl Nafzger�s unrehearsed narrative of Unbridled�s 1990 Kentucky Derby stretch run for poor-sighted, 92-year-old owner Frances Genter, telling her that her horse was winning America�s greatest race. If things like that don�t put a lump in your throat, check your pulse, you may be dead.

� All the dedicated handicappers filling the grandstand every day -- the last romantics.

� Santa Anita in the afternoon. 


Copyright �2001 NetCapper Inc. All rights reserved.

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