Santa Anita Park, Arcadia, California, November 2, 2013, photo by Joy Bennett
Last Saturday I was thrilled to be given press access to the Breeders’ Cup Horse races at Santa Anita Park in Arcadia, California. The Breeders’ Cup Classic is the largest purse of any horse race in North America, and the second largest in the world. It attracts thousands of people of all stripes, and I thoroughly enjoyed the day. However, there were a total of twelve races that day, all very exciting, all wonderful to watch.
The Breeders’ Cup is a lot of things to a lot of different folks. For some it’s a way to make money, for some, they will lose painfully. It’s the poetry and pageantry of these magnificent animals, all competing at the top of their field. It’s the beauty and elegance of the racetrack itself, one of the most comfortable and well appointed anywhere. It’s the fashion. Beautiful people everywhere parading in the latest fashions, adorned with colorful hats and fascinators, all uniquely different and stylish. The weather was perfect, it was mild and sunny, and everyone seemed to be in a good mood. The food was tasty too, and the liquor was flowing freely, although everyone seemed to be well behaved.
At the Breeders’ Cup there are different seats for different people. Sitting in the most expensive seats you might find a Sheik or a celebrity. Yet I’m sure there were people in the parking lot, unable to afford even the cheapest ticket, but willing to bask in the reflected light of the racetrack. Like everywhere else in America there’s a place for everyone, and everyone has his or her place.
What was most striking to be among many things of the day was the obvious affection and devotion the owners, trainers and jockeys displayed for their horses. You have to genuinely love these wonderful animals, they become almost like another family member, being with them year after year. And as time goes on, the history and emotions get more and more intense.
There were also lots of folks wearing blue wristbands in support of the California Retirement Management Account, a non-profit created to raise money for retired California thoroughbred racehorses. For more information on this important non-profit, visit www.carma4horses.org.
I briefly met the beaming bugle player, who has been blowing his horn here for over 25 years!
And I won the one race I bet on! I didn’t bet again, knowing my beginners luck would quickly evaporate.
I also gained new respect for the hard-working photographers (my husband being one of them) who have to catch lighting every time with the quickness and importance of these big races. You miss a big shot, and you likely won’t be here again.
There were some very nice folks there, some from near me who were celebrating the day, enjoying themselves, not minding if they won or lost, just happy to be here on this beautiful day. The famous jockey Laffit Pincay was there too, who at one time was one of the most winning jockeys in horse racing.
This track is also where the famous horse Seabiscuit won, which was written about in a great book Seabiscuit: An American Legend and later turned into a wonderful 2003 movie called Seabiscuit starring Tobey Maguire and Jeff Bridges.
Horse people are unlike anyone else. They remember, they are loyal, and they are devoted to the sport and their animals. Many lose fortunes trying to find that elusive winning combination of the right animal, with the right jockey, the right trainer, and the just the right track and weather conditions. But when it happens, as it did for the upset winner of the Breeders’ Cup Classic, it is amazing. The horse, Mucho Macho Man, ridden by jockey Gary Stevens, had a surprise upset over the favorite. The trainer, the first woman trainer to win a Breeders’ Cup Classic, overtook in the last moment the famous horseman’s Wayne Lukas’ long shot Will Take Charge. It was magic.