A picturesque morning at the 2012 Breeders' Cup at Santa Anita. Photo courtesy of Eclipse Sportwire
Just a week away from heading out to Santa Anita Park for the 2013 Breeders’ Cup World Championships, I find with the passing of each day my anticipation growing. My first visit to Santa Anita Park for last year’s Breeders’ Cup was surreal, but I do believe I am even more excited this year with anticipation of what is to come!
Here is a reminder of last year’s memories!
2012 Breeders’ Cup Turf. Photo courtesy of BNB
At 3 a.m. the phone rings three times before the receiver is knocked over. My mother places her feet to the floor, rubs her eyes, and questions aloud, “What in the world am I doing?” She glances over, and I am in my bed with a beaming smile. She then answers herself, “Oh yeah, now I remember.” We both laugh.
Spending a week at the Breeders’ Cup literally meant spending a week on track at the Breeders’ Cup! Shower, dress and a quick review of the online racing headlines were all part of the early morning ritual before we made it to the track by 4:30 a.m. Yes, it is a challenge to see horses working in the dark before the dawn, not to mention an impossible time for taking pictures, but it is a uniquely special time to witness. I sipped on my essential cup of coffee and listened to the sounds of horses working, only catching the brief, magical glimpse of them as they galloped quickly into my sight and then out again. It was an altogether profoundly beautiful experience.
Full Moon over Santa Anita Park during morning works. Photo courtesy of BNB
These early Santa Anita mornings could have emerged from the beloved works of Edgar Allen Poe. It was an ideal setting – dense fog costumed the track in a ghostly aura on the dawn of Halloween. Even a few exercise riders partook in the experience, donning ghoulish face paintings or costume accessories. The mystic atmosphere only continued – another morning, the full, white face of the moon hovered hauntingly over the grandstand. My most cherished morning moments, however, came with every sunrise, a daily occurrence at the same early hour. The sun lingered on the horizon, casting premature light and dramatic shadow across the San Gabriel’s ridged mountainside. This soft, fleeting beauty existed only until the sun’s full light scorched the homestretch, cannibalizing the moment just before.
First sunlight of the day hits the San Gabriel Mountains. Photo courtesy of BNB
Daylight breathes life into the racetrack – the California sunshine wakes the metropolitan hustle and bustle. Print, television, and radio media members alike hunt for interviews. Photographers scurry to capture the horses wearing the coveted Breeders’ Cup saddlecloths. At this time everything converged. Everyone was walking, talking, and watching – scavenging any hints about eventual race outcomes. Incredible equine athletes steal the scene, donning saddlecloths specifying their divisions: Juvenile, Turf, Marathon, Sprint and others. But the horses wearing the solid yellow saddlecloths seem to garner the most attention – the Classic contenders!
Dullahan working on the turf. Photo courtesy of BNB
Taking a moment to glance around the crowd can be quite interesting during Breeders’ Cup week. There is a celebratory feel to the international gathering. Languages from around the world infused the air with friendly interchanges. Then there are “the hat people.” Just as the Breeders’ Cup entrants don special saddlecloths, their connections wear fantastic customized Breeders’ Cup baseball caps with their horse’s name embroidered across the front. While I was raised to admire, adore, and never to envy, I have to confess - I am jealous of those hats!
Photo courtesy of BNB
It is always wonderful to see the faces of dear friends and other familiar faces from the sport, but from the entire week there was a face I will never forget. One morning, I was sitting on one of the concrete benches between the grandstand and the racetrack. I glanced down toward the people gathered at Clockers’ Corner. Emerging from the crowd, a girl, about my age, and her father began walking toward me. As they slowly moved closer, I was fixated by the girl’s expression. She gazed up at the grandstand for what had to be the first time, absolutely awestruck. She breathed a barely audible, “Wwwooowww.” Her father agreed, beginning to tell her some of the track’s history. Looking at her was as if I was looking into a mirror. I knew exactly what she was feeling and thinking at that precise moment. It left me with chills. I had to control the urge to dash to her, take of hold of her shoulders, and exclaim, “I know! I know!”
Aidan O'Brien (L) and D. Wayne Lukas (R). Photo courtesy of BNB
Arriving at the venue days before the event allowed Santa Anita Park to introduce itself to me. The venue was dressed in Breeders’ Cup purple, enhancing the championship atmosphere as I strolled through the serene empty paddocks. It is a wonderful opportunity to wander beneath the grandstand and take in the Mediterranean style present throughout the betting windows. The expansive tiled floors, elaborate chandeliers and Rattan furniture are complimentary to the exterior of tall palm trees swaying against the warm Southern California sky.
Photo courtesy of BNB
The 2011 Breeders’ Cup at Churchill Downs will always remain special to me, impressed in my memory as the first Breeders’ Cup event I attended. However, picturesque Santa Anita Park presented an ideal setting for such a monumental racing event. The stunning backdrop of the San Gabriel Mountains, the warm, sunny skies, and the top-notch hospitality of the Breeders’ Cup management all combine to propel this year’s experience to the top of my “Dreams-Come-True” category.
My second Breeders' Cup in the history books! Photo courtesy of BNB
My Breeders’ Cup memories fill the infinite cosmos of my brain. Among them are Wise Dan’s record-breaking victory and Animal Kingdom’s valiant return in the Mile; Fort Larned’s homestretch duel with Mucho Macho Man in the Classic; Little Mike’s name-defying performance in the Breeders’ Cup Turf; Groupie Doll’s stunning Filly and Mare Sprint triumph; Calidoscopio’s connections exuberant celebrations; Royal Delta carrying Mike Smith to another Breeders’ Cup victory; and the incomparable beauty of St Nicholas Abbey floating over the track during morning workouts.
Ridasiyna before her 4th in the Filly & Mare Turf. Photo courtesy of BNB