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When the wheels of the plane touch down at LAX you never quite know what lies ahead. Los Angeles is a crazy place, especially when you’re from a small Midwestern town. The traffic is a nightmare, there are people literally everywhere, and everyone seems to be in a hurry. The whole time you are there is a whirlwind. We went to Hollywood and were amazed with its craziness. Street performers on every corner! Guys dressed up like celebrities asking for a dollar so you can take your picture with them. It was a blend of cool and creepy. We also went and saw the gates of the Playboy mansion, drove down Rodeo Drive, and stalked a local restaurant where paparazzi were waiting for a celebrity to come out. Putting all that aside, let’s get to the real reason we were there…the Breeders’ Cup. We came to see horse racing history, and we got what we came to see! In many ways the happenings inside Santa Anita Park were just as wild as the craziness of Hollywood. What a wild ride!
Friday of the Breeders Cup wasn’t exactly anything to write home about. For starters, on the way to the track we heard about a shooting that took place at LAX, which of course is where we’d just flown in to and where we would be flying out of on Sunday. Not the greatest way to start your day. At the track, two-year-old American sensation Bobby’s Kitten ran well but could only manage a third place finish, and the American’s in the filly race never really threatened. Blueskiesnrainbows also narrowly lost the Marathon to European invader London Bridge, further adding salt to the wounds of American horse fans. The main event of Friday’s racing, The Distaff, was hyped as perhaps the race of the weekend. It did not deliver. The winner, Beholder, did her part, but Royal Delta and Princess of Sylmar were never a factor and finished off the board. Perhaps the one bright spot of the day was Goldencents, who was impressive in winning the Dirt Mile. Still, as we left the track on Friday, I couldn’t help but ask myself: “Did we come all the way out here for this? Surely day two would be better.”
Saturday morning started with a trip to clockers corner to meet up with our friends Ryan Stillman and Mike Sekulic. Mike, who as you probably know is the photographer that sends us so many great pictures. As I walked into the track Eric Guillot was the first person I saw. Instead of punching him in the face I calmly just walked past him in search of Ryan and Mike. Chatting with them as well as other California horse racing fans was a lot of fun. The people at clockers corner are as knowledgeable as they come, and it seems as though every conversation wound back to Zenyatta somehow! Everyone has a theory on why she lost the Classic in 2010, and it’s clear that nobody has gotten over it yet. Even after the Classic people were saying, “How many would Zenyatta had won by today?” Make no mistake about it, California is Zenyatta country. The giant mare is still fresh in all of their minds, and it was great to reminisce and compare Zenyatta stories with all the fans.
Once the races started you could tell that we were in for something special. The day started off with a DQ in the Juvenile Fillies race. Although in my opinion we didn’t see a star in this race, at least it was an exciting finish and had some controversy to it. Dank was up next in the Filly and Mare Turf, and didn’t disappoint as she was brilliant in victory. The old pro Groupie Doll was as game as they come in the Filly and Mare Sprint, and the Racing Dudes cheered wildly for the first time of the weekend! Mizdirection kept us cheering with a win in the Turf Sprint, and New Year’s Day, Secret Circle, and Magician also were solid winners of exciting races. The races were extremely competitive so far on this Saturday, and the stage was set for the big two: The Turf Mile and The Classic. Both Dudes placed a major bet on Wise Dan. We were both around even as far as betting goes and figured we’d let the big horse make or break our Breeders Cup’ weekend. After suffering through some anxious moments, Wise Dan came through for us. We were ecstatic! The weekend out was going to be a winning one for us and we still had the Classic coming up…
Right after Wise Dan hit the wire, the sprint to the paddock was on. We dodged and weaved through the crowd and positioned ourselves right in front of the #10 stall, while my wife found a spot on the rail of the side-walk where the horses walked in. We waited patiently as tons of people gathered, most of them there to get a glimpse of #9 Game On Dude. No offense to the Dude…but on this day I could care less about him. We weren’t waiting for the prize of California, we were waiting for our horse…Will Take Charge! If you’ve never seen Will Take Charge in person, well I feel sorry for you. The horse is the eighth wonder of the world. Massive size, tremendous color, and a white blaze that is unmistakable. He’s simply the most beautiful horse I’ve ever laid eyes on.
When the big chestnut finally arrived, he looked better than ever! He was visibly nervous, but was not acting up. As they left the paddock and headed to the walking ring I told Jared, “Take a good look at him, after he wins today we might not ever see him again!” We both chuckled at the comment…did we really think he was going to win? Maybe not, but we knew he had a shot. When rounding the turn of the Classic I thought there was no chance Will would hit the board. Three strides later…I thought he might show. Seconds later I began to lose my mind…Will was flying, and Mucho Macho Man was beginning to slow down. Was he actually going to do it? After being wide on the first turn and seven wide on the last, was Will Take Charge about to win the Classic? As they hit the wire I jumped ten feet in the air, I was sure he had done it…but unfortunately I was the only one. Both Dudettes quickly said no he got second. Jared and our buddy Ryan just gave me the “I don’t think he got there look.” This was the same exact thing that happened in 2010 when I was sure Zenyatta had won while the rest of my group had sad looks on their face. I guess sometimes my eyes see what they want to see. As the slow motion replay played my group of friends gained some hope. It was much closer than they thought…did the big horse get there? No, he didn’t…I fell to my knees when the winner of the photo was announced.
Horse racing got it’s story. The story of Kathy Ritvo, Gary Stevens, and Mucho Macho Man is truly amazing. I’m extremely happy for them, and honestly I’ve always liked all three of them. Mucho Macho Man winning eases the pain, but not by much. I often told people that I’ll never have another heart breaking moment like the one I felt at Churchill Downs in 2010 when Zenyatta’s late bid fell short to Blame. I was wrong…this was worse. While Zenyatta’s loss was FAR more significant than this one, this one hurt me worse. Sure, I LOVED Zenyatta, but Will Take Charge is what I’m all about. He ran and lived at my tracks. He represented my area of racing. He was trained by my favorite trainer.
When they showed the winning photo I wanted to vomit. The slightest of noses…what a disgusting feeling! Walking out of Santa Anita was the oddest feeling I’d ever had while leaving a sporting event. I was leaving a winner, had seen so many brilliant performances, just saw perhaps the most exciting Breeders Cup’ Classic of all time, and was truly happy for the winning connections. But…I was sick to my stomach about Will’s narrow defeat. He deserved to win, and didn’t. This is horse racing. You can never have it all. It can be the cruelest of cruel, and the happiest of happy. I guess we live for the happy times…and live in fear of the cruel times. What a beautiful game!
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