Back from the 2016 Breeders’ Cup after a full week away from home.
I returned from Los Angeles Monday night in time to punch a ballot here in Queens on Election Day. I return to work tomorrow but only for a short stint before starting another lengthy vacation over the Thanksgiving holiday.
This was my 20th consecutive annual visit to the Breeders’ Cup. My streak will be broken next year when the Cup is run at Del Mar Thoroughbred Club north of San Diego.
Del Mar’s compact facility puts it in the category of a “small track Breeder’s Cup” which inevitably means discomfort for the regular non-posh on-track fan. Small-track Cups at Arlington, Gulfstream, Keeneland, Lone Star and Monmouth during my two-decade run all had problems related to overcrowding and service gaps. I will take a stand next year and sit it out. As I get older, I guess I get more grumpy about not having a comfortable, clean-sightline perch to observe the proceedings. I also need to circulate somewhat easily and get a cold one without too much effort.
I’ll watch it on television next year and bet via the online account.
This year’s running of the Cup was the sixth time in nine years it’s been staged at Santa Anita in Arcadia, California. Santa Anita is not small. It handles 40-thousand no problem and does OK (not great) with 75K in the house.
My road trip roommate Jeff D and I have developed a pretty good routine with the Santa Anita cups and really enjoy meeting up in LA. We stay at the Saga in Pasadena. We go out for breakfast. The weather is always insanely nice. And now that I’m fully into the strong smell and taste of a double or imperial IPA, we hopscotch to some really good small brewers within reach of our hotel.
Just off the plane Thursday afternoon, we hit four great beermakers for tastes of their best stuff. In order, we visited Beachwood, Monkish, El Segundo and Highland Park breweries. All make great IPA’s. Especially noteworthy was the Spock It (6.5 on the richter) at Monkish in Torrance. Cloudy, with a pineapple juice look, it had plenty of sharp beer flavor with just enough complex sweet notes to make you go wow.
Highland Park’s products are served in an adjoining bar called The Hermosillo. We listened to Kevin’s great new song “Beautiful Strangers” on the ride over with little twinkling lights in every direction on the sloping, densely built-up only-in-LA landside horizon. The main drag (York Blvd.) outside the bar was filled with pizza joints, taco trucks, tattoo parlors and LA’s Permanent Records shop.
Day 1 of the Cup included the clear-cut horse racing highlight of the weekend and probably the year (pictured above). A thrilling battle to the wire in the Distaff between Beholder and undefeated Songbird ended in breathtaking fashion. It was a bob either way in the final strides. The skin on Beholder’s nose ended the win streak but in no way sullied Songbird’s reputation for sleek-looking and consistent speed on the lead. We saw Songbird respond to Beholder’s rush down the lane with a rare resilience from a filly whose style usually puts her comfortably ahead a mile in. The 45-grand on hand Friday afternoon roared with admiration at Songbird’s fight – and of course – for Beholder who was running in the last race of her brilliant career.
As the crowd continued to buzz with excitement over the Distaff’s finish, the five-year-old Argentinean mare Corona Del Inca was being loaded into a horse ambulance near the top of the stretch after breaking her right front leg. Track workers quickly erected curtains to fully cover up the patrons’ view of the sport’s tragic side. Corona Del Inca (104-1 on the tote board) was later euthanized. There was little mention of her breakdown, in part because the fandom had witnessed one of the great Cup races of all time. A segment of racing’s supporters find it easy to turn their attention away from equine injuries. I also think some people simply didn’t realize it happened given the position of the track where she was taken off.
Saturday’s Cup card concluded with another great finish on a dirt strip that proved to play pretty fair. The wise and successful Cup jock Mike Smith steered and urged freakishly talented three-year-old colt Arrogate past California Chrome in the final strides for a half-length win. The two of them were a full 12 lengths ahead of the rest at the finish.
I was knocked out of the pick four ending with the Classic in the first leg. The reasonable winning sequence paid a thousand bucks on a fifty-cent play which only makes the bet all the more enticing and impossible not to try on Cup day cards going forward.
Attendance was at 72,811. The crowd included many people wearing merchandise paying homage to California Chrome.
We sat in the grandstand near Clocker’s Corner. Large heat lamps erected for the hospitality area in front of us obstructed our view. The audio system that delivers the on track call of Michael Wrona was largely inaudible in our section for all but the last couple races on Saturday. Lines for food and drink were so long on day 2 that attendees who scored a refreshment had a story to tell.
All of these little problems are not atypical at many big horse racing events in the US.
The regular racing fan doesn’t need much. A beer, a hot dog. A look at a tote board. The race call is important. It’s easy to execute stuff with a little planning. For glitches to go down at Santa Anita is disappointing – and a little surprising.
On Sunday, I went to the Rams/Panthers game at LA Memorial Coliseum. The NFL’s return to Los Angeles was a long time coming. Great excitement both before and during the contest could be felt from 86-thousand plus at one of the most legendary sporting venues in America. I sat in the south end zone all the way up in row 87. It’s a hike to get up there but it’s an excellent overhead view of the action. The Rams will only play a couple seasons at the Coliseum before getting new digs near the airport.
The Coliseum doesn’t have much in the way of convenient parking. So for a city that likes to drive cars, the Rams will get a new place with skyboxes and spots for automobiles. I took three different Metro trains to reach the Coliseum from Pasadena and then a bus from near the stadium to the Torrance area after it was over. With the result settled before the two-minute warning, I left a little early to beat the rush.
The city was totally flexible with pre-game tailgaters who set up all sorts of creative spreads and openly drank beer in public spaces under brilliant sunny skies a couple hours before kickoff. Old ladies with food carts were spread thickly along walkways within several blocks of the stadium. They made tacos. Many ladies were selling sausages wrapped in bacon topped with grilled peppers on a roll.
I should add to all this by saying people are really nice in LA. As my friend Carsoni noted Saturday night: “They’re chill.” By that, I think he means that they come off as uniquely relaxed and eager to enjoy the day. They know they’re gonna have blue skies. They approach social interaction with that fact in mind, it seems.
As I file this, NBC is projecting Trump a winner in Ohio with Florida very much in doubt.
I’ll wait to comment on our new president for a day or two since it’s unclear at the moment how this all turns out.