Fans watch the horses in the paddock prior to a race at the 2013 Breeders' Cup World Championships at Santa Anita Park. (Photo by Eclipse Sportswire)
In my defense, a slot machine looks a lot like a baby toy. So when I took my 8-month-old son to Vegas, and he got restless at the restaurant and started pointing at the flashing, spinning things making noise right outside, I sat him on my lap and put a dollar in the slot. He had only pressed the first button when a security officer said no one under 21 was allowed to gamble, and he was pretty sure my son wasn’t 21.
So maybe this isn’t the best place to confess that my 4-year old son picked all the horses for me at the 2013 Breeders’ Cup. If it makes it any better, he sucked at it, going solely by colors instead of my system, which involves picking the horses with the funny names, because that would require him to know how to read. But he got really involved. He went outside to look at the horses close up. He leaned over the rail to watch them do their practice trots. When he found out his pick was scratched he – to my great shock – cried hysterically. It was his only unhappy moment that Saturday.
Mine too. I had been to plenty of races at the Meadowlands in New Jersey during high school. I had been to OTBs in Manhattan – one of which was even nice, with a restaurant. I’d been to Saratoga Springs. But, frankly, they weren’t Vegas. They were boring, and not that glamorous. I’m not an animal lover. I don’t have a natural appreciation for the sport.
But I finally got horse racing at the Breeders' Cup. Part of it is that Santa Anita is beautiful. Not just the palm trees and the L.A. summer weather in November, but the grand, old-Hollywood architecture of the building. Mostly, it was because the food was great. And the fact that the entire sports world was in line with me placing bets: Wes Welker, John Elway, Jim Rome, Avery Johnson, Steven Jackson and Bo Derek, who while not technically an athlete, definitely had the body of one.
At one point, my son boxed out Kenny Mayne at the bathroom sink, for which he apologized. That will definitely make a fantastic college application essay.
2013 BREEDERS' CUP: DAZZLING ON AND OFF THE TRACK
Here’s what I came to love about horse racing: The pace. It’s two minutes of real excitement, with people literally jockeying for position and the eventual winners confusingly in the middle until the very end. But even better are the vast expanses of time between the races. People have the opportunity to talk about the horses and patiently explain complicated math to me that they think will help me with my betting because I keep nodding “yes” as if I understand. Also, it leaves plenty of time to get to the concessions.
Sure, people chat during other sports, but when you do, you risk missing action. A day at the races is just that: a long social event punctuated by sports. It’s civilized. People wear hats. And have cocktails. And allow children to place small wagers they feel very strongly about. I can see why people have been doing this for a while.
Santa Anita Park
Friday, Oct 31
Saturday, Nov. 1