On a recent business trip on the West Coast I travelled from Las Vegas—home of the slot machine, a form of gambling I can’t pretend to understand—to Arcadia, California for the Breeders’ Cup and the more intricate betting system of horse racing. There’s something to be said about the art of horse wagering. For the cost of admission to an event like the Breeders’ Cup, you receive a full day’s worth of entertainment: peering through the crowd for a glimpse of the horses in the flesh at the parade ring then studying the stats and attempting to decipher the odds. There’s always a chance an underdog will cause an upset. To me, it sure beats mindlessly pulling a lever (or pushing a button) in a smoky casino.
One of my project managers, Dan, and I attended the Cup on the two days of racing and were fortunate enough to not only watch the races unfold, but to tour the backstretch and other facilities (we were there on business, after all). It was a first time at Santa Anita Park for us both. What a picturesque track! Not only is the layout of the track very well done—offering clean, unobstructed views for the most part (OK, there were some advertisements in the middle of the track that I could have done without)—it’s complete with a mountainous backdrop and a sprinkling of palm trees. Very Californian.
Now, I don’t mean to brag, but our seats were located in what I believe is the best spot in the house. Named Clockers’ Corner, the section is located at the final turn and the top of the homestretch. To me, words cannot express the exhilaration this area in the stands supplies. As the horses round the final turn onto the home stretch, the anticipation in the air is palpable. Then, WHOOSH! The crowd sounds from a buzz to a roar as the horses storm past, faster and more clustered together than you can believe. You can see, feel, and hear the sound of the horses as they race past. Other than winning the Trifecta, it is one of the most thrilling experiences in racing or all sports, for that matter.
It was here where we watched the five million dollar 1 ¼ mile Breeders’ Cup Classic. While the results of that race are now written all over the news, at the time the race seemed to be any horse’s to win—except Zenyatta, the undefeated (13-0), gorgeous mare that, in the announcer’s words, trailed “dead last” for the majority of the race. The only female in the race, Zenyatta’s magnificent frame overshadowed the boys and was among those favored to win. How could she be so far behind?
Suddenly, WHOOSH! that sound again as the horses round the last turn for the final stretch. The pounding of hooves competes with the roar of the crowd. In a flash of her jockey’s green and pink uniform, Zenyatta pulls to the center of the horde, bursting to the right side of the lane. At that point, everyone in the crowd jumps to their feet, many biting their lips or holding a tight fist while watching her break to the lead. “This is UNBELIEVEABLE!” yells the announcer. Zenyatta wins by a length to become the first female to win the Classic in its 26-year history. My bet on Zenyatta to win saved my two days of unsuccessful bets and provided a thrilling conclusion to two days of fantastic racing.
That was just one incredible highlight of a very busy business trip (with more to come). Here are some photos I took during the races, plus a YouTube clip so you can see the action yourself.