Racing should be more than rarely regal
Couldn’t even remember what the Triple Crown trophy looked like, till it came out of seclusion a couple of weeks ago. Vaguely French, and thoroughly Cartier, it looks as if it were mounted upside down on purpose.
Me, I’d like to see the Triple Crown trophy up close. Why it isn’t already on a big, celebratory national tour is beyond me. Hockey gets it; the Stanley Cup overnights in so many different homes that it’s almost promiscuous. The Triple Crown trophy should be doing the same thing right now, instead of living in relative isolation in a soggy Southern city no one ever visits (Louisville).
In honor of American Pharoah’s return to Santa Anita on Thursday, the track should be handing out Bob Baffert bobbleheads this weekend, or scarves the colors of Victor Espinoza’s silks.
Espinoza will ride here again for the first time since the Belmont on Thursday afternoon. Track officials say the first public display for the horse will be between races Saturday, June 27, where you can leer at this hometown hero, so beautiful he looks to be carved of oak. Impressed? This is a golden moment for a golden sport. Yet, it feels not so much like a golden moment.
Like Hannibal crossing the Alps, I head over to Santa Anita, where American Pharoah keeps a condo.
Del Mar may be horse racing’s Lambeau Field — a temple, a shrine. But Santa Anita is no slouch either. Anyone can build a fetching infield. But Santa Anita features its own backdrop of Alps.
Consistently, I have more fun here than at higher-priced sporting venues across Southern California. As you may know, the Lakers and I are legally separated, and the Dodgers and I aren’t speaking lately either. But horse racing rarely lets me down.
If there is a better place to peoplewatch, please text me. I’d rather rub elbows in the track’s FrontRunner lounge than at any other sports bar in America. It’s full of my peeps; like me, they’re one great play from financial solvency and a credit score of over 200.
On this day Debra Laposky of Burbank is entertaining the joint with a birthday bonnet of small plastic shot glasses. The cups are filled with twinkle lights, as all shot glasses should be.
“My daughter made it for me,” Laposky proudly gushes.
It’s just a Sunday, any Sunday, filled with characters. On a bench, a man with a monocle tries to zero in on the fine print of a tip sheet. Oddly, for a sport that relies on an aging audience, its literature comes in the tiniest font known to mankind. You’d find more serifs on the eyelashes of angels.
This is the same track where I recently dropped a hundy on a horse that turned out to be an actual Muppet, so never take a tip from me. My long-term investment plan is based on gray horses and turf races, so in the sixth, I bet the 1-6 exacta. Last I checked, the poor beast had yet to leave the gate. No worries. More than most, I enjoy cool ambivalence from highly pampered athletes.
Honestly, I don’t know that I’ve cashed a winner all year. I do all the right things, ask all the right people, gift-wrap myself in tip sheets....
And still, I keep coming back. To me, a race track isn’t just a race track. It’s the great American novel.
Horse racing needs a new lyricist — after the Belmont, I kept waiting for Jack Whitaker to appear. But more than that, it needs a robust and powerful czar, one person in charge.
“Horse racing is a completely disenfranchised sport, everybody does their own thing,” notes Jimmy Allard, a professional horse player known as “Jimmy the Hat,” and as fluent in the workings of the business as anyone.
The lack of a cohesive Triple Crown celebratory campaign speaks to racing’s need for a Pete Rozelle, someone who can rally the various regional factions and promote the sport nationally.
“When everyone is in charge, no one is in charge,” former California Horse Racing Board chairman David Israel wisely wrote in Sports Illustrated last year.
And what about online betting? If the NBA can move to expand betting, so should the tracks, which would benefit if I could go to a Santa Anita website and hyper-obsess over a trifecta, instead of my looming deadline.
While they’re at it, racing officials need to simplify runaway exotic wagering that overwhelms and repels new customers.
“The Racing Form may as well be in Chinese,” agrees Jimmy the Hat.
Which is how I’m explaining the Muppet.
AHMED ZAYAT, the owner of American Pharoah, celebrates with the Triple Crown trophy, which hadn’t been won since Affirmed in 1978.