Rac­ing should be more than rarely re­gal

Los Angeles Times - - SPORTS - chris.ersk­ine@latimes.com Twit­ter: @er­sk­ine­times CHRIS ERSK­INE

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.

Dy­lan Buell Getty Im­ages

AHMED ZAYAT, the owner of Amer­i­can Pharoah, cel­e­brates with the Triple Crown tro­phy, which hadn’t been won since Af­firmed in 1978.

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