Tuesday, December 25, 2012
Horse Racing: The Ultimate Escape
SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY, Christmas Morning, 2012—No visions of sugar plum fairies dancing in this head, apparently not when my day job is so all-consuming.
But I never dream about horse racing, never, needing at least a good night’s sleep to freshen up for the next day--but not so past midnight as Christmas Eve was about to turn into Christmas morning.
I dreamt about a horse, specifically a 3-year-old filly that just happens to be running in Wednesday’s Grade 1 La Brea Stakes on opening day at Santa Anita: the 2011 juvenile filly champion, My Miss Aurelia.
Now I have no special allegiance to the 4-5 early line La Brea favorite, nor to its connections, only admiring her accomplishments from afar, but with a great deal of admiration .
My dream, however, did not take place at a track based at the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains, the best backdrop in Thoroughbred racing. It was more like the Blue Mountains of Pennsylvania, where the race takes place in the mind’s eye.
The race I was watching My Miss Aurelia win definitely was run in the Keystone State, although I can’t be sure whether it was at Penn National, at the foothills of the Blue Mountain range, or at Parx, in the shadow of the Liberty Bell.
How that can be I can’t explain, and that’s not even where the weirdness ends.
I was watching the race with Corey Nakatani, which is strange for two reasons. West Coast-based throughout much of his career, I don’t really have a relationship with him, post-race interviews notwithstanding, not like I do with a few of the New York-based riders.
Of greater import to the connections, it would mean that My Miss Aurelia had a change of riders, since Nakatani is the filly’s regular partner, and I cannot identify her faceless rider in this mythical event.
There’s a third thing, too: The race I was watching was a two-turner, not the seven-eighths sprint distance of the La Brea. I believe that likely two-time champion Royal Delta was in the field—either that or because it was Royal Delta that soiled the filly’s undefeated record in the Ladies Classic.
Anyway, the dream picks up the horses at about the five-furlong pole, and My Miss Aurelia is stalking extremely fast fractions from the middle of the track. It was the kind of trip that often get you beat on one-mile tracks--hung out to dry chasing a fast pace.
The three leaders continued that way to the five-sixteenths pole, where My Miss Aurelia surged up alongside, reaching even turns with the filly closest to the rail soon after straightening away into the stretch.
At that point, where you might expect the “best horse” to grind her way to the front and slowly draw away, she showed a turn of foot that I never before had seen among the tens of thousands of races I’ve watched in my lifetime.
Within a matter of two or three strides, she opened up a five or six-length advantage before reaching midstretch. She continued to draw out, winning by almost a sixteenth of a mile.
Reiterating, it was the most impressive performance I ever saw. Only after I awakened did I recall the 1973 Belmont Stakes. But Secretariat was “merely” powerful; My Miss Aurelia was gliding over the ground, almost flying.
I caught up with Johnny Velazquez and Angel Cordero Jr. walking back to the jock’s room, or racing office, or someplace after the race. I asked Angel if he ever saw anything like that before.
“Didn’t you ever see horses win before?” was the somewhat snarky reply, which of itself is very un-like the personable Hall of Famer.
My sense was that Johnny was aboard one of My Miss Aurelia’s rivals. He talked about when he first realized he was about to lose the race, how everybody knows what a good filly the champ is.
What all this has to do with tomorrow’s La Brea I don’t know, except for some reason I have been thinking more about Santa Anita’s opening this year than I have in season’s past.
Maybe it’s because a proposed new wager, the Score 64, was the subject of the most recent Morning Line blog in which new wagering initiatives for the Santa Anita opener was discussed.
In hindsight, I don’t understand any more about the dream than when I jumped up at 6 AM and quickly wrote the events down before I had forgotten the details, such as they are/were.
Perhaps it’s because Christmas was a little distant this year, less enjoyable in the wake of Newtown. Or maybe I’ve never dreamed about racing before because there never was such a need to escape the new normal of everyday events.