DEL MAR RACE TRACK


MORNING WORK-OUT AT SARATOGA RACE TRACK

Déjà vu made a sounding explosion when I was seated in the Del Mar Turf Club with my friend Rudy. I wore the best outfit I had, which was Victorian compared to other dolls at the track. After observing the fans for a few minutes, I noticed one table of serious bettors that looked authentic. That’s when the memory of me and Dad at Santa Anita came rising up, and the expression he wore the entire time we sat through six races. He never took off his tinted shades, and he did not speak to me at all, not once, except to hand me a twenty-dollar bill and say, “Play the Trifecta,” and named the horses. I ran off assured I’d be a winner, and returned to my seat anxiously. Dad gave me his binoculars when my race came up, and within two-minutes, I’d gone from winner to loser. I looked at him and he said in a neutralized manner, “Now you know nothing is a sure thing; even with your old dad.”

The horse races were the one secret he couldn’t keep. He talked about the races, the jockey’s, and his handicapping because he couldn’t repress that part of his life. It was like asking a woman not to talk about her ex-boyfriend or husband. Rudy was not inflamed with the fury of the races, but he stayed there, and gave me money to pick the winners. When the Shoe entered the Winner’s Circle, I said to Rudy, “My Dad was close to Willie, one of his trainers used to be around us a lot.

“Go over and introduce yourself.”

“Not now.  Maybe afterward if I see him.”

“Come on, let’s go stand by the exit so you can get close.”

“I don’t want to. I’m not sure what their relationship was.”

“What could it be?  Your Dad played the track.”

I followed Rudy and when Willie rode by waving at the people, I waved back.

“No, it’s not right to approach him now.”

“Your wrong; but it’s your decision.”

I didn’t go looking for Willy because he was Dad’s friend, not mine.  We didn’t socialize like I did with Johnny Roselli or his other pals. My dad did tell me that “Meyer had a great saying: You don’t inherit friends,’” and I felt that was the situation. The rest of the day; while the scenery liquefied into a nostalgia of the nineteen forties, my eyes were unblinking at all the activity.

I’d read enough about the tracks to know that it was the club to join back then, and if you were on the inside, the parties lasted all night. And so did the gambling and practical jokes, and staged busts. I understood what drew my Dad, because the same thrills were touching me, and I liked it a lot. I took notes on what I’d experienced that day, because it was a new culture I’d just discovered.

I wasn’t interested in winning really, I just adored the characters behind the scenes; the speaker calling out the race, the girls leaping out of their seats and kissing their betting boyfriends, the waiters in tuxedos serving salads, and champagne, the oldies music, horses, costumes, and the Jockey’s, those little guys who control a two thousand pound animal going thirty-five miles an hour and more.

The next day I took the notes out and wrote a few pages about the track. It wasn’t researched or reported, just the ad-lib observation of a gal with a gangster past. It came so easy, it was like writing about a familiar subject. Rudy read it and said to send it to the local newspaper. I fought him a few rounds, and then finally succumbed to the idea of publishing my writing.

A few days later the editor called and asked me to submit more pieces… and he’d pay me twenty-five dollars a column. He mentioned I’d have a press pass to go to the track galas, and write about the track. I got off the phone feeling empowered and drove to Office Depot to buy a tape recorder. I’d just finished reading the Damon Runyon stories, and so I thought, here’s my chance. I started taking morning runs around the track when the horses are warming-up. It is one of the most exhilarating sensations, to see that polished hide bursting through the entrance to the track, nostrils flared, lips crunching the bite, and those burning brown eyes pointed to the track. In the afternoon I walked around the track with my press pass and knocked on barn doors. The reception was immediate, yes, they would love to be interviewed. So I spent one whole summer writing about the Del Mar Race Track, and didn’t bet a dime.  I did begin more research into the horse-racing industry and was eager to see a movie about this spectacular sport.  Seabiscuit was a treat because I attended the Premier in Saratoga Spring’s, NY and  met the trainer’s grand-daughter. Now I am looking forward to LUCK, premiering this month on HBO.

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  • Santa Fe, NM

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