ode to my home track

I have never had a bad day at the track.  When someone behind the mutuel window asks me how my day is going, I always tell them that any day when I get to see the horses run is a good day.  No matter how my betting goes, I never leave the track without a smile on my face: I’ve gotten to see horses run, and time spent watching horses run is always time well spent.

However, out of all the good days at the track, I think this past Wednesday was my best day at the track to date.

It wasn’t because I made any sort of great score.  In fact, it was quite the contrary.  I hit a couple little tickets, but some of my favourites didn’t quite go all the way, and horses I saw as live long shots weren’t as live as I thought.  Between River Bear nipping Hogy at the wire in the third, and Pistols Drawn finishing first to My Moment’s second-to-last in the seventh, I was the big loser in Jim Vs., and Jim the big winner.

Instead, it was the best because it underscored so strongly that Hawthorne is a fun and friendly place to go to the races.

Doing the on-air segment before the races was an absolute blast.  I felt a little nervous doing it…I’m used to doing live public speaking in front of a roomful of people, but speaking to a camera felt a little odd.  It wasn’t scary, per se; the fact that I’ve bantered with Jim as much as I have down in the paddock made it far less imposing.  I never froze up (as well as I can remember, anyway…), and I don’t think I sounded too clueless; I think that segment went about as well as I could have expected, for my first time on a camera talking about horse races.

I feel I also thought it was fantastic that Jim wore a pink shirt to match what he thought would be my pink hair — since I did have a full head of bright pink hair the previous Sunday, when I went out to Hawthorne.  Little did he know that I re-dyed my hair to blue the day before the segment, to match the shirt I was planning on wearing!  If nothing else, it led to a bit of delightfully absurd pre-race show banter before we dug into the card.

Wednesday, I also got to meet a couple of the people around the track who I hadn’t met yet.  I finally got to meet David Miller, the chart caller at Hawthorne, who I have been periodically chatting with on Twitter since last meet, but who I’ve missed meeting every time I’ve been out to the track.  He came down to the paddock to introduce himself before the 7th race, and we had fantastic conversation through the course of the afternoon that wandered through bits of horse racing history, becoming a fan of the sport, racetracks, the horse racing world online…all over the place. He knows so much, and he’s such a joy to converse with.

He also invited me up to watch the 7th from the press box, which was amazing.  When I’m at the track, I’m used to only seeing the portion of the race that’s visible from my ground-level perch right at the wire; I follow the backstretch action by listening to the race calls (which are loud and clear from anywhere outside — something I took for granted until going to Aqueduct on Saturday and not being able to hear the race calls from outside at track level!), and wait to see the horses pop up from behind the trees and the tote board coming into the far turn.  From up there, I could see everything — especially exciting, since the long shot I picked in the 7th, My Moment, was leading all the way down the backstretch.  I also got to see firsthand how the race charts are made.  It makes so much sense once I’ve seen it, with David announcing each horse’s relative position at each point of call, and Jim recording it.  It makes so much more sense this way having seen it; the fact that I thought it was done through review of race replays must be a dead giveaway that I’m such a new horse racing fan.

Speaking of both breathtaking places to watch races and new insight into what goes on behind the scenes at the day of the races, David also brought me over to the announcer’s room between the 7th and the 8th.  I had met Peter Galassi (the track announcer) for the first time earlier in the day, just before I went on the air for the pre-race show.  He introduced himself, and wished me good luck in the contest.  Up there between the races, though, we had a bit more time to chat, about our histories in horse racing, and random other racing-related things.  And, he let me watch the 8th from his room while he called the race!

What did I learn from all this?  I learned a bit about chart calling, and a bit about announcing.  Even more importantly, though, I learned that there are very nice, friendly, and all-around excellent people who are willing to take time out of their day to talk to a new fan about the sport we all love.  I can be a bit shy sometimes, not because I’m scared of people, but because I’m scared of imposing upon people because they have far more important things to do than deal with me being such a chatterbox.  Between Jim Vs., and the time upstairs talking to everyone late in the race day, everyone at Hawthorne made this little paddock rat feel more welcome at the track than I thought possible.

For that, I am grateful.  Thank you.

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