Sharpen Your Senses for Breeders Cup Day

Stepping through the entrance gate of any major track on Breeders Cup day instantly snaps the senses to attention…among the grandeur of those twin spires of Churchill Downs or beneath the hundred-year-old trees of Saratoga Racecourse, for example, the feeling of self becomes clouded as you mesh with the other 75,000 or so attendees to watch the day’s events unfold.

To know that this day will culminate to a defining moment for some 110 equine champions and numerous trainers, jockeys, owners, and breeders worldwide somehow seems to also become lost, unless you deliberately envelope yourself in observation and speculation.

While the guy over by the betting windows with his little erasereless pencil switches glances between the pages of his Daily Racing Form and the mess of odds posted on the toteboard, and while couples flock to their seats to await the post parade, don’t deny yourself the pleasure of catching jockey Corey Nakatani in the paddock aboard his mount, Balletto, whispering something in her ear and following it up with a quick kiss to her neck. She seems to acknowledge his gesture and throws a quick glance his direction. All is well.

And every now and then, among those 75,000 enthusiasts shuffling through the passages of the facility, a voice yells out to greet a passerby. And old friend, perhaps? A double-take is all it takes to realize that one of the most accomplished jockeys of all time has just swept past. Without breaking stride, Jerry looks you square in the eye and flashes his usual friendly smile.

Filing in from the right of the Clubhouse en-route to the paddock is a choppy line of equine beauties and their respective entourage. Donned in blankets and shadow rolls and leather bridles with clasps that rattle with each step, these Thoroughbreds impose their greatness; without a doubt, true champions. Irish-import Scorpion rears-up and twists, causing his red blanket to gape open and reveal his mass. He stops, pricks his ears and stares directly at the Clubhouse onlookers. His behavior is impressive, yet all the while his handler continues his conversation with his fellow horseman, seemingly unaware of his charge’s antics. Not far behind is Red Rocks, soon-to-be winner of the John Deere Breeders’ Cup Turf. Pure sophistication–also from Ireland – he demonstrates rock solid confidence. Taking his time, he too stops periodically to take in the sights of this crowd, of this unfamiliar place.

Finally, the Breeders’ Cup Classic comes and goes. A serious Todd Pletcher secures Flower Alley and makes his way back to the barns alone. His hands sink deeply into the pockets of his black coat. Not ten minutes later, Tom Albertrani and his companion begin their trek back to the barn. Only a few spectators remain trackside, and one asks the horseman for a handshake and an autograph. He obliges. “Don’t stop racing Bernardini,” the fan comments. He nods his head, smiles faintly, and resumes walking.

A quick glance up at those twin spires and the sound of the multitude of losing bettors’ tickets beneath your feet remind you of what all transpired that day. But above all, we’re just happy to have been there.