Jan. 16, 2011
A good night's sleep will often clarify what might have been muddled the day before.
Opening day at Oaklawn in the Media Department represents something of a zoo, in terms of the variety of tasks which must be undertaken from before sunup to after sunset.
Normally we start with tv remotes (around here the morning talk shows start at 6:00 or 7:00 a.m.), normally including hosts who have never been to the track before or whose involvement hasn't taken them past the concession stands.
Then we get to say hello and hand out credentials to many press and media, a significant number of which go to the same sort of individuals we find in the tv remotes which started the day.
Fortunately at Oaklawn this year our Media Relations Department has been fortified with a husband-wife team of Rolly and Jennifer Hoyt, whose professional stature moves up our abilities to handle stressful situations exponentially. Lucky us.
When we get the normal things of a racing day going, it's like riding a bicycle. You never forget. Just take on the new challenges.
But at Oaklawn a day at the races is incomparable to what you find elsewhere (in my experience).
Our crowd was announced at 20,176. If you fought your way through that crowd you would have anticipated the number to be higher.
But this was a happy crowd. Like they were all released from jail. In this case that "jail" might have been the cabin fever of the snow storm earlier in the week.
Except, of course, that this demeanor of Oaklawn crowds is not limited to opening day. For an announcer like me, you couldn't have a better audience. They have fun. They seem to take winning and losing well and then turn the page. They are even slow to depart. That's good news around here these days, since we have a Gaming Center where they can continue the fun well into the evening and early morning hours while they are vacationing in town. And they can do that without having to drive all over creation or worry about making it on time to dining reservations at a restaurant on the other side of town.
From my standpoint, the day went smoothly. For a rusty racecaller, the mistakes were few in spite of a number of 11 and 12-horse fields where the horses all seem to clump together at the head of the stretch.
As a handicapper I was wishing the day was over when I picked the first two finishers, one-two, in my preview show. I knew it was all downhill from that point. I picked only one more winner on top the rest of the day. But I don't think I was alone in that area. Picking winners on opening day is pretty tricky at best.
It is always good to see D. Wayne Lukas win a race here. I know he has his detractors around the country, but at Oaklawn you are hard-pressed to find them. It is because he is such a class act.
When he wins a race, he searches the crowd to find a young person and prospective racing fan and horse lover, to accompany his group to the winner's circle for the picture. He then provides an autographed copy for that youngster to pick up later at the track photographer's office. I don't know any other trainer or horseman who thought of that. But it's a Lukas thing and I, for one, appreciate it. Those who don't like him waste their whining with me.
I also noticed that the crowd did not leave after the last race. Multitudes hung around the Gaming Center. They could eat at Lagniappe's, talk racing, play some games and just escape the less desirable elements of life they left to come to the races. They were a happy group and it was fun to walk through them and share some of their fun.
They presumably ate up all the 50-cent corned beef sandwiches and were planning their strategies for queuing up for the Zenyatta bobblehorse giveaway on Monday afternoon. That line will make the unemployment lines look like the minor leagues.
This was as much fun as an opening day can reasonably be. I'm sure, on a business side, the numbers were good. But on a human side, this is racing as it was designed to be.
Others can claim it. We do it.