Jan. 9, 2014
Weeks of preparation have all come down to these last few hours before live racing starts anew at Oaklawn. Even though there’s nearly a nine-month interval between meets, they seem to come right after another. There’s no question in my mind that the concept of time changes when you’re older. This flight downhill in the latter stages of life seems to go much quicker than the uphill getting to mid-life.
Each year it appears tougher to top the ones before, yet we seem to find ways to do it. Maybe it’s the presence of certain horses, certain trainers, certain owners and certain jockeys. No matter what it is, it’s quite simple to predict the best meet ever. We know the 3-year-old champion will be Will Take Charge, even though he might not have been among the top three or four three-year-olds on the lists of racing journalists at the end of the season. His late development turned out to be something of a miracle. If it hadn’t have been for him, the only real point of interest we might have had at the Eclipse Award celebration next week in south Florida would have been the Award of Merit, which goes to his trainer and the very popular (here, at least) trainer, D. Wayne Lukas.
I believe Lukas is an amazing individual. He has aged as well as one can age. He brings old school values into our arena and makes them work, to the admiration of the old schoolers and amazement of those of the younger schoolers. It’s hard to find a more articulate and humorous human being in the racing community. He has the most unusual of characteristics, a likable arrogance. Even though he knows he has lived a charmed life, he stays in touch with younger people and draw them towards himself like a modern-day Pied Piper.
His presence here always starts a low murmur in the crowd. Then there’s the opposite, Calvin Borel. He hasn’t a bit of arrogance about him. What he shares with Lukas, in addition to a love for the sport, is a strong work ethic. Both are among the first to show in the stable area daily and they work hard through training hours. Even as they advance in years, their energy level confounds many who just can’t keep up.
I’m anxious to see this meet unfold. I’m a racing fan and, in my new life, as the former announcer, I’m able to take a slightly different view of activity. Oaklawn has been good enough to let me continue with a job. But now I am more of a Good Will Ambassador. I love doing this. I love trying to help any interested person in understanding what’s happening here. Even though we have gaming here at Oaklawn, there is a division between the two, which disappears at the end of the races. At that point the Gaming Center becomes the hub of what’s going on in town. There used to be a lot of night life in this town. But many of them priced themselves right out of the market. Now the going thing here is Oaklawn’s Gaming Center. One thing it desperately needs is more room and it will get that after this year’s live meet. An expansion will take place. All the underground work has been done, the above ground work planned for after the horses leave town.
So in the interim we will have a great live meet and one year from now we’ll anticipate the greatest ever, because we’ll have the expansion, along with the great live racing.
Fans are seeing people they see just once a year these days. They are catching up on relationships which have spanned miles and are lamenting those who are not still around to share this great time with them. This same scenario will occur in another twelve months. But for the next three months we’re making memories. Get ready, folks, because they’re in the gate and THEY’RE OFF!!!