Notes from the rail – November 3, 2013
The Breeders’ Cup has been referred to as “the World Series of Racing”, and the “Super Bowl of Horseflesh”. It is true that if you want to see everyone you have ever met in racing, it’s a good chance they will be at the Breeders’ Cup with their shirt in the game, gambling or with a horse entered, or maybe just enjoying the spectacle.
Attending the Breeders’ Cup is a way to make instant friends. Even before the races began I encountered several new friends from my flight as I went from the press box past the statue of Seabiscuit to the walking paddock. On Friday morning you might think that only a few would be at the track at 5:30 am in the biting cool air. The reality is that the parking lots were busy and the rails were already full of punters, clock watchers, coffee drinkers, the simply curious, and the early rising media seeking interviews.
You might also assume that the best seats are the ones in the rarefied air – but I am here to tell you that my view is the best in the house – on the rail. From this vantage point I can feel the breath and the heat of the horses as they thunder past, see the mud caked on the goggles and faces of the jockeys and horses, and watch the tears of joy or sorrow at the end of the race. The excitement of the win is electric. I’ll not forget the joy of the partnership that won — all forty-plus trying to cram into the winning photo – and as happy with the success of their stake in the win as if they owned Orb when he won the Kentucky Derby.
On your way to the entry, you might walk past the trucks delivering products from T-shirts to catered food, ice and drinks. On the media side, miles of cable are strung and trunks of equipment come in on dollies. Extras are on tap to do everything from man the souvenir booths that spring up on the walkways to take your bets at the windows. My particular love is the media area, where scribes and photographers from every type of newscast examine statistics, upload photos, and compile and translate the information into timely news.
The Breeders’ Cup media department, which brings in a crew of regulars plus extra hired hands for this show, deftly handled hundreds of photographers, TV crews and print media with minimum entanglements. This might be the worst part of a photographers important day, trying to get that winning photo between a hundred other lens.
Thanks to Jim Gluckson, Breeders’ Cup media information was detailed and prodigious, delivering racing updates, the daily agenda, instructions and directions. Thirty years practice provides you excellent guidelines.
Have you ever wondered how 100+ photographers line up along the rails for the finish line photo? This is worked out in the days before the first race by the photo steward. Still photographers put their name on the railing like marks on a stage across from the finish line according to a complicated algorithm taking into account the importance of the publication, the circulation, the length of the camera lens, and relationships built over years of coverage. Then there are the remote cameras, embedded in the dirt along the opposite rail to capture that low-level winning photo. These must be placed and attended to between races, and are covered with black plastic kept securely in place by elastic against water and dirt. TV and live coverage media had their own criteria and each a space to conduct interviews and send reports.
Evening With The Stars, the gala that opened the festivities on October
31, welcomed guests to the outdoor paddock area with food and beverages – and yes, we did see Stars. There was the ever lovely actress, Bo Derek, a Breeders’ Cup Ambassador and a California Horse Racing Commissioner. Also spotted was Supermodel Kate Upton mixing with top jockeys, sports fans, and recognizable trainers such as Bob Baffert. The Food Network was onsite with cameramen and a pyramid of cupcakes made by the recent happy winners of the Cup Cake Wars. Talking to the fellow with the headband and entourage, that might have been Tony Award winner Kristin Chenoweth, who would perform the song, “The Best is Yet to Come” on Saturday before the crowd. In the spotlight, top jockeys reminisced about their track highlights and legendary trainers rubbed elbows with those who have applauded their wins.