Live from New Jersey
It’s Sunday morning, and I’m just slowly coming back to the living after a whirlwind 72 hours. As some may recall, after the football game Thursday night (VT lost to BC 14-10 at the last second), I got home to Roanoke at about 2 in the morning. Then it was up at 5:45 for work. I left work around 11:30 and hit the road heading for New Jersey, specifically the Breeder’s Cup Championships at Monmouth Park.
For those who aren’t initiated, The Breeder’s Cup Championships are a series of races over a two day period that pit the best and most proven horses against each other in different classifications and distances. Horse racing in America shuts down for this weekend just so these races can have the undivided attention of the racing world. ESPN gave up an afternoon of Saturday football just to cover these races on their number one channel.
I really hadn’t been to Jersey for any length of time before, and in my little spot in the road called Cranberry, NJ, I’ve found the people to be very nice, although I really haven’t come across too many that speak English without a foreign accent. Sometimes it’s hard to tell a true Jersey accent from English spoken over Spanish.
Another thing about this part of Jersey is that there are a lot of deer on the roads at night, and they are very fast. Thankfully, one was just fast enough to dart safely across the road in front of me and the car that was passing me last night as I was traveling RT 33. That deer flashed across from the median as a brown blur like a horse making a move down the stretch. It missed the front of my car by about 6 inches.
Roads in Jersey are unusual for a Virginian. The road signage in this county is severely lacking. There are seemingly street name signs posted in the center of traffic light standards; however, those signs always look bleached out at night. Another odd thing is the whole idea of making any kind of turn. Basically, you can’t do it. To make a left turn, you have to get in the right lane, exit, and loop around. Also, you can’t make a right turn at a traffic light intersection. Instead, you have to know that there is a right turn exit hidden directly behind the sign telling you that you can’t turn right at the light ahead. An out-of-towner doesn’t have a chance.
The races yesterday (Saturday) were amazing. My two sisters and I brought the torrential rains with us from Roanoke. So I pulled out my still soggy football rain gear and put it on. Our seats, although extremely expensive ($100…for the cheap seats), were located far into the first turn. Before I saw them, I thought that was such a rip off. Once there, however, I realized that I would have an incredible view of the whole place. We were sitting in nice, chair-backed bleachers located within ten yards of the outer dirt track. We had a perfect and close-up view of the horses jostling for position on the first turn and accelerating through to the backstretch. They had trucked in lots of port-a-johns and betting machines for us folks in the far turn. It was like we were segregated from the main grandstand and had our own track just to ourselves. Many people didn’t show for the races because of the rain and the extremely steep ticket prices, so we pretty much sat where we wanted.
The races were all awesome over a most sloppy mud track and a boggy turf course. Obviously, the head-liner today is Curlin’. That horse just exploded on his stretch run in the championship mile and a quarter classic and tossed aside my favorite horse, Hard Spun. Hard Spun had the best first turn of any horse that raced yesterday. He was dug in to the slop and made the sharp turn with power and perfection. Thanks to Hard Spun rabbiting around at incredible fractions, Curlin’ ended up tying a track record that had stood since 1963. The field in that race was the strongest I ever remember seeing in one race before. Five true champion contenders: Curlin’, Street Sense, Hard Spun, Any Given Saturday, Lawyer Ron.
There were some other massive performances. Two horses with Virginia connections won two major races. Kip Deville, who once visited Colonial Downs and ran in the Turf championship there two years ago surprisingly, won the Mile. English Channel, the greatest horse to ever race in Virginia (VA Derby winner), blew away the touted field in the B.C. Turf. Especially enjoyable was how Channel won powering away from the field led by heralded Dylan Thomas from England/France. Another performance worth noting was Midnight Lute in the Sprint Championship. This is one massive horse and he plodded through the extreme slop with seeming ease to smoke the tough field. If you are looking toward the future, keep your eye on War Pass. This two year old dominated the Juvenile championship. Juvenile winners don’t always head to the Triple Crown races next spring/summer and do well, but it will be very hard to overlook this horse now.
As many of you know, I really don’t bet much at the track. I went in yesterday and placed bets on 8 races. My bets totaled $60. I ended up doing respectably well and came out roughly even for the day. My sisters both did very well. They probably bet about $100 a piece and came out with double that.
We were also joined by our family’s long time friend who we all met at Virginia Tech many years ago. He was a perpetual student, so he came to know our whole family as we cycled through the school. He and his wife are real students of the racing game. They own/rescued three thoroughbred racehorses and care for them beside their tenant home on a 6,000 acre horse farm in NOVA. Our friend is especially savvy with his wagers, and rarely loses big, but he sometimes does hit big. Anyway, yesterday, he was commenting that all of his handicapping skills were pretty much thrown into the muck. Soggy turf and mud is a great equalizer. It can also bring out stunning performances from horses that just get it and stinky performances from horses (Lawyer Ron) that despise it. So our friend started goofing around with some cheap exotic picks. Just before the Turf Championship he placed four Superfecta Quick Picks. That’s similar to a lottery ticket where the computer makes the picks. English Channel powered to his win and my friend realized that he lost his regular bets and began double checking his Quick Picks…that’s when a goofy smile came over his face. His last Quick pick had the correct four numbers in order…and he had accidently placed $4 bets on each pick instead of the usual $1…so he won 4X the amount. That Superfecta paid $1,280 X 4. Amazing stuff. To see that look of shock and surprise come across his face made my whole trip worth every penny I spent on the $6 foot long hot dog.