John Zant traveled south to the famed Great Place to Race in Arcadia to catch the equine action before the track closed until the fall.

My annual bucket list includes a visit to Santa Anita for a day at the races with Bill Connell, the Carpinteria hot dog man. We set out last Friday, two days before the picturesque Arcadia racetrack, known as The Great Race Place, would be closed until the fall.

One of the day’s entries, Treat-her-like-a-lady, was recommended to me as a promising long shot by a friend in Santa Ynez who knows her trainer. The 3-year-old filly was going off at 6-1 odds in the second race. That would be my first, if not my only, wager of the day. Sometimes I just enjoy watching the races.

Driving into the L.A. Basin, we could see the San Gabriel Mountains, which loomed over the racetrack. Yet we were not approaching them at highway speed. Although it was midday, the traffic was lurching along like rush hour. At 1 p.m., post time for the first race, we were still on the road. Thirty minutes later, we arrived in the parking lot and made a beeline for the entrance when we heard the voice of track announcer Trevor Denman on the loudspeakers: “And awaaay they go ….”

The second race was underway, and all we could do was listen to Denman’s call. “Love My Way [the favorite] heading for home … Treat-her-like-a-lady chasing gamely … Love My Way getting weary … Treat-her-like-a-lady got her!”

Missing out on that score — the winner paid $14.20 on a $2 bet — was not the unluckiest happenstance of the afternoon. While I was trying and failing to find another long-shot winner in the remaining six races, Connell — a knowledgeable horse player from hanging around East Coast tracks in his youth — was going for a big payoff by wagering on trifectas. He was confident he had a winning ticket in the sixth race, but at the start his key pick, Devoted Magic, charged out of the nine hole and tossed jockey Joel Rosario out of the saddle.

And so it went. Even though these aren’t the best of times for horse racing — among the blows, the cancellation of the HBO series Luck, starring Dustin Hoffman, after three horses died in production — we had a good time. We were outdoors, in a spectacular setting, appreciating the classic beauty of thoroughbreds racing at full tilt with their courageous riders. The crowd was small — some 5,000, even though Friday admission was free — but everybody was affable. There was none of the nasty jeering you hear at ballgames. The winners were joyous, and the losers, like us, wistfully reflective.

“The nine horse lost its rider,” Connell mumbled repeatedly on the drive home. “The nine horse lost its rider.” Traffic reports on the radio told of accidents that created horrible jams on the eastbound 210 and the eastbound 101. Heading west, we were in luck; we got home for dinner.

Bishop Diego sprinter Nicole Poindexter was the top speedster at the S.B. County Championships.
Paul Wellman

COUNTY RACES: Another fine vista for racing was at Carpinteria High, the sun-bathed site of Saturday’s Santa Barbara County Championships for high school track-and-field athletes. Two fillies stole the show. Dos Pueblos sophomore Addi Zerrenner raced like Secretariat in the Belmont. Virtually running solo, she shattered a pair of distance records, running the 1,600 meters in 5:06.78 and the 3,200 in 10:44.18.

Bishop Diego senior Nicole Poindexter was the top speedster, winning the 100 and 200, and also the long jump. Her father, former Santa Barbara High sprinter Willie Poindexter, said he saw something special when she was 4 years old. “I took her to the track to run a lap (400 meters),” he said. “She kept running faster, faster, faster all the way around.”

GAMES OF THE WEEK: UCSB’s baseball team climbed to third place in the Big West after sweeping Pacific in Stockton last week. The Gauchos open a three-game series at home Friday afternoon, April 27, against UC Davis …. Meanwhile, several alumni games will take place Saturday as part of the All-Gaucho Reunion. “This is one item on our bucket list that we never even knew was there,” said Carlos Ortiz, a West Coast soccer All-American 45 years ago, who will join some of his former teammates in a game against the UCSB women’s club …. Did you know that there is no limit on fouls in the Santa Barbara Breakers’ basketball games? Greg Somogyi of the Breakers was charged with seven fouls last week as they suffered a 122-114 loss to the Long Beach Rockets. But there is a penalty for every foul after a player’s sixth — the opponent gets an extra free throw and retains possession. The Breakers, 2-1, play Saturday night against the High Desert Spartans at San Marcos High gym.


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