The fantastic thing about a Breeders’ Cup being run at Santa Anita is that you can talk about racing being conducted ‘in the shadow of the blue-rinsed San Gabriel mountains’. I can never stop myself doing it.
And the opportunities will soon come flying. Not only will ‘The Great Race Place’ stage this year’s series but news arrives via pony express that the Los Angeles track will stage the Breeders’ Cup next year. They sure can negotiate, those Santa Anita hombres.
I have a soft spot for Santa Anita as it was the very first of 13 consecutive Breeders’ Cups I attended for The Independent, in 1993. Towards the end of that year my sports editor revealed he had more money in the foreign travel kitty than anticipated and needed to spend it. I told him I was in a position to help.
That meant a round-the-world ticket taking in first Hong Kong, then Australia for the Melbourne Cup and finally the west coast of the United States. All just to do my sports editor and newspaper a favour.
My luck didn’t desert me on the first two legs. I got an interview with Dean McKeown in Hong Kong and Ireland’s Vintage Crop won the Melbourne Cup, the first overseas horse to do so.
By the time it was proved right or wrong I would either be dead or in a position to remind everyone how clever I was
In what became later known as ‘Andy Murray Tendency’, most of us visitors did not contradict when the locals called this a great English victory. After that it wasn’t so fair dinkum. I don’t often give tips because of historical precedence but here is a reliable one: if you travel between Melbourne airport and LAX always check what day it is before you land in the States. Because, on the way, you cross something called the International Date Line. This, effectively, subtracts 24 hours from your life, which in itself is no bad thing.
It doesn’t work, though, when you turn up knackered and recovering from Aussie largesse at a Los Angeles hotel. They tell you to go away because your room is booked only from the next night onwards.
The British horses seemed to have travelled as well as me to that meeting and the best we could manage was Barathea’s fifth in the Mile. An Andy Murray Tendency moment came when Arcangues won the Classic for Andre Fabre at odds of $269.20 to $2, a Breeders’ Cup record. He also became one of ours.
The Santa Anita 2013 announcement also finally kills off perhaps the only scoop I ever managed at The Indy. It was in July of 2002 that Douglas Erskine-Crum, the then Chief Executive of Ascot and formerly of the Scots Guards, suggested to me that the Breeders’ Cup might one day come to Europe, with Ascot as the favoured destination.
The year of 2013 seemed portentous, Douglas tipped me the wink, as in 1813 Parliament passed an Act Of Enclosure, securing the racecourse for the public, and, in 1913, the Ascot Authority was established by an Act of Parliament.
Later, my trembling hand dialled D G Van Clief Jnr, the then President of the Breeders’ Cup. “We can see the day when it would actually have great appeal to run the Breeders’ Cup overseas,” he told me. That was enough for me: ‘Ascot to host Breeders’ Cup of 2013’.
I liked this story. It was original and by the time it was proved right or wrong I would either be dead or in a position to remind everyone how clever I was. Both alternatives have now been removed.
So has poor Douglas. A consequence of the subsequent Ascot redevelopment was that racecourse viewing was limited from the grandstand steppings and that, of course, would not do when jockeys are hard enough to spot in the first place.
Douglas was left to carry the can and moved on soon afterwards in pursuit of “new challenges”. But we understood he had been a military man to the end of this apparent surveying fiasco and had fallen on his own theodolite.