Horse Racing By Graham Sharpe

Sharpe Angle In A State(s)

YOU KNOW you're in America when the chap in the hotel room next to the one you're occupying decides to start drilling through his room safe at midnight because he has to leave soon, but has been unable to open it by the more conventional method of using the code number previously inputted.

Of course, back in the day when technologically unsophisticated dinosaurs roamed the earth he'd have been able to use something known at the time as a 'key'.

He seemed a little put out when I suggested that he might perhaps wait at least until dawn before carrying out such a task, indicating such displeasure by endeavouring to smash my door down with said drill whilst indicating his opinion of me in words at whose meaning I could only guess but which did not seem to suggest we could build a long and rewarding relationship.

Anyway, I survived the encounter and did not allow it to affect my enjoyment of the Breeders Cup extravaganza I'd come to see.

There was a small diversion before heading to the races when we were driven off to see the delights of Santa Monica, a place I recall hearing about from a record by either Shania Twain or that other one, what's her name - Sheryl Crow? I'm not sure which of them it is but I can only surmise neither of them has ever travelled much or been to the British seaside. Fair enough, the beach is nice enough, and we enjoyed a pleasant early lunch at a welcoming hostelry on the prom - but the pier was something of a let down - not a patch on Brighton, let alone Southend - and I was told that the (in)famous Muscle Beach seemed to have had sand kicked in its face.

As for Hollywood -I apparently had a lucky escape by not going there if the reports from those who did are anything to go by - they arrived back traumatised and declaring they had no intention ever of returning after being pestered and harrassed on all sides.

No, I was otherwise engaged in Pasadena, tracking down vinyl and duly emerging with some real gems - as well as Tiny Tim's debut album, just the cover of which, let alone the sound of his voice, duly re-traumatised the Hollywood set.

I can fully recommend the experience of getting up bright and early - preferably without an alarm call from a drilling neighbour- and heading for Santa Anita racecourse's Clockers' Corner to experience the atmosphere and excitement as the horses go out to work in the pre-dawn gloom, just before the first streaks of early morning sunlight begin to flood across the romantic mountain backdrop, illuminating the art deco style grandstand and revealing not only the hearty breakfast laid on for everyone, but also the presence of John McCririck.

Big Mac is clearly at ease with the world, studying the racing papers and greeting the many - very many - British racegoers eager to shake his hand, have their photograph taken with him and chat about Newcastle's sudden improved form. Mac plays the role expected of him, chatting up the female fans and good-naturedly ordering his other half, Jenny, aka The Booby, to cater to his every whim.

It is good to see this icon of the racing and gambling worlds and we chat for a while, me happy to notice that Mac is far more in demand than one or two of his erstwhile Channel 4 Racing colleagues who go about their business untroubled by the attentions of the far from home Brits.

Also on hand and clearly in a good mood, is Frankie Dettori. One of my travelling companions, Karen,returns from a stroll around, excited to show us a photo of herself and he of the Magnificent 7, both sporting wide grins.

Only a couple of weeks earlier I had been regaled at the Arc by another racing fan complaining that she had been completely blanked when she tried to strike up a conversation with the Italian, and vowing that she'd never back another horse that he was riding.

I take the hint and decide Frankie is clearly in such an optimistic frame of mind that he must be anticipating a successful meeting - and sure enough Hootenany at 6/1 duly obliges on day one. My Nap of the meeting, Goldencents, also dots up, and I end the day well ahead.

Inevitably, day two produced a dreadful, to my ears, tuneless, version of 'America The Beautiful' sung by some local caterwauling celebrity of whom I had never heard and, of course, the usual tale of woe as the previous day's winnings were squandered.

I took the opportunity afforded by our very pleasant waitress, when she requested: 'Let me know when you wanna kick it up a notch after the coffee'. So I decided to drown my sorrows by quaffing a glass of 14 Hands Chardonnay - the 'preferred wine of Breeders' Cup' which, I learned, is thus named as 'the inspiration for 14 Hands wines recalls a time when wild horses - measuring a scant fourteen hands high - once freely roamed the hills of eastern Washington state.'


The day ended in exciting style as the gallant Toast Of New York, partnered by imminently retiring Jamie Spencer very nearly compensated trainer Jamie Osborne for the flashbacks he still no doubt suffers when he thinks back to the whack he once received during his riding days from an angry Jenny Pitman, by winning the $5m Breeders Cup Classic.

They were beaten in a desperately close photo finish by Bayern, while local hero California Chrome finished third.

There was a crescendo of boos from the home racegoers who, to a (wo)man, seemed to have backed the 3rd, and a stewards enquiry was announced - sparked by the manoeuvre from the stalls which saw Bayern's jockey, drawn in seven, turn his horse sharp left to head for the rails, not appearing to be too worried about the evasive action the other horses and riders were thus forced to take.

Eventually the placings remained unaltered, but there was a definite feeling about that had California Chrome finished runner-up, the Bob Baffert-trained winner might well have been disqualified.

The victory must have put Mr Baffert's mind at rest after he was reportedly spooked by a visiting trainer who had reportedly decorated his own quarters with voodoo-type dolls of his rival handlers, including Mr B.
I was a little spooked myself upon returning home when I found on my office desk a letter from Ontario, Canada, on which, under a heading entitled: 'Itemized List of Contents and Country Origin Manufacture' and dated October 31, appeared the hand-written word:

Well, would YOU have opened it?