A Degenerate Gambler’s Summer Vacation

The first time I convinced my family to take me to the horse races I was twelve years old. I had on my huge nineties oversized nerdy glasses that, I can’t believe this, but are back in style here in 2023! I’m sure I could see the ponies so well behind the extremely thick plastic lenses! I may have had the nerdiest glasses you could find in 1992 but I didn’t have a racing form. As a twelve-year-old girl who taped every Triple Crown race on my old school TV with a spin dial and a VCR, my idea of adolescent handicapping was the original watching of race replays. I think I probably still have a VHS tape (Or twelve!) in my parent’s attic hidden away of 90’s horse racing moments like when Strike the Gold won the 1991 Kentucky Derby. I mean that is if high school Amber did not tape over it with My So-Called Life reruns. A horse racing fan was born.

A horse racing fan was born

As a horse racing fan, I checked
A horse racing fan’s dream vacation.

This rainy southern California winter’s day at Santa Anita Park in Arcadia California was thirty years before betting on smartphones. I clutched a ragged piece of the L.A. Times sports column with all the horses running that day, Califonia jockeys like Laffit Pincay Jr and trainers like Charlie Whittingham. Back in 1992, I knew every claiming horse’s name who ran on the southern California Thoroughbred horse racing circuit. I knew Martin Pedroza was the king of the bullring (The county fair races at the Fairplex across town) and I knew I should put two dollars of my grandma’s money on Pat Valenzuela on the three across the board. My grandma and I hatched a plan in the backseat of the car on the way to the racetrack. I would say she was senile and couldn’t remember who to bet on. The twelve-year-old budding degenerate gambler in me would take things from there. I’m pretty sure the teller at Santa Anita Park in the old mint green art deco clubhouse winked at my grandma when I laid down six crumpled bills on the counter and said “Two on the three across the board at Santa Anita Park” But he went along with our scheme and a life long horse racing fan was born.

We spent an entire Friday when I should have been in middle school learning how to parley six dollars into well more than six dollars.

horse racing fan
A horse racing fan’s nerdy good times.

The racetrack is a great place to learn mathematics! As a lifelong degenerate gambler and horseplayer, some days I feel like I am still learning the best way to make a buck or two at the track! I still remember standing at the rail at the Santa Anitas walking ring watching the late Charlie Whittingham, one of the greatest Thoroughbred racehorse trainers to ever live, saddle a bay Thoroughbred. A true horse racing fan was born on that rainy spring day.

As a horse racing fan, I checked a big one off my bucket list this summer when our family drove all the way from southern California to Ontario Canada, upstate New York and finally the bluegrass of Kentucky. This horse nerd was about to have one hell of a summer vacation!

As much as I love summer days where the turf meets the surf sometimes you just have to get out and explore the backroads of America. And perhaps Canada too. This summer, this southern California horse racing fan hit the road!

The greater Toronto area and Woodbine Racetrack may be over 2,400 miles northeast of Del Mar California. but our family was up to the challenge this past summer in our 23-year-old motorhome away frhorse racing fanom home. With wanderlust in our hearts and three hundred dollars of Southern California’s most expensive gasoline in our tank, on June 16th we hit the open road for Ontario, Canada. For two of California’s biggest horse racing fans, it was a horse lovers’ dream summer vacation.

2 horse racing fans. 1 Canadian border crossing

But first Canada had to let us in. Once we convinced the border patrol at Grand Portage that we are just degenerate gamblers, not criminals onwards to Canada we went! We just had to drive halfway around scenic Lake Superior first, then drop down into the GTA (Greater Toronto area) These horse lovers made a beeline for Woodbine Racetrack.

We did have to make a few stops at my new favorite Canada thrift store chain, Value Village, for gently used summertime sundresses for all those race track adventures. We might have been traveling cross country in our thirty-four-foot motorhome at this point but didn’t have to look like dirty campers as we classed it up with family at Woodbine’s Turf Terrace restaurant above the finish line.

It was July 10th and I was ready to bet on my favorite Canadian jockey, Kazushi Kimura. Unfortunately for me and all my rigorous handicapping, I did the night before, Canada’s leading jockey was unseated by a horse and had a major concussion in the first race of the day. What a headache for all my well-intended Woodbine betting strategies. I would love to say I took all my Woodbine loonies straight to my favorite thrift store after I hit that Pick 6 at Woodbine but it just wasn’t my day to pick a winner in Toronto. We did however enjoy some fantastic snacks and beverages above the finish line and make some great family memories.

Horses, health, humidity

After a few days in Toronto with family and a few Woodbine hijinks we were itching to head south to Saratoga Springs New York. Saratoga Springs is on every horse racing fan’s bucket list. This spa town is also known to have basically the most fun racetrack in the country. The best racehorses in the world are shipped to Saratoga Springs each summer. As a horse racing fan, Saratoga Springs is on everybody’s bucket list.

After a way too quick few days in upstate New York, these horse racing fans were on our way to the bluegrass of Kentucky. Kentucky is world-renowned to be the place to breed healthy, strong thoroughbred horses. It’s been said that all that limestone in the ground helps to grow the most nutritious bluegrass in the nation. This leads to the healthiest young Thoroughbred horses. We had four days of camping planned at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington. Lexington Kentucky is horse country. This is every horse nerds Disneyland.

Keeneland Race Track in Lexington is a vacation destination for every horse girl. Unfortunately, Keeneland was not open for racing when these two horse racing fans, visited Lexington in the humid summer months but I did take myself on an early morning tour to see the morning workouts. I even took a few photos at the Betologist stand! When I got started working in the horse racing industry as a wagering ambassador at Santa Anita Park eight years ago our wagering ambassador program was molded off of the Betologist program at Keeneland. It was so cool for me to see where our red bow tie horse racing adventure all began.

So what else did we do in Kentucky? Well, we had to explore a few stud farms and snuggle-wuggle a few baby racehorses horses of course! We did a baby racehorse tour at Spendthrift Farm and then a tour of all the retired racehorses at Old Friends. Old Friends was an incredible experience and such a beautiful farm to feed carrots to retired racehorses like Stormy Liberal and the retired champion Silver Charm. Lexington was everything this horse nerd hoped it would be and more! I wish I had a few more days to check out many more stud farms but we eventually had to hit the road for our Nashville adventures down south!

So what kind of shenanigans did these world travelers get up to in Nashville’s music city? Refresh the blog to see next week!