There was a buzz at Golden Gate Fields Saturday that I haven’t seen there in a long time. The little track by the bay was on center stage. Not only in the local media, but nation wide.
The draw was the Grade 3 El Camino Real Derby. A $200,000 purse was on the line and it attracted stars, film crews and most importantly, attention.
The stars were two east coast based riders, two-time eclipse award winning Julien Leparoux and 2008 Belmont winner Alan Garcia. Both were making their first trip ever to Golden Gate Fields. Leparoux arrived with his fiancé Shea Mitchell (daughter of southern California trainer Mike Mitchell). Shea also got in on the act by singing for the crowd, a feat she does regularly at the socal tracks.
Garcia didn’t have it so easy when he first arrived. He spent time on the backside applying for a license to ride in California, with it being his first time on the west coast.
Once settled in, both riders concentrated on their respective mounts in the derby, Daddy Nose Best and Lucky Chappy.
The media representation was everywhere. Cameras lined the track from the backside to aerial cranes above the winners circle. The host of the program aired on Comcast Sportsnet Bay Area was Ted Robinson. Known for his work on the NBC coverage of the Olympics, Wimbledon, French Open and numerous basketball and football telecasts, Robinson was professionalism personified.
The hour long show gave the fans an insight to bay area racing including history, guests and pre filmed and live interviews with jockeys and trainers.
A large Saturday crowd lined the paddock as excitement for the race began to raise, as the participants took center stage.
The local favorites, Jerry Hollendorfer’s Russian Greek (the morning line favorite) and Lady of Fifty (only the third filly to ever run in this race) weren’t the favorites of the betting public. The pair ended up going off at 4-1 and 7-1 respectively. The action came down on Doug O’Neill’s Handsome Mike and Lucky Chappy, each going to post at 2-1 and Daddy Nose Best at 4-1.
The public was pretty darn good. Daddy Nose Best and Leparoux out dueled Alan Garcia on Lucky Chappy by the slightest of margins, the closest race in the 31 year history of the race. Handsome Mike, the early speed settled for third. The Hollendorfer pair finished 5th and 6th respectively.
The stretch-long duel for the win will be replayed in racing circles for years to come.
My job on the day was to seek out the riders for post race quotes. My task was made easy by some very professional riders. I spoke with the top 6 finishers in the race and from the winners to the losers, everyone was available and willing to talk.
I went home after the race and watched the telecast on replay. I was probably more impressed than the average fan because during the week I saw what went into the preparations for the show. The public relations department at Golden Gate Fields spent endless hours, coordinating not only the race, but the television people and connections of the horses. The day went off with out a hitch.
The telecast was flawless, the crowd was into it and the race was exciting. Golden Gate Fields may not rank up there with the top tracks as far as quality goes, but on this day, you couldn’t say any other track could have done it better.