Seven years ago this weekend, I went to Aqueduct for the first time. I had spent more of the previous summer at the races in Saratoga than ever before, and having made my maiden voyage to Belmont in the fall of 2003, it was time to venture to Ozone Park.
My friend Jonathan, who had covered racing for the Post-Star in Glens Falls before joining academia, and I scanned the calendar for a day that might add a frisson of excitement to a dull winter day; my first day at Belmont had been on the day of Mineshaft’s Jockey Club Gold Cup. In the absence of any comparable stakes races in a New York January, we landed on the day of the Sunshine Millions.
Parking ourselves at a table in the Man o’War Room, we watched and bet Aqueduct and Gulfstream; we didn’t pay that much attention to California, and while I remember cashing a few tickets, it wasn’t what I’d call a fantastic wagering day.
But no matter. We had a blast.
We loved taking the subway to the track. We loved hanging out and drinking beer and betting horses. It was a little rough finding my vegetarian friend something to eat; he might have had potato chips for lunch.
I remember a lot about that day. I remember a hunch bet I made on an Aqueduct race with zero minutes to post, and I remember winning. I put that horse in my stable mail and seven years later, I’m going to visit him this weekend. It’s why I won’t mark my Sunshine Millions/Aqueduct anniversary at the Big A. You’ll hear his story sometime soon.
I remember Jonathan telling me about some undefeated hotshot speedball that was shipping in from the west to run in the Ocala Stud Dash, and I remember watching Lost in the Fog dust his competitors, winning at odds-on by more than four lengths.
I don’t remember that Catmeifyoucan finished fifth or that Twice the Cat finished seventh, and I don’t remember that the Big Top Cat/Surf Cat exacta in a maiden race paid at Santa Anita paid $50.90, and I’ll bet Jonathan doesn’t, either, though he’s the person who coined the term “catzacta.”
I remember that I lost money on Moscow Burning in the Filly & Mare Turf, and I remember kicking myself for not betting Zakocity, who had won twice at Saratoga the previous summer and whose name charmed me, when he finished second in the Sunshine Millions Classic at 28-1. I rued that this Francophone Francophile let Musique Toujours go at 70-1, and I wished that I’d had that $850.40 exacta.
I don’t remember that Lava Man finished seventh in that race.
I do remember freezing—FREEZING—as I stood on the subway platform waiting for the A train to take me home, and I do remember planning with Jonathan when we’d come back. Despite our best intentions, I think it was a year later, for Sunshine Millions 2006. We sat at a table in Equestris that day. The vegetarian food there was not much more varied than it had been in the Man o’War Room, though I think that Jonathan ate something other than potato chips.
I do remember pledging to be at Gulfstream for the Sunshine Millions one day. It hasn’t happened yet, and I look at the entries this year with no little bit of envy, at old and new favorites racing. I’d like to be there to see Atoned and Solitaire in an allowance, Atoned whom I’ve followed ever since his Remsen, always hoping that the gutsiness I loved in that race would emerge again. Atoned, the son of Repent. That alone was enough to make him a favorite.
I’d like to see Awesome Feather try to make it 9 for 9 in the Sunshine Millions Distaff, and I’d like to see Pomeroys Pistol in the Filly and Mare Sprint; I’ve been a fan since her Prioress at Belmont last summer, though I do wish that she had an apostrophe in her name. I’d like to see Terri Pompay’s Zero Rate Policy in the Sunshine Millions Sprint.
I won’t make to the Sunshine Millions this year, in person or remotely; I’ll be at a farm upstate, and that’s not too bad, either. But maybe next year…
For more on the Sunshine Millions, check out Hello Race Fans! and Kevin Martin’s 10 Things.