Saturday, April 16, 2011

A Day for the Ladies

--Christina Bossinakis

After enjoying my first Apple Blossom day card at Oaklawn, I can honestly say I was given a real treat. Following a wickedly powerful storm that ripped through the area overnight Thursday, Friday dawned with a little sunshine, laced with a stiff wind. Oaklawn was already pretty packed by the time I headed through the grandstand on my way to the press box, which made me think, if this is what it is like on Apple Blossom Day, I can’t even imagine what the big day will bring. Each day since my arrival, I have a noticed more and more press appearing in the press box, so I assume we will have a full house for Arkansas Derby day.

Mariachi Band,
Early in the card, I had my head buried in my computer with such intensity that I probably wouldn’t have noticed a troupe of dancing monkeys if they had made their way past my desk. But despite my single-minded focus (which is usually pretty impenetrable, by the way), something caught my attention. Was that music? Not only was it music, it was a Mariachi band, located on the track’s apron, that provided patrons a mean version of La Bamba. I’m not sure why, but I found it pretty amusing. I guess when I think Mariachi, I don’t instantly think Arkansas. And for the hunch bettors in the crowd, the winner of Friday’s second race was none other than Taco Don. Seriously.

As the day progressed, the sun gave way to clouds and it became seriously cold (and today I chose to wear a dress!). I have to say, one of my highlights of the day came a little later when the big man himself, Charles Cella, came up to the press box. It was very interesting how people’s reverence and respect for the man was palpable. The Cella family has been in control of Oaklawn for almost a century, so I must admit, I was pleased to have the opportunity to meet him.

Larry Jones, cowboy chic, and Old Fashioned, 2008
(c) Sarah K. Andrew, TDN
As for the big show, Havre de Grace was really impressive in the Apple Blossom, and really stamped herself the leader of the division. It’s really too bad it had to come at the expense of such a classy filly, Switch. At the press conference held soon after the winner’s circle presentation, Larry Jones strode in to the conference room toting a very large blanket of carnations. When asked how he was feeling at that moment, Jones quipped, "Them flowers are sure heavy." The man who is the definition of cowboy chic (at least he's mine) was certainly on his game, both in his training exploits and his ability to please the crowd. He not only is an immensely talented horseman, but he’s also a pretty entertaining guy as well.

Later for dinner, I joined the currently hot team involved with Thursday’s GIII Count Fleet winner Smiling Tiger and Road Ready, who took Friday’s Bachelor S. I must say, I was very entertained by owner Phil Lebhertz (he had a great day besides the Oaklawn win, you should congratulate him!) and Mersad Metanovic, who was also had a hand in selecting the winners. However, the one I was most pleasantly surprised by was trainer Jeff Bonde. Not that I ever had a negative impression of him, but he is a real hoot! (As they say, when in the south..) He too, was an integral part of the selection process and it appears there is a very good reason why the team calls him ‘golden eye.’ I think they have a very good chance to make some more noise in the Arkansas Derby with Sway Away.

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