Sunday, April 29, 2012

The Perfect Trip

Grace Hall

It's that time of year when Chicago moves its collective tack out of Stickney and into Arlington Heights. Much has been made around the contrast between the billowing smokestacks and napalmy breeze of Stickney vs. the weeping willows and sparkling white, angular grandstand of Arlington, but not enough is made about the cultural differences of these tracks. Yesterday, on Illinois Champions Day, I had the good fortune of touring the Crow's Nest, where from the apron I could only glimpse the two sets of binoculars poking through the winter and spring breezes onto the oval and wonder what sort of machinations went on behind the curtain. The binoculars belong to caller Peter Galassi and charter David Miller, two consumate professionals who alchemize the chaos on the track into decipherable, succinct language. You'd think they'd want nothing to do with a couple of curious railbirds on Champions Day of all days, but they were gracious hosts. Affable, funny and yet focused on the tough jobs they do. There's no technology outside a brick toteboard to rest on here, no Jumbotron, no Trakus. Even the timer at one race showed :51 for five-eighths, which simply isn't possible. We were left to the ingenuity and craftsmanship of these men to fully experience the race. And yet they didn't let us get in the way and had no problem with us hanging out.

Peter would break away from conversation, look out over the oval and start calling the race he saw in his head, how he thought it would play out. "Who's the speed in this one? Let's see ... E.T. Baird is the rider. Gee, I wonder what he's gonna do?" We laughed in a nerdy track way at the predictability of Baird's gate-riding (How many people could I laugh at this with? I was in heaven). Peter works out the race in his head and he knew the deciding factor in this contest would be trip. Speed would likely fade and whoever got to sit just off would have the best shot at nailing the wire. "They're off" he called, and we watched with him as seven Illinois breds sprung from the gate brushing each other as they made their way vying for position on the first turn; it was a mile and a sixteenth, if you were gonna save ground you had to get the rail. Meanwhile in the other room the chart writing tanderm were furiously transcribing the action. I don't know how they're able to do this but Dave Miller demures, there's only a set amount of things that can actually happen in a race. Maybe he's right but I still think these men should be allowed to wear capes in honor of their superhuman powers. "Catalina Way feels the crack of the whip as they turn for home." Baird's horse faded pretty badly about halfway through the race, maybe preferring Keeneland's turf to the dirt of Stickney. Last year's winner of the race (Catalina Way) was now carrying the load, looking to repeat, jockey Tim Thornton had switched Seans Silverdancer outside of Catalina's flank, figuring the target for this race was now revealed. The closer America's Blossom ran patiently on the rail. Peter had all the action called in perfect cadence. The race just seemed to flow through him, as if he were conjuring these galloping specs hundreds of feet below. He didn't jump on the race like some callers who crassly inflate the action. America's Blossom, a late runner who had the rail was now moving the quickest but her lane was occluded by a tirng horse and her jock had to make the costly manuever of switching out. It was the gray, Sean's Silverdancer who would enjoy the bounty of a perfect trip. She hit the wire at 7-1. My fellow railbird who had her in his early pick 4 pumped his fist as the clock on the tote froze. Shortly after we knew it was time to leave these men to their work. Peter told my fellow railbird  to come see him if he needed a signer for his pick 4. We laughed and departed down the hall past the charters, past the VIP room filled with septegenarians hovering around a plate of brownies. We walked down the stairs back to our mortal world. Would we ever be granted this type of access at Arlington, would they be able to see our curiosity as the lifeblood of the sport or would we just be an impediment to them doing their jobs? The pick 4 was alive, the day was young and still held promise as we made our way out of the clouds and back onto the apron.   

1 comment:

  1. Ryan,

    It was a pleasure meeting you and Chris at this year's Hawthorne Spring meeting. (May it continue for many seasons to come.)

    I have posted here before how much I enjoy your blog. Please stop and say hello whenever you see me on the press box veranda this summer at Arlington.

    Best regards,