The Greatest Race Day

The Greatest Race Day

I want to tell you the story of the most incredible day of racing I’ve ever experienced.

It was the kind of day that, even if I lived and breathed horse racing for another thirty-five years (as I have for the last thirty-five), I will never see the likes of again.

In 1986, I was living in the small village of La Purisima, Baja California – Mexico. Chance had brought me there (a long story for another day), but I was comfortably lost and incommunicado in a desert canyon two hours north of the city of Insurgentes deep in the central desert of Baja, and intended to stay that way for the indeterminate future.

I lived in a one-room palapa. It was a palm-thatch covered open-air patio, but mine had been ‘improved’ and was enclosed – kind of.  There were two large windows that held no glass or screens, and a single doorway with no door. This permitted entrance to all sorts of creatures that then shared the palapa with me; bats at night, scorpions by day and night, a small, sleek, black snake that lived in the palm thatch and (I justified to myself) helped keep the cute little kangaroo rats at an acceptable minimum, an occasional tarantula (they are really fairly harmless), and a host of other critters I won’t list. It was really just like camping out, except I couldn’t see the stars at night.

Somewhat more pleasant as visitors were the three or four short, sun-wrinkled old women who showed up each morning with fresh, warm tortillas and local fruit. They were my neighbors, and though they were kind and beautiful little folk, their real reason for being there was nothing more than uncontrollable curiosity about the ‘gringo’ who had mysteriously shown up in their midst.

‘Chapulina’ (little grasshopper?!) was the oldest, and appeared to be their ring leader. The others were somewhat shy, but not this old crone. After a brief few days at the start of my long stay (an initial ‘sizing-up’ period I guess), she began coming over at any time of day – and ‘day’ for them began at the crack of dawn. She would walk right in – no knocking – I could be sleeping, reading, eating – no matter, and brazenly, yet casually pick through my stuff. By the end of the first week, she knew more about the small inventory of personal gear I had there than I did.

But – on to the horse race part of the story . . .

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