Santa Anita Park, Arcadia, CA, Feb 15-16

He: "I used to think I knew all the answers. Then I realized I barely understood the questions."

She: "Ah. So what ARE the questions?"

-- exchange from the movie "The Last Days of Man on Earth"

I was pretty sure I had all the answers on Southern California racing, too. After my disappointing trip to Del Mar two summers ago, and based on my dislike for betting the So Cal simulcasts McChump #2 is so fond of, and also influenced by the constant hammering So Cal racing takes on various Internet discussion lists, I was thoroughly prepared to dislike Santa Anita on my first ever visit to that track, the initial stop on the 1997 McChump Racing Tour. It was going to take a trashing in this report. I just knew.

Except for two things: I had a blast, and fell in love with the track.

From the moment I pulled into the parking lot ($3.00, general) on Saturday about noon and saw the beautiful physical plant, and all the cars in the lot that promised a big, interesting crowd, I realized I barely understood the questions. After paying my admission ($4.00, grandstand) and entering the big outdoor area surrounding the paddock behind the stands, I was confronted with the view of numerous people sitting out enjoying the sun on benches and picnic tables, studying their forms, talking, eating, laughing, watching the horses, in general having FUN!, all in beautiful and nicely landscaped surroundings. DRF $3.25, track program (the little kind) $1.75, both vended by friendly, smiling employees. Big but not giant beer: $3.50. And warm sun - did I mention the warm sun? I didn't even know the questions anymore. I didn't care. I was in heaven before I even got inside.

And inside the plant was just as magnificent as out. The Spanish/art deco motif carried over, and I've got to admit I'm a sucker for buildings with lots of little arches and nooks and crannies and meandering passageways and stairways leading to who knows where. I had two full days of exploring ahead. Definitely not one of those tracks you know within five minutes. And amenities for the patrons! Ample tables everywhere, lots of flat surfaces to stop at for a moment or two and lay out your form to check the next race, TV monitors galore - working ones - and plenty of machines, tellers, and concessions. Not bad, not bad at all.

The final straw came when I finally made it out to the apron and took in the track. Simply gorgeous. Even the fact that there's people and structures all over the infield didn't detract from the beauty of the turf sprint course winding down the hill, and the awesome mountains in the background. Definitely joins Turf Paradise and Arlington on my short list of most beautiful tracks.

As I'd arrived shortly before 1st post, I had to act quickly to get into the betting action. Several minutes later I learned that somehow I had backed the wrong horse. Oh well, off to do some more exploring.

Bonus finds included the big downstairs area that was fairly packed with folks who apparently don't like to watch live racing live, or enjoy the nice weather, and the tunnel to the infield, where folks do enjoy their live racing live, as well as the nice weather, and bring their kids and pick-a-nick baskets along. Can't say as I liked the SA infield as much as the one at Del Mar, but that is primarily because there wasn't nearly the concession variety. In fact, that's my only knock against Santa Anita - I spent the better part of two days wandering the grandstand side, and found precious little besides hot dogs ($2.50) for sale. Okay - there were some fish sandwiches downstairs, and jalapeno poppers, but still - little Hoosier Park puts this place to shame. BSF - a lowly 39. The one real highlight of the infield was "The Wine Shed", kind of a ramshackle open air wooden affair far out in the clubhouse turn end, where the infield drinking element congregated, where everyone was friendly and laid back, where no little kids were in evidence, and where I found a friendly haven during my sojourns to the infield. Wine Sheds at every track, that's what I say!

Saturday's highlight was seeing Sharp Cat demolish her field, while the lowlight was watching close up on the backstretch as Olimpia Dukakis was pulled up after her race and vanned off. She didn't seem to be in obvious distress or limping or anything, so I hope she is okay. She's always been a favorite of mine. Plus the #4's developed a serious case of seconditis while a bunch of longshots that I didn't have came in paying huge prices. I left after Sharp Cat's race, licking my wounds to the tune of -$32.00 for the day.

That night at the hotel I went back over the day's results and tried to see where I'd made my betting mistakes. I mean, I'd spent up to 10 minutes 'capping each race in between wandering and $3.50 beers, and I'd covered pretty much every #4 with some kind of bet, and my only big score of the day had been a #4 that paid $18.something to place. But #4's in the place hole do not pay the rent. I couldn't make heads nor tails of the day's results, however, because it seemed that every dirt race except Sharp Cat's made no sense.

But suddenly it came to me in a flash: "The Juice"! Of course! There was no other way to explain it! My handicapping had been impeccable as usual, and still I had lost. "The Juice" had been in, it had to have been, and I had failed to recognize it and take advantage. The only question was whether Sunday would be a "Juice" day as well. As I handicapped the next day's card, I was formulating an alternate strategy in my mind, just in case it looked like another "Juice" day early on.

The first race on Sunday was one I had handicapped to a fare-thee-well, wanting to get off to a fast start. There were several likely contenders, but I took a plunge on what I thought was likely to be lone speed. Naturally, a $27.00 longshot came out of the clouds to beat me. I looked over the pp's of the winner, and saw where I had likely made my mistake, but still ... I smelled "Juice".

For the second race I vowed to add a bet based on my newly patented McChump "Juice" Methodology to my regular bet, just in case. The "Juice" methodology is not for the faint of heart, and I had difficulty with it myself, as it went against all conventional wisdom and the answers I thought I knew about handicapping, but I steeled myself and as the second race went off, I had the "Juice" tickets in my wallet: $2 to win on each of the five longest priced horses in the race. And of course some "traditional" tickets. The winner, one of my five "Juice" horses, paid $66.20, and I knew for sure "The Juice" was in. Traditional handicapping was out for the rest of the dirt races, and The McChump "Juice" Methodology was in.

The third race was a turf sprint which I didn't bet correctly, but I enjoyed immensely anyhow, as these long runs down the side of the hill are truly exciting events to behold. Those of you Derbyites out there trashing 'em - you're simply deluded.

The fourth was won by a D. Wayne Lukas longshot that paid $45.80, and was once again among my five. The methodology correctly selected a $72.00 winner in the 5th, and $67.40 in the 6th. The McChump "Juice" Methodology was truly awesome to experience, as I felt its power surging through me with every big winner. Plus, with the methodology's simple elegance that required no reference to any actual facts or figures in order to predict results, more time was freed up for enjoying the sun and the races and wandering the track and quaffing cold beers, feeling their power surging through me as well. What an enlightened handicapping plan!

The 7th was a turf route on which I broke slightly less than even, but still enjoyed watching from the infield rail on the backstretch, feeling the horses thundering by, and hearing the jocks clucking to the horses and talking back and forth to each other. The 8th was the Jewel Princess race, which I did not bet after watching what Sharp Cat did to her field the day before. The Santa Anita crowd picked this one nearly perfectly, with the finishers going off at 1.00 3.10 4.50 10.80 10.00 13.00 31.90 respectively. I guess it's nice to see high class, competitive, consistent horses run, but watching seven horses run around the track to a perfectly predetermined finish and a whopping $4.00 win payoff isn't exactly my vision of how racing should be. Give me the $72.00 winners anytime. Especially when I'm picking them. ;-)

The 9th was going to be the coup de grace for the new methodology. A big field of $10,000 claiming horses, the bottom of the barrel, going 1-1/16 on the dirt. If ever there was a race with a likely longshot winner, this was it. The McChump "Juice" bet went down, with visions of a $100 winner to make the day more than perfect. Naturally, these crippled old warriors ran true to form, and none of my selections even finished ITM. $10, down the tubes. A dose of reality for the powerful new methodology. Still, a mighty tidy betting profit for the day, not to mention the weekend, with all of the weekend's beer and hotdogs and programs and DRF's and admissions and parking and even a souvenir t-shirt paid for. Where's that guy who claims there's no such thing as a good bet made on a McChump Tour? ;-)

All in all, the Santa Anita McChump Tour (Vol. I) was great. Great facility, great racing, great employees (did I mention that whenever an Autotote jammed, someone was there *immediately*?), and great fun. Must be where they get their slogan. And hey - the birth of yet another powerful new methodology.

So what were all those answers I used to know about Santa Anita, again?