The summer leaves are turning the golden hue of autumn, and the winds of summer are drifting away to usher in the chilling feel of the Halloween season. Tracks have always been a fun place to enjoy seasonal festivities. Here are a few things I have had the pleasure of watching over the years.
The Headless Horseman
Churchill Downs has the Oaks, The Derby, and every so often they host the Breeders’ Cup. But the week of Halloween, or even on the day of the 31st. There is ominous music that plays throughout the building, and a headless horseman takes to the track in full dress. He starts off in a ghostly canter, and then to a full gallop down the stretch under the Twin Spires. Just seeing the horseman makes all watchers feel that inner kid. It takes us back to dressing up and walking decorated neighborhoods seeking candy. But the horseman is watching. You can bet that if Churchill has races any time this week, rest assured the horseman will make his entrance.
There is a guy who comes everyday. He is a cheerful fella’ and loves to play his yearly prank. Dave lost one of his arms at a young age. I never asked any of the ugly questions of how, but I still loved to hear him tell curious children about the shark attack that gave him the nickname of “Lefty.” The kids usually get spooked, and its all in good fun. No scary, or sad news. Just seasonal fun to keep the pranks alive. The doors would open at 11:00 a.m. each day, and Dave could be seen coming about an hour later. But on this spooky day, he would make his entrance when the building is starting to buzz with the whirl of gamblers. Everyone has gotten use to seeing Dave roll in with one of his sleeves buttoned over, and nobody even thinks about it. But on Halloween, he can be found sporting a suit coat. He looks dapper and all looks the same except for one new addition. In his left sleeve, there is a flesh colored hand peeking out of the sleeve of his left coat arm. He walks in smooth and quiet, and allows everyone to get a glance. After a hardy laugh, and some surprised faces, Dave goes about his day at the races, and for the remainder of the day you can’t help but stretch your neck a bit and catch another glimpse of ” Lefty” and his magic jacket.
The Movie Marathon
I had the pleasure of working with a man who I still call one of my best friends. I won’t mention his name, as you may know him as the host of the “Winning Ponies Internet Radio Show,” John Engelhardt. Every October he would be tortured on a daily basis, and the Halloween prank would live on in our office everyday. I would get there a bit earlier, as my partner would work the later shift. Upon getting in the office, the usual duties would take place until 1:00 p.m. – This was when AMC would show a month long movie marathon of slashers, and ghouls with ghostly groans. I would hear my office partner making his way up the steps, and I would immediately change the channel to Keeneland or Belmont. It was playing in the background, and it was just another day of simulcast action as our live racing meet ended about a month earlier. He would enter in and greet me, and we would talk about what was going on for the day. He would get settled, and make his way down the hall to the kitchen to make a cup of tea, or a healthy lunch. It was this time I would change the channel to whatever horrible movie would be playing, and turn up the sound. He would be walking back to the office, and I could hear him start swearing up a storm about what was on the tube. He was a fan of the old style Godzilla, or Frankenstein movies, but the slasher genre just wasn’t his cup of tea. He said it gave him nightmares, and he would hear sounds that go bump in the night as he was the last person out of the dark and quiet building. I finally gave it one last prank. I knew he hated to be surprised, but he was my buddy and there are just some things that go along with the friendship. The building we worked in was very quiet after the buzz of live racing would close. The hallways were extremely quiet, and sometimes would be darkened in places. You could hear your steps echo down the long hallway, and you would swear from time to time you could see a shadow or glimpse of something down the long corridor. The men’s room was in the middle of the long hall. It was always cold, and had a small room to enter, and then another door that would lead into the restroom. Well, my buddy was on his way to wash his hands for lunch, and I felt it was time to kick things up a notch. I turned up the sounds of the races, and gave it about three minutes. I ran down the hall, and quietly made my way into the first entrance. I could hear him washing his hands, and I turned out the lights with the flip of a switch in the outer room, “Oh, that’s just great. How am I going to find my way out now?” That was his lament of my immaturity, and he was getting angry. But, the show was not over just yet. I turned out the lights in the hall, and it was very dark and creepy. When he came out into the darkness, he was getting madder by the minute. That was until I jumped out from around a dark corner to scare my pal… Well, after he screamed and about jumped of his skin. He yelled that I could have given him a heart attack… Well, I stopped my Halloween season pranks, and look back on these times as some of the best in my working life. He taught me his love for the sport, and that life is journey and not a destination. But all truth be told, I would love to have just one more Halloween prank on my friend.
The Breeders’ Cup draw takes place today, and the horses are getting ready for the biggest day of the year. But don’t forget to have a little harmless fun this week as well. The inner kid in all of us needs to get out every once in awhile. Be sure to look around every corner, and park close to the door as the sun is beginning to set at an early time. That sounds you hear, and the hair that stands up on the back of your neck are all part of the season. Have fun this week, and get ready as the Breeders’ Cup is sure to give us plenty of thrills and chills!