I've been fortunate over the past few years to knock a few tracks off the wish list, but now it's time to document what should be the priorities over the next few years to complete a circuit of the major (the Kansas, Kentucky and UCLA's) and mid-major tracks (the Butlers and Gonzagas, if you will). But in order to know where we stand on track visits, we'll have to put down where we've been....so here is the current list of completed Space Invasions:
Completed Track Visits: Saratoga, Woodbine, Gulfstream, Churchill Downs, Belmont Park, Monmouth Park, Fort Erie, Pimlico, Presque Isle Downs, Keeneland, Santa Anita, Aqueduct, Finger Lakes, Buffalo Raceway, Batavia Downs and Charles Town.
Wish List of North American tracks (in order of priority, not necessarily when they will happen):
1. Del Mar Thoroughbred Racing Club. After experiencing the beauty of Santa Anita for five Breeders’ Cups, the desire to see Del Mar has increased three-fold. I've never been to San Diego and the luxury of every day being 72-75 degrees is very enticing, but the timing of the meet coinciding with Saratoga has presented challenges with attending. However, the 2017 Breeders’ Cup has it on next year’s calendar. Difficulty level: Low.
2. Arlington Park. In the heart of Chicagoland, Arlington is known for its great turf racing and serious bad-ass grandstand. I hear the morning workouts are not to miss also. I love Chicago and haven't been there (other than passing through O'Hare or Midway) in several years. Difficulty level: Easy. Flights easy to come by and to add a Cubs game to the trip would make a Million weekend trip perfect.
3. Fair Grounds. Oh when the Saints.... Are you sensing a pattern here? San Diego, Chicago and now, New Awlins? There’s lots of history here, great Cajun jockeys/trainers and food that’s to die for. Louisiana Derby weekend would be the target. Difficulty level: Moderate. Little tougher flight arrangements, potential Space Gal veto depending on my travel companion(s) and need a week to prepare for the spicy food/extracurricular activities.
4. Oaklawn Park. Arkansas Derby weekend usually falls right before April 15th and the day job takes preference. Rabid race fans attend the Oaklawn meet. A friend sent me an American Pharoah bobblehead giveaway from here that is the bomb. If I wasn't an accountant by day, this one could be had easily. Difficulty level: High. Hot Springs is tough to get to from a logistical standpoint, 17 hour drive not up my alley.
5. Tampa Bay Downs. I have a son at the University of Tampa. No brainer. Track management at Tampa performs a terrific job marketing its product through social media and has a couple big Derby preps during the winter. Difficulty level: Low. Who can beat the weather and there is a direct flight from the B-Lo, to boot. This one’s happening.
6. Lone Star Park. The track was good enough for a Breeders’ Cup, so it has me enticed to visit. Who wouldn’t love Margarita night or 50-cent beer night? Not far from the very hip city of Austin. Difficulty level: High. Not easy to get to and would take some real effort to pull it off.
7. Kentucky Downs. I watched some of this boutique meeting’s races this summer and it just looked like a really interesting race course complete with hills, where all of the races are on the turf. Big fields and good betting races and located not too far from Nashville, which could make it a decent vacation destination. Difficulty level: Moderate.
8. Delaware Park. The Paddock looks stunning, and is known for its natural beauty. There is some solid racing on certain weekends during the summer. There are a couple of big races I'd like to take in someday (Del Cap and Del Oaks). Only horse I ever owned (RIP Higher Authority) had her only race here and came in dead last. Difficulty level: Moderate. Not a bad drive. Potential side trip looms from a family vacation on the Jersey Shore.
9. Laurel Park. Located between Baltimore and D.C., this Maryland track is known for its turf course. Maryland Million Day is on "the list." Possibility of Preakness relocating could move it down on the difficulty ladder. Talk of a potential Breeders’ Cup in 2021 has also been rumored. Difficulty level: Low. With cheap flights on Southwest from Buffalo it’s not a stretch to get to. This one will happen in the not too distant future.
11. Hialeah Park (tie). It’s the only quarter horse track on the list, but you know why it's here. The “flight of the flamingos” at the Miami track is a must see. I could make a side trip on Pegasus weekend in January, to knock it off the list. Difficulty level: Low. Between brother-in-law homestead, Toy Cannon winter residence and direct flights available.
11. Turfway Park. (tie) I’ve passed it a number of times on the way to Churchill or Keeneland over the past 10 years, but haven’t had the chance to stop while live racing was going on. Missed golden opportunities while servicing a Cincinnati client over the past four years, but never could make the timing work. Difficulty level: High.
Gene Kershner, a Buffalo-based turf writer, is a member of the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters Association, and tweets @EquiSpace.