Chopstick Cinema

Celeste Heiter's Adventures in Asian Food & Film

A Day at the Races

After what seems like a never-ending cycle of shopping, chopping and mopping, I finally gave myself a day off from the kitchen. It was a gorgeous autumn day, the Sunday after Thanksgiving. The kitchen was clean, the fridge was packed with a bounty of tasty leftovers, my son Will and Rene's nephew Jovan, who were with us for the weekend, had finished all their homework, and Rene had a rare day off too, so...we decided to go to the horse races. After more than 20 years of driving past Golden Gate Fields on Highway 80 near Berkeley, I recently learned that its racing season begins in November, not in April as I'd always assumed. No wonder it was always closed when I tried to plan a summer afternoon at the races.

Of all the sports on God's green earth, horseracing is my very favorite, although I don't know what about it excites me so. Perhaps I was a racehorse or a jockey in another lifetime. Or maybe it's my fond memories of watching the televised Triple Crown races every year with my Dad when I was a child, a tradition that I have carried on with my son. Or maybe it's the visceral thrill of all that equine muscle and sinew thundering pell-mell toward the finish line. Whatever it is, there's no other feeling quite like it.

And I've never been much of a gambler. I can walk through a Las Vegas casino, past banks of jingling slot machines, whirring roulette wheels, high-stakes black jack tables, and smokin' hot craps games completely unfazed. But when it comes to the horse races, they're not nearly as much fun without a small wager riding on the horse with the most spirited gait or the most intriguing name. And I usually have a good eye for picking a winner. But yesterday, although I scored on a quinella in the second race, and picked a winner in the ninth, my hunches were way off the mark. I even let Will talk me into betting on all the possible combinations for a quinella in a 5-horse race in the eighth, but the pair that came in first and second were the two favorites and paid only $9.20 on my $20 wager. So... at the end of the day, I'd left 40 of my hard earned dollars at the track: A small price to pay for the thrill of watching eight adrenaline-pumping races, a really tasty hot dog and a couple of nice cold beers, and the pleasure of spending a sunny Sunday afternoon with my favorite fellas.

And now, time to get started on next month's Dinner & a Movie. This time, I'm headed for the Philippines (vicariously, of course).