November 28, 2020, was the last race card for Gulfstream Park West, which opened its doors nearly 50 years before as Calder Race Course. My memory of being there consists of only one race day, but its significance extends deeper into my life than a one-time experience would seem to suggest. It was the first track I went to, and my grandmother made an effort (returning on a day when they were racing as we first tried to go on a day they weren’t) to ensure that happened. She ensured I would experience something I loved and had never had a chance to yet, besides through watching on TV. I don’t recall specifics about experiencing a race in person for the first time, but I did dive into betting inspired by pedigrees of a few entrants. Pedigree remains a big draw for me to this day, mostly for progeny of horses whose careers resonated with me, yet I also have a deep interest in how it has been woven throughout the history of the Thoroughbred.
I did retain a vague memory of liking the track atmosphere from being at Calder on that day in 1997, and also that I loved finding a mug commemorating the career of my all-time favorite racehorse, Cigar. To bring that souvenir home meant a lot, as I lived in a racing desert in Tennessee at that time and there wasn’t anywhere to directly buy such racing memorabilia from a bricks and mortar store. I noted I also bought a Calder shirt. I’d love to have that now, as a memento of the first track I ever visited, but for some reason that’s been lost to time neither of those track souvenirs returned with me, though all my other Florida souvenirs did. The track program, photos, and a newspaper with race results from the day I attended did come back with me, so I still had some keepsakes from my first time attending racing.
Interestingly, the program from that day showed Javier Castellano riding as an apprentice, at the beginning of a stellar career, and a horse that ran that day went on to become a fairly good producer. Some participants that day certainly made their mark on racing…
On the day they ran for the last time at the track once known as Calder, I sought a site of racing’s former glory in the form of the environs of Coldstream Stud with my brother, pausing to pay homage to Bull Dog. That led to reflection of the dynasty he founded through Bull Lea. In fact, that was quite fitting – a bookend of what Calder had been and what the land where we stood had been. And while the time of both those sites in their former incarnations has come and gone, nothing erases what they meant to people and to racing.