Being a California resident, I have been lucky enough to have seen Zenyatta run in person a few times the last three years. I wish I had kept my programs on the earlier races, but she wasn't quite "Zenyatta" yet, even though I believe she was odds on everytime.
Anyways, with Hollywood Park being my usual track, and with Big Z running one last time in the Los Angeles area, I had to go. My folks - who are somewhat casual fans of the sport, moved to LA a couple years ago, and Mom wanted to come with my girlfriend and I as we headed down to the Track of Lakes and Flowers.
We got there just a few minutes before the first race and the parking lot was just about as full as I'd ever seen it since moving to LA in 2001. On the other hand HP has an absolutely massive parking lot, so it wasn't anywhere close to being full. Nonetheless a good sign for turnout. One of the more disappointing things for me is when I goto the track and only a few thousand folks are there (which sadly is fairly normal even on big stakes races). I believe the biggest crowd I ever was a part of at HP was during one of Lava Man's Gold Cup wins and the crowd was around 17 thousand if I recall.
Anyways, we could hear the call of the first race as we were waiting in line to get in. The track and Oak Tree had really pulled out a lot of stops as far as "stuff" on Saturday. There were hats they were giving away, bounce back coupons for later in the meet, Secretariat movie memorabilia (and tickets), an equine artist with some astonishingly good work (though incredibly expensive!), as well as a whole gaggle of charity vendors hawking (or raffling) stuff I thought about getting something, but I'm poor and needed to save some money for the day. I was guessing about 10K people were there - which was pretty good for 1pm. From my experience the place usually gets 2-3 times as crowded for the later races.
As the day went by (and I kept losing), HP slowly started becoming more full. The buzz was growing - my girlfriend and I were in the midst of an amusing exchange in line for food around the 5th race when Ann (not a racing enthusiast, but a good sport) jokingly said she'd probably be friends with Z if Zenyatta were a human and the guy in front of us turned around and was like "She IS like a human isn't she?" He and I then proceeded to rattle off our favorite Z stories (he was most impressed I was at the Breeders Cup last year).
Finally after losing more money on JP's Gusto (who I still believe in dammit!) my party of 3 hurried out into the paddock area and awaited the Queen. There was a longer than usual break between races - most likely for the benefit of television - so we actually got the see the march of all six horses into the stalls. The first of many cheers went up when Z came into view. I was guessing the crowd to be around 30 thousand people.
(Official attendance was a shade under 26K, but I wonder if they only counted paying customers...there were a lot of kids there too)
I think the amount of people spooked Rintervall as she bucked in her stall (couldn't see it, but heard and the entire area shook) and was scratched on the advice of the vets. Mike Smith rolled into the area (after his big win on Jaycito) and another huge cheer went up and he greeted the Moss's and Mr Sheriffs. The horses were walked around and every time Z came near me people were screaming and taking pictures. I had a decent sight line, even though I was about 8 rows deep. Finally the jockeys mounted their horses and 3 or 4 good sized cheers went up as they made their way out of the paddock.
We hurried out to see the post parade and when Z's name was called, something just under a deafening roar erupted and there was a 10 second wait before Emmy Darling could be introduced to the patrons. At this point as I gazed around it was kind of a goosebumps type of moment. Hollywood Park was pretty much packed. I was standing about 10-15 feet from the wire about 25 feet from the fence - so a pretty fantastic spot. Actually it felt like it was more crammed in than the Breeders Cup, although I knew that had more people (however many people were in the infield at Santa Anita, while Hollywood Park doesn't do that). My girlfriend turned to me, a woman who had never been to the track before yesterday (and gently teases me about my "only vice") and said "I'm nervous."
So was I.
FINALLY it was post time. The horses were entered and away they went to a huge cheer. I tracked them by a mix of watching the video board and peering over the backstretch. I thought Z looked good and as they started the turn for home I could Z making her powerful rush as the crowd noise began to rise. I was thinking she might gobble up the leaders any second honestly. At the top of the stretch Switch seemed to gain half a length or so, and for a split send I didn't think Z was gonna catch her. I even turned to Mom and said "she's not gonna do it". Inside the 8th pole, Big Z started rolling like a freight train, and I'm not sure even Santa Anita was louder last year in the BCC. I could not hear the PA system at all, the noise was so sustained. Zenyatta passed Switch literally RIGHT IN FRONT of me and people were jumping up and down whooping like they'd just won the lottery.
(I might have been one of them)
The roar continued for at least another minute and then started again as they showed the replay on the monitor. Just about everyone stayed where they were giving Z and Smith another huge round of applause as he cantered her up and down the grandstand for about five minutes. The crowd slowly started thinning out to go see the horses for the next race, but most people stayed to watch Penny Chenery give the Moss's the winners trophy.
The girlfriend and Mom were tired at this point but we stayed for the next race to allow the place to clear out some. It was still a Grade 1, but the show for many was over. Hibaayeb threw an absolute fit as her jockey tried to take her onto the track and I immediately threw her out as a possibility. Of course she won - oh well. I kinda wanted to stay for the 9th, but everyone was tired, and i wanted to catch up on the day in sports (which was a huge day that I missed), so we took off before the Goodwood. Since I had had a pretty lousy day I decided not to bet before we left - of course I had Richard's Kid as my selection.
It was that kinda day.
But even so, it might have been my most amazing track experience. Definitely right up there with the BC last year. Really magical stuff.