It's midmorning and as Bobby Adair reflects on bits of his life, he's positioned in the very place he's felt the most comfortable for most of his 60 years: in the saddle, on a horse, on a racetrack.
Sitting pretty, king of the hill.
The track is Adair's office. He dreamed of working there since he was a boy in southeastern Oklahoma and raced horses bareback on country roads in the same way city kids race souped-up cars. Other boys ate up stories about Mantle and Mays; Adair marveled at Shoemaker and Hartack.
Adair became a legend at Los Alamitos Race Course, arriving in the fall of '62 and retiring 22 years later as its all-time top stakes-winner after an accident broke his shoulder in about two dozen places and ended his career. Along the way, he'd been the nation's leading money-winning quarter-horse jockey for several years running.
"I thought I could ride anything that had hair on it," Adair says, wryly. "I loved horses, that was the main thing. And the competition.... When you're riding, there's no thrill in the world you can compare to riding in a 10-horse race."
He says it has to do with the relationship between rider and horse, the adrenaline and the uncertainty of knowing how things will go.
We're talking along the rail in front of the Los Alamitos grandstand the day before "Seabiscuit" opens in theaters. The much-heralded movie about the champion racehorse of the 1930s is based on Laura Hillenbrand's best-seller. Racetrack die-hards hope the movie will lure people back to the track.
"We don't have a lot of new talent coming up," Adair laments, "because there's no place for kids to grow up riding a horse."
Adair now works for the track as an outrider, meaning he chases down the occasional horse that breaks free during workouts. It keeps his hand in the game; he did the same job behind the scenes during the filming of "Seabiscuit."
The gig also earned him a seat at the movie's premiere this week, and Adair raves about what he says are outstanding racing sequences.
The movie is being marketed as a feel-good story of an undersized horse and its motley crew of jockey, trainer and owner. Sure to evoke nostalgia for the 1930s, the question is whether it can rekindle interest in the increasingly anachronistic world of the Sports of Kings, where flashing silks and the thrill of a stretch run once entertained the masses.
Even strolling the "backside" beyond the track, out of public view, and you get the feel of a bygone era as trainers, exercise boys and others perform the same quiet tasks their forebears did in Seabiscuit's day.
It's this world off society's main roads that attracted Laura Pinelli. A citified beach girl when her grandparents first took her to Santa Anita in the 1970s, the track ambience hooked her. Today, at 44, Pinelli owns, breeds and trains quarter-horses.
"It's a different world," she says as we talk near the stables. "I don't think we're in the same world as everybody else."
She explains cheerfully that the norms are different. "I don't think we view this as an occupation," Pinelli says. "It's a way of life. There are not many places where you go seven days a week and you don't dread going. Most jobs, you get out what you put into it. This, no matter how hard you work, the outcome isn't guaranteed."
She hopes "Seabiscuit" will inspire a new generation of fans.
"It wasn't just the horses, it wasn't just the competition," she says, her voice still suggestive of her fascination at her first day at the races. "It was just overwhelming. A different world, something I had not been exposed to. It wasn't like going to a baseball game. It was just something different."
Dana Parsons' column appears Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays. He can be reached at (714) 966-7821, at dana
.email@example.com or at The Times' Orange County edition, 1375 Sunflower Ave., Costa Mesa, CA 92626.