Panama: The Adventure Begins

And I'm off! To Panama. I'll be covering the Clasico Internacional del Caribe (Caribbean Derby) Sunday. From what I'm told there is a lot of excitement and pageantry. Anne Eberhardt Keogh, The Blood-Horse's photographer, has been before and has assured me it is a lot of fun. Before the big race, I'll be visiting some Thoroughbred farms and the Laffit Pincay school for jockeys. And going to parties.

They dress up in Panama -- at least they do so more than I do -- so my wardrobe had to be upgraded. But I stopped short of buying an evening gown for a black-tie event. Cocktail attire will have to do.

First of all, it takes a long time to get to Panama - at least when you fly commercially. My plane left Charlotte, N.C. (I was visiting family) at 6:24 a.m. (EST) and I won't get to Panama until at least 7:15 p.m. (Panamanian time). I have a long layover in Houston. It's now 10:04 a.m. (CST).

I'm killing time at Pappadeaux Seafood, where the staff was nice enough to allow me to set up my computer and hang out 40 minutes or so before eating - about 11:30 a.m. (EST). I spent so long browsing in a bookstore that the woman working there was watching me suspiciously, so I had to find something else to entertain myself with. Christmas music is playing very loudly.

In addition to telling you a little bit about Panama and the Sport of Kings there over the next several days, I also have some other duties to fulfill. When people hear you are going somewhere exotic, there often are requests for souvenirs. My brother's friend wants 10 molas, colorful fabric panels, with animal themes. I have $100 to spend and have no idea how much they cost. Dad wants a mola, but only if it has a fish on it. He also wants racing programs and a lapel pin from the track - if a lapel pin is available. Maybe I'll find some Christmas gifts, too, and maybe there will be some molas with horse racing themes (for me). No doubt, as on other journeys, I will be buying a duffle bag to bring back all my booty. My one suitcase already was perilously close to the 50-pound limit when it was weighed this morning.

As for my goal, besides learning a lot about breeding and racing in Panama, I want to see a sloth in the wild. I have seen them before in Costa Rica, but it's been a long time and for some reason I'm fascinated by them. It will be great if they are dangling from the trees like furry Christmas ornaments, but based on the two I spotted clinging to swaying branches in Costa Rica during a windstorm after much looking, I doubt it.

Tomorrow is what my Panamanian hosts call an "open" day on the schedule. There will be time for shopping, or what I call the quest for the molas. The schedule also is supposed to include a wildlife tour.

One of the perks of being involved in the Thoroughbred business is the opportunity to travel and I always try to squeeze in some time to see the area or the country I'm visiting, which is something everyone should do. I went to an animal market in Dubai seeking falcon hoods and took a day off to see Tokyo when I was in Japan.

My waiter is starting to hover. Gotta go.

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