I've looked through many guidebooks on Rome, but I've never found anything telling what a kick it is to go to the horse races. Believe me, it's fun, fun, fun. Mom and Dad pile the kids and the picnic basket into the car and take off for the day. Everyone gets to go, because there's something for everyone to enjoy.
Also, unlike in the U.S. where so many trackside buildings are built of unappealing grey cement, the Ippodromo delle Capannelle is very pleasing to the eye. From the front, the long, low main building looks like an old villa because it's painted the inimitable red-orange color that distinguishes most of the houses and palazzi in Rome's centro storico. Around on the other side are the seats; toward the top and to the left is a closed-in "special seating" area next to a restaurant with tables overlooking all the action. The track runs around a large oval infield filled with flowers, bushes and trees. In the background are tall dark green trees, perhaps cypress, but I'm not sure.
To one side of the seats is a good-sized, fenced-in, grassy area with a few picnic tables to sit at and plenty of room for families to spread a tablecloth on the ground and bring out the jars of pasta.
I always enjoyed going to the races, but the best time I ever had was when Piero Nucci treated my pal Kristin and me to a day at the track. He got us there early and then, with much mystery, led us to a secluded spot about a hundred and fifty yards away. Here he shepherded us into a charming little osteria. In the back were a few outside tables overlooking the far end of the track. Piero explained that this was where the jockeys and horse owners ate. To our delight, he pointed out this one and that one, telling us funny little stories about them as we ate.
After lunch, we wandered over to the front of the seating area. Here, before each race, participating horses are paraded around an oval-shaped paddock so bettors can take a look and pick up any vibes about who's going to win. Pressed against the railing, Kristin and I watched attentively and decided which horse to bet on, basing our choices on an equine wink, a jazzy name such as Arrivo Primo (I Arrive First) or the tossing of a particularly attractive blond mane.
The animals were circled several times, then led to a slightly larger area where we once again saw the owners. With them were brightly decked-out jockeys, who mounted, circled once around, and then guided their horses toward the starting gate.
All the pros and cons having been discussed, Kristin and I went to make our big bet before each race--1500 lire (about $1), to win. We bet every race that day and hit nine out of ten, for a total win of about $8. It wasn't much but we didn't care; we were looking for glory, not money.
Piero was losing and, since he was a big bettor, we knew he had to be down quite a bit. But with true class, he remained completely unruffled, and limited himself to teasing us about our "scientific" method of picking horses (conveniently overlooking our success). After seven wins, we convinced him to bet the last two races using our picks, and he won back enough to break even for the day. That may have been even more difficult for him to swallow than his previous losses! We delighted in ragging him about it for a while, treated him to an espresso with our $8.00 winnings and headed, we thought, for home.
But the surprises were not quite over. Partway home, Piero suddenly pulled to a stop, got out of the car, herded us into a charming little sweetshop and ordered us to pick out anything we wanted. Like a couple of six-year-olds, Kristin and I stared around in awe: hand-dipped chocolates, marzipan animals, marrons glacés, truffles, lollipops...it was floor-to-ceiling treats!
Mouths full, little white bags of goodies clutched in sticky hands, we looked expectantly at Piero, wondering what was next. He laughed and shooed us into the car. "Basta con le sorprese. Dai, regazzine, andiamo a casa." (That's enough surprises. Come on, little girls, we're going home.)
Rosemary Torigian, Los Angeles
The Ippodromo delle Capannelle is located in Rome at Via Appia Nuova 1255 (tel. 718-3143). Races are held from early September through May, on various days of the week but almost always on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. The track is open 2:30 p.m.-sunset in winter and 4 p.m.-sunset in summer. If you don't have a car, take the "A" subway from Stazione Termini to Cinecittà (about 25 minutes), walk 100 yards to the #748 bus stop, then it's a 5-minute ride to the track. Taxi fare from the center is about 20 Euro.