As the festivities at Arlington Park opened Friday morning with fans gathering for breakfast and a chance to see some elite horses work out on track before Million Day, off to the side, soaking it all in, was jockey Randall Meier.
"This is what I miss," Meier said, while taking in the scene. "I was always kind of involved in a lot of this stuff. Now I'm sitting on the sidelines."
That's a place Meier has been accustomed to sitting for much of this year. But the fact this 56-year-old from Winfield was here Friday - walking and talking - has to be deemed some sort of a miracle. A replay of Meier's horrific spill at Hawthorne late last year is all one needs to see to be reminded of that.
In that spill, Meier's mount went down unexpectedly, sending the veteran jockey tumbling to the ground and altering his life in a huge way.
"I had them get me a tape of it because I had no idea why I woke up in the hospital," Meier said. "I wasn't close to anybody, she didn't clip heels, she didn't bobble, she didn't break down. She just went down."
And she sent Meier to Loyola Medical Center in Maywood with a fractured neck and a bleeding brain.
"They said I was talking in the hospital and that was what was keeping them from drilling (to reduce the bleeding)," Meier said. "But I don't remember talking to anyone."
It would only get more difficult once he started going to Marionjoy Rehabilitation Hospital in Wheaton on a regular basis.
"When I went to Marionjoy I thought I was speaking OK, but I was so slow in my words," said Meier, who noted that without the help of his son (jockey) Brandon and daughter Emily, he's not sure what he would have done. "The lady would ask me questions and I couldn't answer simple things. Some of it was I knew what I wanted to say but I couldn't get it out. Sometimes I couldn't give an answer.
"Brandon drove me and went through all that with me. He told me when I first got there and was asked to name all the different animals I could name in 60 seconds, I named off pony, small horse, Budweiser horse. I didn't come up with cats, dogs, nothing. Then all of a sudden I come up with Chinchilla, and then I was blank for 45 seconds."
Over the last few months, Meier has kept a low profile.
One, because he didn't want to answer questions about how he was doing and if he was planning to ride again. Two, because he wasn't feeling that great, and three, he wasn't able to do much.
"Actually all I do is mow my yard about three times a week - my neighbors think I'm crazy. But it's never looked better," he said.
And then there's the pain.
"For the past eight months, up to about 10 days ago, I've waked up with headaches and gone to bed with headaches," said Meier, who has broken almost every bone in his body over the years.
"Before, all my injuries were just broken bones. Even when I had the screws and plates put in my neck, I knew what it was going to take to come back. I knew the time frame and I was usually back before people expected. My doctors always said I healed quick.
"This time, I don't know how to handle the head injury. That's why my doctor wants me to take a year before I do anything."
But things have improved tremendously for Meier, who estimates he's at least 90 percent healed. And as he's continued to get better he's starting to get a familiar itch ... to get back in the saddle.
"I want to," Meier said. "I'm getting a lot of people telling me that I shouldn't - family, my doctor ... they're not saying no, but they're telling me 'Look, how many times are you going to push it?'
"I shouldn't even think about it because I have been lucky. This time I was totally lucky."