Il sont party!
Evangeline Downs' colorful subsitute for "And they're off!" (and program motto) quickly became the rallying cry for all events associated with the latest episode in the McChump Brothers Racing Expedition series, from the same fine folks that brought you "Breakfast at Prescott", "Taste of the Backside", and the unpublished "Red Chili at Rillito".
Well, it became the rallying cry once things got underway. As usual, the Brothers' Expedition was planned well in advance.
The scene: Chicago and Phoenix, the morning the expedition was to begin.
Phoenix: "What do mean I can't get a rental car at the New Orleans airport for tonight? You say there's a Jazz and Heritage Festival going on this weekend?"
Chicago: "What do you mean I can't get a hotel room in Lafayette for Saturday night? You say there's a Festival Internationale Musique des Acadiens going on this weekend?"
But things worked out, and when I arrived Friday evening friend McChump #2 was waiting at the N.O. airport to pick me up and whisk me off to the Jefferson Downs OTB to begin our weekend of racing.
Jefferson Downs is a tired looking place, put out of live racing business almost immediately after a casino opened only a mile away, according to one of the employees, but the OTB action was fast and furious. Evangeline Downs and Retama Park thoroughbred simulcasts, along with quarter horse races from somewhere or another, and good cold cheap beer provided everything I needed. I had no idea what horses were good, or what trainers, or jocks, but I bet anyhow based on a cursory examination of the program. A $90+ quinella toward the end of the evening put me up for good, extending my winning streak to four consecutive outings, and I left a happy camper.
After an uneventful night in Baton Rouge, where the bars seem to close mighty early, we arrived in sunny Lafayette just before noon, promptly proceeded to get lost, and finally found downtown and the music fest. A mighty fine fest, recommended to all. Bands from Haiti and West Africa joined Cajun and zydeco bands on the various stages, folks were dancing by 12:30, food stands served cheap plates of red beans and rice, jambalaya, and shrimp & crawfish etoufee, and the Abita beer flowed freely. You gotta credit a town that'll shut down the entire downtown area for a big party and encourage people to wander around with giant beers, IMHO.
A bonus find was a small newsstand near the festival area that sold horse magazines galore - Turf Monthly, DRF, Louisiana Horse, and about 12 different issues of Bloodhorse graced the stands. Better than anything I've ever seen in Chicago. Sunburned and stuffed and happy by the end of the afternoon, for less than $20 of tickets apiece, we prepared to head for the track and 6:45 pm post time.. Not before I bought a t-shirt, though, and McChump #2 picked up a videocassette on Hand Fishing. The guy that sold it to him said he'd played the triangle on the soundtrack. We were duly impressed.
With the Cajun radio station blaring zydeco and the announcer speaking French we couldn't understand but enjoyed anyhow, we made the short drive out to the track. A small but decent facility is Evangeline Downs, that's easy to get to from the frontage road, and lots of free parking. We decided to go clubhouse, big spenders that we are, only to discover that there was an additional $4/person table charge after that, jealously enforced by a buzzardly old hostess who obviously didn't really want us boys with our blue jeans and open collars in her fancy schmancy clubhouse. The heck with that anyhow. We headed for the grandstand. Bad news #2 was the closed gift shop we passed on the way - how the heck do they expect to sell those Evangeline t-shirts to out of town rubes if they aren't open for business?
Once in the grandstand area, though, all the bad feelings dissipated. Cold cheap beer (BSF 80) and food I can't comment on because I was already too stuffed, coupled with the friendly, enthusiastic patrons, the numerous French conversations going on among the old people, and the track announcer's vigorous "Il sont partis!" every time the horses left the starting gate, all made for a fun, enjoyable racing experience. Many of the trainers and jocks had familiar names like Guidry and Delahoussaye, and you realized whay so many of our top jocks come from down there. A few slow tellers, but hey - at least they weren't surly. Plus, of course, with absolutely no clue, I found myself up again at the end of the night. Five in a row - yeah! I'm a pro now! My only regret was that I didn't get to check out the backside or any of the restaurants that people had recommended. And no Evangeline t-shirt.
Back in New Orleans by about 2:00 pm next day, we thought it might be the thing to thing to do to check out the Bourbon Street OTB. So we did. I've been to better OTB's, I guess, and the beer prices were no longer in the reasonable range, but it was okay. No clue again, this time playing Louisiana Downs and Churchill, and once again I walked out ahead. Walked out onto Bourbon St., headed for a bar McChump #2 knew, and the next thing I know I'm waking up at the hotel the next morning. I do remember something about some music clubs, and Marie someone's voodoo shop, and some raw oysters about 2:00 am, so I'm pretty sure I must have had a good time.
McChump #2 had to leave late the next afternoon, but we decided there was at least one more day of racing in us, so back to the Bourbon St. OTB we went that pm after my seminar sessions, and my winning streak came to an unceremonius end playing Philadelphia Park and, of all places, Sportsman's Park. So much for knowing the trainers and horses and jocks!
And so ended the expedition to Evangeline Downs. Lafayette is a fun, friendly little town, and Evangeline fits it perfectly. Louisiana as a whole takes horse racing seriously, and it was nice to experience that sort of feeling, and be able to read a full page feature on the Derby, and the cajun jocks like Romero and Desormeaux and so on, each day of the week in the Times-Picayune. Louisiana in general and Evangeline in particular get a hearty recommendation from me for anyone who likes to have a little fun with their racing.