A balmy late winter weekend in Chicago, and I stopped in on Saturday of Sportsman's opening weekend to test my handicapping skills.
A severe test, it was, too, with my only *major* score of the day coming with the perfecta in the Fountain of Youth simulcast (thankfully, Steve M.'s public "dibs" on Jambalaya Jazz warned me to lay off). Final results for the day, though: minus money. :-(
Tough day to handicap the local races, with most of the participants having had a 45 to 60 day layoff since their last effort at Hawthorne, some very contentious allowance races, and Sportsman's being such a vastly different track than HAW. The public handicappers didn't do much better than me, though, Ron Uchman's (DRF) faux pas of the day being a comment to the effect that horse x (sorry cannot remember the name) had no business in the 12th. Horse x won and returned $145+. Unfortunately, I didn't have him either, though I had given him a good look as he was a "horse for course". Actually, I noticed that all day - horses for courses doing quite well. Ken, Cal, Stuart, and other Chicago Derbyites - is this quite normal at Sportsman's? (This is my first year at SPT). The rumored Sportsman's speed bias was somewhere on vacation, and the rail was dead as can be. This despite Scott McMannis coming on the PA and announcing that the surface had been reworked extensively since Friday with the hoped-for result of restoring the speed bias!
The Sportsman's clubhouse seems close and confining, and I found myself headed outside for each race. That actually works quite well, since the turns are so sharp and the backstretch is so close that you can see most of the race clearly from the apron in front. Except of course for the stretch. I didn't see but one horse having any trouble with the sharp turns.
Good ones: Dave Feldman picks Polar Expedition to win in the Oaklawn simulcast, and trifecta betting is left in effect for the big simul from the Fairgrounds even though the race is whittled down to six horses. (And no, even with only six horses, I couldn't win it.)
Sportsman's is now participating in whatever program the DRF has that gives you "a closer look" at the entries in the form. Gone are the little boxes with "Best Beyer at the Track" and so on; in are the little paragraphs about each horse, a la the West Coast forms. The jury is out on this one so far as I am concerned.
The track is doing a very good job of promoting its handicapping center, and I found the broadcast comments of Scott McMannis to be very instructive, going far beyond the normal for a public selector. Some of the stuff was kind of basic as far as I was concerned, but it was exactly the kind of "instructions for the newcomer" that people on this list have been suggesting that the tracks sponsor. Hats off to Sportsman's.
Also "new this year" are the little statistical bar charts of a horse running across the TV screen, supposedly to display "speed", "class", "form", and "overall" statistical ratings for the horses in the upcoming race. I guess these are popular. Thankfully, Sportsman's did not have someone like Lynn Snierson (sp?) at AP standing there reading the things off as if we couldn't see for ourselves. Hats off again for good taste.
I am pleased to report that the two older gentlemen whom I observed on many occasions in the Hawthorne Clubhouse, displaying questionable sartorial taste and muttering loudly about "what a f**ked up place" Hawthorne is, were on hand at Sportsman's, garbed in the same finery and muttering loudly about "what a f**ked up place" Sportsman's is. Actually, I overheard this after the Fountain of Youth simulcast, so I must assume they do not like the TV's at Sportsman's. Sadly, old Mr. Sandals (mere words cannot describe), another Hawthorne clubhouse regular, was nowhere to be seen. I hope he is okay. There was a new Strange Old Guy to watch at Sportsman's though (no nickname yet), so I am looking forward to yet another interesting racing meet. Lots of kids, several badly behaved, but others that made you grin with their antics.
In the matters of great import, food selection (in the regular food stands) was superior to Hawthorne and even Arlington Park. More importantly, the beer selection was vastly superior to either of the others. Price was a little more $$ than Hawthorne but much cheaper than AP. I do have to whine about $2.75 for draft Old Style. Knock $0.50 off there, Stormy. Parking was $2, and grandstand admission was free. $4.25 to get in the clubhouse though, and the guy hassled me about my owner's card but I finally got in for free.
Corrections and Clarifications: I said in my TuP cafeteria review that there were no mutuel windows in the Spt cafe. I was wrong - I finally saw them while dining on a fine Chorizo and Eggs breakfast (plenty of hot sauce) this weekend. A modified BSF for the TuP cafe in the "amenities" category will have to be calculated. I'll post it later.