Golden Gate Fields, Albany, CA, May 3-4

[Warning: Some math content]
-- Thursday, 5/2, late pm. --

"Yo chump. I'm down in the lobby".

And indeed, there he was, McChump #2 in the flesh, just arrived from Phoenix at my San Francisco hotel. The first "official" stop on the 1996 McChump Racing Tour was underway. (Note: for 1996 "official" stop = "new track"). The weather in the Bay Area was beautiful, pleasantly warm by Chicago standards, and pleasantly cool by those of Phoenix, so we were looking forward to two fine comfy weather afternoons of racing at Golden Gate Fields.

-- Friday, 5/3, mid am. --

We had come to the realization, the night before, in our strategy planning session at the nearby London Sports Bar, that there was somewhat of a flaw in the McChump planning process, as usual, as Golden Gate had inconsiderately scheduled its Friday session as a twilight session instead of an afternoon. However, we determined to make the best of the day we had to kill by embarking on a self-guided municipal bus/walking tour of San Francisco. Shouldering our way through the Union Square neighborhood's throngs of panhandling homeless, transients, vagrants, and downright bums that had made each and every venture out of the Hilton all week during my conference an oppressive, unenjoyable chore, we made our way down to Market Street and boarded the bus for Haight-Ashbury.

To make the non-racing part of this story short, I'll merely say we were fairly unimpressed with Haight-Ashbury, except for the one *guy* in a raspberry beret, pink tutu, and pink knit leggin's, and the semi-endearing panhandler with his cat and kittens on the sidewalk with him. (This turned out to be a local theme, as there was another family of cats on the sidewalk with another panhandler, just around the corner.) We were sort of impressed with Golden Gate Park, very unimpressed with the generic residential neighborhood south of the Presidio where we were kind of lost for awhile and not a friendly beckoning tavern in sight, and then finally very impressed with Chinatown and all its shops with the various roasted carcasses hanging in the windows, and big stinkin' heaps o' fish. McChump #2 was partial to the carp, himself, but I was most smitten by the tub of big fat dead toads for sale, for the dining pleasure of Chinese families the world over, no doubt. Yum! And of course we both appreciated the tavern with the entrance that made it look like a cave, and the little grotto shrine to Buddha in the corner inside. Cool!

Alas, all good things must come to an end. We made our way back to the Union Square neighborhood, shouldered through the panhandling throngs once again, and got back to the Hilton to pick up the DRF's, eventually bound for Golden Gate Fields.

-- Friday, 5/3, pm. --

We shouldered our way back out into the panhandling throngs and made our way down to the Powell Street BART station for the trip to North Berkeley. Now, I must say, this is a pretty good way to get to a track. $2.40, one way, from downtown San Fran and across the Bay, on a nice quiet clean comfortable train, is a much better proposition than having to drive. At the far end there's a bus, $2.00, that takes you right to the track. Boom. Total trip - 1/2 hr or 45 min, and a measly $4.40. Not bad.

Things are a little pricier once there. Grandstand admission: $3.00, a bit steep, but this is California, after all. Track program, the little kind, $1.50. But at Golden Gate, they're essential, as we shall see. Hot dogs: $3.75, likewise giant beers. Prices for food and drink a little steep all around, about Arlington Park level. But nowhere near our big winner so far, Del Mar. On the plus side, there was a tremendous variety of food items available that we coulda had if we'd wanted, all of which looked tasty. BSF - I'm gonna say 75.

Golden Gate Fields itself is a beautiful facility set right next to the San Francisco Bay, with a pretty infield featuring flower beds and trees, several lakes, and a marvelous-looking turf course, all framed by the Berkeley Hills in the background. And to the west, a spectacular view of downtown San Francisco and the Golden Gate bridge. I was unimpressed with the crowd, which seemed tiny in the face of such a nice place to spend a leisurely evening, but to be fair it was somewhat chilly, with a nippy south wind that kept most of the patrons inside, or at least back under the heat lamps on the concourse. The structure itself is showing a little age, but all in all it is quite nice.

Once we'd taken care of all the preliminaries we settled in for some 'cappin of the Friday night card, which consisted of 7 live races and a bunch of interspersed Hollywood Park simulcasts (and you could play some other tracks on other inside simul monitors, too). Now, for those of you who haven't seen the California (and Arizona) style of race carding, it's an action player's dream, but a nightmare for someone as pokey as me. First a live race goes off and then 10 or so minutes later a simulcast from the other track, then another live race, and so on. This is why you absolutely must have a track program (not to mention no horse numbers in the local version of the DRF), just to keep track of where you are on the card. And at GG, they keep the live races moving right along, too - first post was 6:00 pm, and 7th was 8:18, so the action was fast and furious. I decided to stick primarily to the live card of mostly bottom level claimers and maiden claimers, while McChump #2 opted for the So. Cal route. As is his wont.

Early on, I wasn't having much luck using traditional handicapping factors, such as horse names and silks colors, relatives' birthdates, the position of Jupiter, and so on. But after the third I noticed an emerging pattern, one of Mark Cramer's short cycles if you will: the 4 horse was right there in the money every time, usually in the top two. I informed McChump #2 of my keen insight - he just laughed. Not daunted by his pessimism, I decided to act on my research. From that race on, I bet on each and every 4 horse in some way or another, usually as part of a quinella, and lo and behold, by the end of the night, the 4 horses had increased the value of my cash voucher by more than 50%. Take that, chump!

As the last BART connection bus was scheduled to leave right after the final live race, we had to skip the rest of the Hollywood card and the races from Hong Kong later that evening. This was pretty much the only part about taking the BART to the track that sucked, because I had wanted to see some Hong Kong races, and since it seems there are no OTB's in California, I couldn't watch them downtown later on, either. Bummer.

Back downtown, we shouldered our way to the London Sports Bar once again, (thus establishing ourselves as regulars to the friendly waitress, Lisa), and plotted our Derby Day strategy. Although I had eliminated many horses as pretenders, and would of course bet against Unbridled's Song as the fave, I still had no idea which horse would take my Derby bet. I was stymied.

-- Saturday, 5/4, early am. --

What a difference a day makes! When we arrived at the track, there was already a huge crowd waiting for the gates to open at 10:30, and it just got huger as the day went on. We determined early on that we would go the clubhouse upgrade route ($3.00) and avoid the grandstand crush. Then, surprisingly - a true value play at Golden Gate Fields: clubhouse box seats right on the finish line for a mere $2.50. Bonus!

Saturday betting was even more hectic than Friday, as in addition to the interspersed Hollywood simulcasts, most of the Churchill stakes races were thrown in for good measure. Between live races, the Hollywood card, and the Churchill specials, there was a race going off about every 7 minutes, and that doesn't count what might have been happening with other simulcasts. And they say there's no action in racing.

As I reverted to my normal handicapping procedures, and tried to pick Churchill winners in addition to ones at Golden Gate, the inflated cash voucher from Friday quickly shrank. Soon a new cash voucher took the old one's place, and commenced to shrinking as well. The high point of the early races was watching ownership partner Brian M.'s horse win his race (live 1st), while the low was an absolutely awful fall during a stretch run (live 3rd) where the horse Sure to Run went down and stayed there and we thought for sure he was dead. Turns out he wasn't, and jock Schandeveldt was mostly okay, too, with maybe some sort of shoulder injury. It sure looked like it was going to be a lot worse.

The PA announcer kept pressuring us to "get your Derby bets in early", and I still hadn't decided on a horse. Well, hell - maybe the 4 horse short cycle was still in effect, although I really hadn't been paying attention up to that point. So I took most of what was left of my poor shrunken 2nd cash voucher and put it on the 4 horse in the Derby (and it certainly helped my decision that Grindstone was one of the horses I had *not* eliminated from consideration, although Editor's Note had been one of the first to go).

As the Derby stretch run was unfolding, the swollen Golden Gate Fields crowd surrounding me was yelling for local favorite Cavonnier. But not me: "Come on 4! You can do it 4!" And other stuff like that. Although I drew the line at program poppin' and slappin', remembering as always to behave in a gentlemanly fashion at the track, and to respect my fellow racegoers. It was hard to tell on the TV monitor which horse had won, but I thought probably the 4, and when they posted the 4 on top in the photo, I knew the awesome Power of the 4 was back. And so, coincidentally, was about half my money.

Next local race - bang! A longshot 4 named Rhonda Druggist comes in and I'm back above even. A couple of underperforming 4's take back a little of the money, and then I make my big 4 mistake of the day. A very longshot 4, with the stupid name (for a horse) of Patrick, is running in a race at Hollywood. From the pp's, he looks to have little or no chance. The only thing he's got going for him is he's been recently gelded. And he's a 4. Still ... nah, I can't do it. I only bet him to show, and headed out in search of a short refreshment line.

I met McChump #2 on the way back from my trip to the beer stand. I had totally missed Patrick's race, but then again that was okay because I really hadn't expected a horse with a name like Patrick to do much with my money, anyway, except burn it.

"Hey chump! Did you bet on that 4 horse from Hollywood?"

Well, yes I did.

"You CHUMP! He just ran away with the race at 32-1 !"

Sure. And you laughed.

Unfortunately, the show price was only a cheesy $7.something compared to the win $64.xx or so, so by doubting a 4 I missed my big chance to go way up for the trip. Let that be a lesson, whatever it may be. The day wound down with a couple of low-odds 4's that failed to live up to expectations, and then the card was over. Time to head back to town.

My total for two full days of racing: -$8.60, a correct pick in the Derby, the loser's solace of knowing that at least I beat the takeout, and tons of fun at a beautiful racetrack. McChump #2: Accounts as to his losses varied wildly. We'll just leave it at "somewhat more -$ than me". Laugh at my keen insights, will you, chump.

-- Saturday, 5/4, late pm. --

After another comfy BART ride and shouldering our way back through the panhandling throngs to the friendly London Sports Bar to dissect the happenings of the day, McChump #2 and I discover a new wagering proposition: side bets against each other on what numbers will come up on the electronic keno monitor. I made a quick $5, and even though I didn't use 4 for any of my picks, 4 came up in 2 of the 3 keno draws we played, for a 4 hit ratio of 66.666666666666666666667%.

[You are past the math now]

-- Even later that same pm. --

Think I'll wander out for one last smoke. Literally one single step outside the hotel's revolving door I am accosted by someone asking for money.

Sorry my good friend, but you and your buddies have totally exhausted an entire year's store of my patience, good will, and spare change this past week. Here's a valuable tip, though:

"I'm tellin ya chump, the 4's the horse."