Will Rogers Downs, Claremore, OK, May 22

--- Friday, May 22, 11:23 am, somewhere on I-44

Woo hoo!! My first ever dead armadillo by the side of the road spotted!

-- 11:55 am, Will Rogers Downs, Claremore, Oklahoma

Mighty fine timing on my part, if you ask me, to get here (5 mi. east of Claremore on Route 20), from wherever that was in the middle of Missouri that I spent the night, especially since WRD never quite managed to finish the "how to get here" part of their web page but the OHRC page saved their butt, almost in perfect time to properly 'cap the card before the first race. I parked the mighty Chumpmobile in the free lot (gravel, same as the preferred lot) and headed for the door.

On the front door of the place there's a little picture of a handgun, with one of those red "no" symbols through it, and I thought this showed mighty good sense on the part of WRD management, as we probably didn't want to see no killin's, like for instance jocks getting shot for stiffing or fixing like the people at Fairmount thought had happened to them, but it did seem just a bit odd. Admission: $3.00. Track program: $1.50, the little kind, with some little pp's in it.

Today was free Bud/WRD t-shirt day, so with my admission I also got a coupon for a free t-shirt, as well as a 2 fer 1 coupon to get in for simulcasting next week after the live meet ends. I immediately took the useful coupon of the two over to the free t-shirt table and scored up a pretty decent t-shirt. Unfortuately, it says Budweiser on the front. Fortunately, it says Will Rogers Downs on the back. Sometimes you have to compromise your principles when it comes to free t-shirts. I got my hand stamped and went back out to the car to dump off the shirt.

A moment to describe WRD from the outside: Setting - "pastoral". In fact WRD is set right smack dab in the middle of what was probably once pasture land, kinda in the middle of nowhere in a small hollow in the hills, with nary a nasty Cicero smokestack in sight. Not actually much in sight, except for some trees. The building itself is a medium sized plant, of standard corrugated metal sheathing and I-beam construction. Kind of a light yellow in color. Not what you would call beautiful, but okay. The odd thing is that the building is much deeper than one might expect for a live racing facility, with the stands up front, and then a LOT of covered building behind it.

Upon re-entry, the reason for the extra depth of this building became obvious: the interior is taken up by two very large teletheatres where one can watch and bet on the (imagine here holding a dirty hanky at arm's length, kind of turning your head in disgust, and wrinkling your nose) "simulcasts". But these were pretty nice teletheatres as these things go, high ceilinged and spacious, with a big elevated display of TV's including 3 large screens per side (smoking and non-smoking sides), and ample folding tables for one and all. And this part of the track was very nice and neat, with good carpet and everything. This back part of the building turned out to be so much different from the front that I wondered if it was added later. At the very least, I suspect there's been some serious refurbishing done in these parts in the fairly recent past.

That's not what I came for though. I came for the live racing, and I was anxious to get out front. So out front I went, though the unmarked yellow doors, to score myself up a good spot and start 'cappin the day's card.

Oddly, I was the only one there, in the quasi-open air concourse under the grandstand which looked a good deal older and less fastidiously maintained than the simulcast area. I felt even lonelier than that time I accidentally sneaked into Ellis way before opening time. Besides me, there were zero other customers, and maybe three employees engaged in setting up activities. After 15 minutes or so of getting the lay of the land, I decided maybe it was time for a giant beer, and headed back down to the teletheatres where at least there was some human life. And some concession stands.

Ah yes. The graphic on one of the big screens told the whole story: First post at Will Rogers, 4:00 pm. Well at least I get credit for knowing they had live racing on Fridays. Right? 3.5 hours to kill.

Simulcast program: $2.00. And I piddled away $24.10 playing the Sportsman's card. Very good service from a very friendly young lady in the smoking side teletheatre, BTW. Giant beers (Bud, Bud Light, Coors Light): $3.00. And plenty of time to check out the rest of the concession prices. Chili pie: $2.50, hot dog: $2.00, BBQ sand: $3.50, Polish: $3.75. No bargains there, although I must admit some ignorance as to the going rate for chili pie at other tracks. Maybe 35 people on my side playing the simul's, and 50 on the non-smoking side.

But finally the jail sentence was up and 4:00 was rolling around, so it was time to start afresh getting ready for the live races. Out front I again strolled. This time there was a few more people, but not too many.

"Out front" at WRD is one of those elevated grandstand type of things where there's a concourse on the ground floor and then you go up some ramps to the raised grandstand seats. The front part is open air, with a few boxes down front, and then maybe twenty rows of open air plastic grandstand seats, and then up at the top an enclosed glass snooty "Turf Club" overlooking the whole thing. A narrow concrete apron out front that gives way to a grassy apron that runs down to the track. Some free benches and picnic tables down to the right of the apron. Downstairs under the stand is a cool little cafe named "Cafe Mercedes" that looks out over the paddock, and near the Cafe there was a stand selling hickory smoked pork sandwiches which were quite delicious ($4.50). Also underneath are some mutuel windows, and a beer/mixed drink stand, and down at the grandstand end, the gift shop, which was today set up on some outdoor tables.

Decent, functional, and actually sort of attractive saddling area/walking ring in the open air down past "clubhouse" end. Sign on the fence of the walking ring that says "No talking to jockeys", and another sign that says "Only two licensed personnel per horse allowed in paddock", which rule, if enforced at all tracks, would sure put a damper on things on Pacific Classic days at Del Mar, but of course here at WRD at least you could see the horses.

The track itself is a mile dirt oval, and seems to have been bulldozed out a field that already had a low spot where there was a volunteer pond which now exists as a pond gracing the clubhouse turn end of the infield. The infield and everything else seems "pasture au naturel", except for some small trees that have been planted near the toteboard, a medium function model (WPS pools not simultaneously displayed).

The card on the day consisted of 8 live TB races, plus some featured simulcasts from other tracks to round things out. The live races consisted of a 6f mdn7500 for OK breds at $4000, a 6f clm4000n2l for $4000, a MSW at 6f for $6000, a 1mi70yds clm4000 OK breds running for $4000, MSW 4-1/2f for OK breds at $6000, 6f clm16000n4l for a purse of $7500, clm12500n2l at $5500, and finally a 1 mi. clm5000n1y at $4500. Field sizes were quite big, with several in the 10-11-12 horse range. Most horses had most recently run in Oklahoma, at WRD or BRD or RP, with some in from Hou, a couple sporting OP and LS pp's, and even one showing a '95 pp from Trinity Meadows (and the track program only gave about 3 pp's per horse).

The horses, IHMO, were not well served by what seemed to me to be one of the slowest loading gate crews in all of horse racing. Man, some of the loads were interminable.

Top jock in a runaway is Benny Landeros, who came into the meet with 56 wins. Top trainer is Dan Mirabel, eclipsing the rest with 22 wins out of 75 starts. I really didn't recognize any of the trainer and jockey names, except for jock Kelly Bridges who apparently was recently arrived from Arizona.

Things got started out with a very nice live anthem sung by a young woman with a beautiful voice, and the horses were called to post by a live bugler in a snappy uniform. A very competent track and informative track announcer, and an excellent sound system. WRD has all the all the nice little touches, and seems to be putting some real effort into trying to get people to come out. In addition to the free t-shirts of Friday, Saturday was to be a big special day, with Native American crafts, and the big race of the year, the $35k Will Rogers Memorial Hcp. And Sunday was to be fan appreciation day, with Monday the largest steak fry in Rogers County and the last day of the live meet.

Bettingwise, I didn't do real swift, and I blame that entirely on the cheesy pp's provided in the track program, which as I said included only 3 pp's per horse, and these much abbreviated to fit into the "small" program format, with no fractional times or anything. I kept hearing the announcer referring to the "DRF on this horse" so I assume there may have been DRF pp's available, but I was too lazy to go out front and find out, plus determined to do my 'cappin with just the little program. Later I realized this was a mistake, as I proceeded to contribute another $35 to the bettors of the greater Tulsa area.

The day was warm and wonderful, if a bit cloudy and humid, with a few rain drops threatening early. All the people I talked to, including the employees, were very friendly and helpful. Talking with some of them, however, put me in the mind that maybe that Boomhower guy on "King of the Hill" may be a spoof on Oklahomans. Some of the accents and speech cadences made it very, very difficult to understand what was being said, even more so than most Cajun accents I've encountered. Hopefully, they had as much trouble with mine so that it all works out even. ;-)

All in all, a very pleasant visit to a track that I think could be a LOT of fun if the fans would just come out. But the crowd on this day didn't approach the critical mass necessary to make it a lot of fun, and in fact patrons were almost outnumbered by security guards and police. I'm thinking there was only 100-150 people out there watching the live program, and there had to be at least one cop or security guard for each five of us.

Maybe it was the fact that it was Friday of Memorial Day weekend that people didn't come out. Or a Friday to begin with. Or maybe the Tulsa crowd just needs some additional grounding in horse racing. Or maybe that $3.00 admission could be just a bit lower. I just expected more people on such a nice afternoon.

And maybe the security presence could be just a *little* bit less oppressive. Geez - I felt like I was some sort of criminal suspect just walking around the place. Is it okay to throw a cigarette butt on the ground? How about tearing and tossing tickets? How about yelling? What if you drink two beers too close together? Would I get busted if I actually said anything to jockey Kelly Bridges, who has ridden my horses in Arizona? The crowd that *did* show up was very, VERY subdued and quiet. Orderly, as it were. They sure weren't about to commit no crimes with all that authority on hand. Lori Petty woulda probably got the boot after about two races.

But there may be valid reasons for all the security and police that I can't quite understand. Driving east on Oklahoma back roads after the card was over, I noticed a few signs that you'd hardly ever see in Illinois: Call [this phone number] for "concealed weapons training". At least now I understand that little sign on the front door of WRD!

Overall I don't know how to rate this one. As a track, there's nothing wrong with it, and the racing was competitive and decent, so I'd give it a thumbs up. As a fun place it wasn't much though, at least on this day, as the crowd was zombies. Shoulder shrug on that.