Blue Ribbon Downs, Sallisaw, OK, May 23

-- 9:45 am, Saturday, May 23, Muskogee, Oklahoma, USA

Okay I have to admit my timing wasn't perfect and I had to stop the tape for like five minutes before I rolled into town in order to have the perfect song playing at the perfect time. So sittin' at a stoplight in Muskogee, we had Jerry Jeff singing "O is for the oal I put on ma haar". Except I wasn't blasting it real loud or anything, because there was a 3/4 ton Jimmy with a gunrack at the light in the lane next to me.

-- 9:53 am, south of Muskogee

Woo hoo!! Another dead armadillo!

-- 10:15 am, I-40 heading east

This is quite possibly the worst excuse for a US interstate highway I have ever encountered. Somebody somewhere should be ashamed. Thumpity thumpity thumpity thumpity thumpity ...

-- 10:54 am, Sallisaw, Oklahoma

Well my timing was all screwed up this morning! It was way too early to go to the track. Luckily, it occurred to me that I had driven over 800 miles so far, and not yet been lost once. So I decided to take a self-guided tour of the greater Sallisaw area.

After driving around awhile on back roads, I found myself encountering road signs that said I was only a few miles from Ft. Smith, Arkansas. I also found myself hungry, and the Chumpmobile in need of gas. So I pulled into a small service station, and got real service (windshield washed and everything) along with the gas, as well as a hot tip on a great breakfast joint just around the corner from the very friendly proprietor.

The combo I decided on, the "Country Boy", included all sorts of ham and eggs and hash browns and stuff, plus biscuits and "redeye gravy". I had no idea what this stuff was but thought I'd check it out. When the waitress came to take my order she asked if I wanted the redeye gravy or white gravy. Redeye!, said I. You sure?, asked she, making a scrunched up face. Yes I'm sure, I answered, assuming her face was an indication that she didn't think anyone not from that part of the country was going to be able to handle anything so potent as redeye gravy. But part of the McChump job description includes sampling all local gravies, at least once, and I told her to bring on the redeye. Okaaaayyyy said she.

So eventually it was brought to me, and I put some on a biscuit, and to tell you the truth, it didn't seem much like anything at all. Hardly any taste. After awhile, the waitress came back to heat up my coffee, and asked how I liked the redeye gravy. I said it didn't taste like much at all. I know, she said, they don't make it very good here, it ain't nothin' but coffee and grease.

The 2nd biscuit was real good with no gravy at all.

-- 12:40 pm, Blue Ribbon Downs, Sallisaw, Oklahoma

No problem at all finding this track, as it was visible from the freeway just before I got to Sallisaw in the first place, and besides I had excellent directions from both the OHRC web page and the "Making Tracks" book. Just a couple miles west of downtown Sallisaw.

Parking: $1, and for that you get a real parking lot. Admission: $2.00, at a very nice entrance facility. Which also had a no guns sign. Track program: $2.00, the large format Equibase kind, including pp's for Churchill, Lone Star, Will Rogers, and Remington, which were being shown on TV monitors in the covered "patio" area just inside the gate.

This "patio cover" extends off the back of the "clubhouse" building, and extends further back over the sunken saddling area at the very back of the facility, so it's a pretty decent setup - open air, but still covered, and centrally located between everywhere you'd want to be during the course of the day assuming you were a live races kind of guy. Kind of dark, though. But of course, I had to skip a detailed analysis of this area right away, and hustled up front to take a look at the track, as per usual.

The track itself is a very nicely groomed 7f affair, with an au naturel infield with a pond down in the clubhouse turn end, a full function toteboard, and a fine view of the semis rolling down I-40 in the background. This was quite a busy little toteboard throughout the day, as it had a freeform advertising area where they'd show graphics and put up stuff like "thought for the week: 'The difference between genius and stupidity is that genius has its limits'", which got me laughin' pretty good thinking about what I'd been reading at night on the Internet, and they also ran ads and stuff, and later when I was up to the 4th race in the program I noticed that anyone can get a message put up there to run twice before any given race for only three bucks so I thought seriously about putting up the three bucks just to see the "The McChump Tour!" up in lights just once, but of course since I thought the idea up, no further work was required on my part.

Looking back the other way, we see an asphalt apron a bit below track level, an enclosed glass clubhouse building with, I think, two levels, and a separate covered open air grandstand/bleachers structure on the front of another building which I'm assuming must be offices or something. The bleachers have aluminum seats and aluminum floors so that the kids can go stomping and clanging up and down the stairs. There's also a secret passageway underneath the aluminum stands! Cool!

Back then, between the two buildings, into the covered area, where are to be found the mutuel windows (I didn't see any machines here, so it was embarrass yourself with the teller day), and the woefully undermanned concession booth. There was always a huge line at this thing!

Well actually, there was another concession area, which was inside on the ground floor of the club building, between the smoking and non-smoking indoor simulcast areas, but it was even more undermanned, and the lines were just as bad. Perhaps the lack of help at the concessions stand was just management figgerin' that what was being offered was so limited anyhow that no one wanted to buy it, but HEY! Some of want to get hold of a giant beer, dammit! ($1.75, served in a Pepsi cup, "red" an extra quarter) without standing in line behind 15 people buying Snickers bars and lemon slurpies.

What they had for sale out in the concession booth was very limited, with hot dogs and corn dogs about it for real food. Inside had a little more, offering frito pie and chili as well as the dogs. I didn't write the prices down but they weren't bad. It was a very good thing I'd just had the big Country Boy breakfast, or I would have been very upset, and Blue Ribbon would be getting scalded for another paragraph or two. Now mind you, there might be a gourmet feast in the Turf Club that I never saw, but that doesn't count. We'll just cut it off as "Fairmount Park now has a close competitor for poorest selection of racetrack food in the nation". As it was, I just (finally) got a giant beer and went out front to start handicapping the first.

Well sort of, I did. The day was hot and humid, with a constant threat of rain, that started pelting you as long as you were sitting out from under the cover, but quit as soon as you retreated under cover. Plus they seem to have brought in a whole load of the nasty little black "fly in your eyes" flies from Churchill Downs. But I scrunched on down and got to business.

The live card on the day consisted of a mixture of three thoroughbred and five Quarter Horse events, with something else I had been looking forward to on this trip: The three hundred yard dash for appaloosas and paint horses. Finally I'd be able to say I'd seen all of the major racing breeds!

It was Sequoyah County day at the track, so all of the races were named for towns in the county, like for instance "The City of Muldrow Purse" (Muldrow being the town where the bad redeye gravy was served), and after each race some official from the particular town would do some sort of a presentation in the Winner's Circle, but in reality it was six maiden races, two allowances, and the feature of the day, The Miss Betty Stakes for quarter horses. No claiming races today. Purses ran $1600 for all of the maiden races, $2150 for the open QH allowance, $3550 for the OK-bred QH allowance, with the stakes pot at $10,067, which incidentally, was allocated very oddly, with all 10 finishers to be paid something, starting with the winner at $3,020.25 down to 10th place horse at $201.35.

As the track program contained the full-size Equibase pp's, I'd decided I'd just go with them on the day instead of springing for a DRF, especially since there were so many quarter horse races anyhow, but I learned something after just one race: Equibase pp's for quarter horses really do suck in comparison to what the DRF provides. Hardly any intermediate calls to see how the horse normally runs his race. And I noticed after losing $6 in the first that they list the times exactly opposite of how the DRF does it, with the runner's time 1st and the winner's time 2nd, and as everyone knows that 'capping QH's is pretty much a matter of time, time, time, this was kind of a drag to discover after the fact.

Upon making this momentous discovery, I capped out the 2nd, the appy and paint race, and settled on something of a longshot that showed the best back speed number (Equibase speed numbers for QH are actually quite useful), but a last race at Remington showing that was terrible. I thought there were several things to like about this horse, including that back speed number, the fact that the terrible race was run into a headwind but still resulted in a halfway decent time, the jock was a girl with a cute blond ponytail, and the saddlecloth on the horse read "4". (Note here: At Brd, fours are orange, sevens are yellow, and some other numbers are non-standard too, and jocks all wear track silks w/colors corresponding to saddlecloth). The #4 (a paint horse, not an appaloosa) came though in grand style, providing me with my big score of the day, $16.60/$5.60/$5.20. The rest of my handicapping was not nearly so stellar, however, as that was the only winner I picked all day, but I did manage to cash enough place and show tickets to keep the losses for the day down to a dull roar of only $9.80.

And yes, it did happen - I had to pass a race. The 3rd, the City of Gore purse, one of the three TB events on the card, a 7f maiden special, had only 5 horses in it, and the 1/5 favorite was a career hanger with a lifetime record of 14-0-2-3. The second choice in the betting was was scratched at the gate because she would not load. The third choice was a 5yo mare with only 5 lifetime starts, all of those at 5-1/2f or less, with big gaps between nearly every race. I did not see any way this horse could be sound enough for seven furlongs. The other two horses had lost all their races by like two jillion lengths. It was too much of a mystery for even the 4 methodology, as the probably unsound horse was the 4. So I kept my money in my pocket.

The 2 horse, which had one good thing going for it, a blazing recent work, popped out to the early lead, and had the race won until it blew the second turn and allowed the career maiden to slip though on the inside and finally graduate, but just by a couple of lengths, as the two horse, after nearly going through the outside rail, was mounting a furious comeback at the wire. The probably unsound horse finished the race in 3rd, but was vanned off the track in the Brd horse ambulance, a blue tractor pulling a matching blue open top cart. The remaining horse finished last by two jillion lengths.

The Miss Betty Stakes, for 2yo QH fillies, was won easily by the big favorite, Cosmos Cash, winner of both of her prior lifetime starts, covering the 350 yards impressively in a time of 18:15. This seems to be a pretty good quarterhorse, and was ridden by the leading jockey at Brd, one RC Simon. I didn't recognize his name, nor did I recognize the names of any of the other jocks or trainers, although Samuel Valdivia and Rex Brooks seem to have the training lead in this meet which still has many months to go.

Pools, pools, let's see - I wrote one down, the 1st: $1184/662/704 WPS, w/ $1209/1026/1194 X/Q/DD.

Most of the fields, except for the TB races, were decent sized, and actually offered some real wagering opportunities, if you could 'cap quarterhorses, which pretty much anyone who knows me will tell you I can't. :-(

The crowd: Ah yes.

We had a pretty decent crowd out for this Saturday program at Brd, and from what I saw in the parking lot, a good number of them had come over from Arkansas. Moreover, people were actually out there having fun, and maybe it is a coincidence or something, but there were only a few security guys in evidence.

I have a tendency to get a bit more sociable after a couple giant beers, and today I only had to go down to the Sallisaw Super 8 after the races, so a couple gave way to a couple and a half, and something that had been been working on the back of my mind ever since I entered Oklahoma finally came to the forefront: These are just about the friendliest and most polite bunch of people I have ever run across. In short, hanging with the crowd on the apron at Blue Ribbon was one of the great all-time racing experiences I have ever encountered. I didn't even care if they were carrying concealed weapons.

All the way down I'd been marvelling at what a great masterpiece of work Jerry Jeff Walker's "Viva Terlingua!" really was, not to mention thankful that the trip had motivated me to dig this classic out of the crates of vinyl that keep McChump Midwest HQ from blowing away in the wind, and better appreciated some of the sentiments that Gary P. Nunn had expressed in "London Homesick Blues": "friendliest people and the purtiest women I've ever seen" - even though he was singing about Texas, but what the hey. It's close.

No question here: Thumbs up. But if they'd straighten out the concessions situation, they'd be flirtin' with two flyin'.