Gulfstream Park, Hallandale, FL, Mar 14-16

Hialeah Park, Hialeah, FL, Mar 17

Santa Anita Park, Arcadia, CA, Mar 21-22

Some sort of Spring Break action had been discussed in the McChump circles for the past couple of years, but of course, in accordance with the principles of The Procrastinator's Oath, since we thought the idea up, no further work was required on our part. But after just a few years of this mode of thinking, we finally realized that this particular course of inaction had little realistic chance of landing us anywhere near Florida in the foreseeable future. Drastic measures were called for, like making some actual plane and hotel reservations. So we did.

Florida Derby morning broke just a tad early, what with me arrivin' a little late from Chicago on Friday to begin with, and then on top of that, when we got to our hotel, what with McChump #2 having to introduce me to all his new friends down in the hotel bar that he'd met the night before. But I managed, and woke up reasonably early to start cappin' the day's card while McChump #2 snoozed on. Marginal handicapping job and cheesy comp breakfast later, followed by a manic McChump #2 driving episode down the road, we arrived at Gulfstream Park some indeterminate period of time before the races.

Here's what I remember: Parking, free. Admission, $2.00 or maybe it was $3.00, these things really don't concern me except for the purposes of these writeups. Track program: $1.50. Reserved seats: Free, courtesy of Internet buddy Brad of "Brad's BIG Race Analysis(tm)>" fame, although the tix said $6.00 which I assume Brad paid. And them were groovin' seats down in the terrace section right down front by the finish line and Winner's Circle which are normally free except on FL Derby Day when the track charges for them, so thanks much, Brad. And what's more we got to sit with other Internet correspondents and friends including handicapping author Lee Tomlinson, and Eleanor "I always win Ron's trvia contests", and for the most part we were happenin' and a 'cappin and enjoying some brewskis and having a great old time out there on the terrace, at least till it started to rain.

GP is a beautiful track, with an excellent pond in the infield where there's a cool little riverboat tooling around all through the races, and we both decided we wanted the job as GP boat driver. IMHO, the whole presentation is a bit overdone, as the whole infield is overworked and busy - perfect flowers, perfect hedges, perfect tote. Too perfect, but very pretty.

Plant overall quite nice, with a big paddock/saddling area out back, inside an attractive entrance presentation, and a decent ground floor with nice apron, and 2nd floor that passes as a simulcast area with plenty of tellers and machines so you never have to wait too much even on busy days. Never did get a chance to check out the food, so we'll have to go with McChump #2's assessment: "good selection; generic". And I did totally miss the big Guess Who concert out by the paddock. McChump #2 said it was "okay". Gift shop downstairs. Never visited it. Big beers: $3.20. Didn't miss that.

What this boils down to is I was having such an excellent time betting and visiting that I totally neglected my journalistic duties. :-(

The crowd on the day started out kind of puny, but then got big in the middle of the day, and then mysteriously disappeared by the FL Derby. IMHO they all came out to see Favorite Trick in the Swale. Sorry, Lil's Lad. Impressive effort by Favorite trick, and then some damn nice running in the FL Derby, eventual outcome favoring my particular betting scheme. Score!

Betting wise, I had a great day, because I was playing the GP Rag numbers and on this day they were nailing those Gulfstream horses with regularity, but McChump #2 was losing his shorts on InstantCappin(tm) or whatever methodology it is that he practices. Profit for me: double cash voucher. Profit for McChump #2: they don't make negative numbers that big. Or perhaps little.

Thanks Brad - excellent day!

Sat. eve we don't even want to talk about: Dania Jai-alai and this is about the stupidest game known to mankind, plus they charged a healthy admission to get into the place. Here's the plan:
- Offensive player: Whip the ball at the wall with your little basket.
- Defensive player: Try to catch the ball with your little basket.
- Change roles: Whip the ball, etc.
- Bettors: Try to bet on who is going to miss least catches.

Bet with the some of the nastiest and surliest parimutuel tellers I have ever encountered, that is. But there were a few decent ones to be found, once you'd got done not going back to like 3 or 4.

Plus the place was the very picture of the sad future of parimutuel betting, a fairly nice but mostly empty facility, a card room upstairs with most tables unoccupied, a casino of sorts as competition right down the street, lots of TV's showing simulcasts of more jai alai, dog racing, and horse racing, which seemed to be generating most of the business for the place, and a stand off to the side that urged people to sign a petition to "Save Our Sport (SOS)", but I didn't check to see what it was they wanted to do to save their sport, not being a voter in Florida and all.

We stayed awhile to catch one of my partnership horses run at Sam Houston, but she lost. At least the presence of many signals from many tracks was a positive for the place.

Excellent day again on Sunday, thanks to spending it with some other internet correspondents Jon and Susan in a box Jon paid for, thanks very much, behind some hapless gentlemen who had no idea what they were doing with their money and you felt kind of bad for them they were making such silly bets until you realized this was parimutuel betting, but still it was kind of sad. McChump #2 had now realized the awesome power of The Sheets and was betting along with me on the Sheets horses, and was doing a much better job than on Saturday.

Also in front of us, only further down than the hapless guys, there was a special guest in one of the boxes, namely one Andrew Beyer, and he would come and sit for a race and then leave all grouchy looking, and then come back maybe two races later, and then leave all grouchy looking again. Since we were doing quite well again with the Ragozin numbers, we briefly toyed with the idea of going down to Andy and asking if he would autograph the cover of my Sheets, but in a rare fit of reasonableness, McChump #2 talked me out of this plan. Finally there was a contentious maiden race, and I liked one horse, and McChump #2 was talking up this other horse named Thunder Kitten, so when I went to bet I included Thunder Kitten in my exacta, and little did I know McChump #2 had done the same thing with my horse. The race went off and my horse won for a nice price and Thunder Kitten completed a $168 exacta that we'd both hit and we were simply ecstatic and were going to yell and make a bunch of obnoxious winner noise for Andy's benefit until we saw him positively beaming down there in his box so we assumed he must have nailed that particular race, too, and that didn't make it nearly so fun for us. So we had to be content with only being quietly obnoxious within the confines of our box and earshot of the hapless gentlemen in front of us.

All in all an excellent day, with good company, and meanwhile I managed to double that betting voucher again. Go, baby, go! Thanks much, Jon and Susan!

And then that was about that for Sunday. McChump #2 and me stopped off at some cheesy Tiki Bar we'd spotted on A1A to see if we could find some Tiki dancers, but they didn't have any.

Monday, last day of the meet, but we didn't want to get there too early or nothin', so we spent it drivin' around all McChump #2's old haunts from when he used to live in Ft. Lauderdale in his carefree youth, and then hangin' on the beach in Ft. Lauderdale and checkin' out the places where they filmed "Where The Boys Are" and stuff like that, and the bikinis, and maybe downing a brewski or two until it was time to head to the track to catch our Arizona horse's race late in the day from TuP. And I have to tell you, Florida is pretty much everything you ever learned from Miami Vice, with mildly decaying buldings, and lots of water and humidity, and buildings painted in color schemes not normally found in nature, vegetation galore, and nice beaches.

No Sheets bought on this day, but another cool profit based on InstantCappin(tm), to bring the weekend's total at GP to more than tripling the original cash voucher. The King! Even though our horse lost at TuP. Bum.

The big toteboard by the paddock sported a brightly lighted "NTRA Go Baby Go!" message to its departing customers as we exited the facility.

So we Went Baby Went, back to the Tiki bar on A1A again. And after that maybe this one other bar in Ft. L. that McChump #2 knew. Intimately, it seemed. Quite excellent fried clam sandwich, raw oysters, and pinball. And a fine fine CD on the jukebox by one Captain Sam Crutchfield named "Hooked on Fishin'", especially this one song of his "Ugly", and we tried our best to find that CD in the record stores and bait shops, to no avail, but since then I found Captain Sam's website, where you can hear audio samples of his fine tunes and even order the CD's if you want. Groovy!

--- Hialeah Park, March 17, 1998 ---

After attempting a gettin' lost incident down by the Miami airport, McChump #2 finally did get us there in one piece, and we pulled into the drive that led us to the clubhouse lot. Parking: $3.00.

Alert! Alert!

Hialeah is the new most beautiful racetrack in the McChump universe! Huge old palms and Australian pines surround the place, except for the ones on the backstretch that got blown down by the tornado. Large and beautiful park of a paddock/saddling area out back with lots of trees and fountains, ourstanding infield with a big lake and several islands, one covered with a flock of pink flamingos, and a plant that's just to die for - old, slightly decaying stonework, lots of creeping plants, fancy "they don't make it anymore" architecture like an old 30's movie, wicker chairs to lounge on, lots of potted plants inside, and just everywhere, no matter where you go, a structure and grounds that just ooze "old time class". Top floor is a little decaying and falling apart and neglected, but overall, man, this place just puts AP and SA to shame. You want to see what horse racing used to be, this is it.

And here's the worst part - there's dates legislation introduced into the Florida legislature, with the backing of Gulfstream and Calder, that would probably result in the death of Hialeah by allowing overlapping racing schedules. If you've never seen this track and want to, you should probably get out there fast.

Interestingly, after we'd paid the $3.00 parking charge, admission was free for opening day. Seems to me both would have been free, but hey - I don't run a racetrack. Track program: $1.00. Some cool Cuban food for sale dirt cheap, and I don't recall the beer prices, but not too bad.

Sadly, there was a tiny cheesy little crowd out to see opening day at Hialeah. Shame on you, you Miami schlubs! It's not like I noticed most of the GP crowd had jobs to go to on Tuesday - I mean, retirement doesn't keep one from driving down to Hialeah, does it?

As it was St. Patrick's Day, and Hialeah Park apparently wanted to honor the Irish, they had hired some Scottish bag pipers to wander the park at regular intervals playing away at quite a ear-splitting volume if you happened to be near them, which we were as they started right in front of us every single time. And even though this was quite bothersome to the human element at the track, it didn't seem to bother the flamingos out on their little island, who didn't do a whole heck of a lot all day long until just before the 8th race when a guy got into a rowboat and rowed out there to the flamingo island and fluffed them up so they'd fly around and the announcer announced "the Flight of the Flamingos". Meanwhile some otherwordly Hawaiian-type music started up over the PA system and the flamingos flew around the park once or twice and then landed at the other end of the big pond from their island and walked back, and I was quite pleased that I had consumed several beverages by that time, as it was quite an experience.

And once again McChump #2 was doing his part to add value to the Tour. Somewhere during the day he had managed to find a copy of a fine publication that I had not known even to exist, entitled "Post Time USA", which I can only describe as the horse racing version of People magazine, except way cheesier, and not really a magazine so much as a tabloid newspaper in format, with some rather shallow original journalism and reprints of stories from elsewhere, but mostly lots and lots of pictures of the rich and beautiful people of the horse world at various East Coast and Florida horse-related and non-horse-related functions, and the head guy of this publication all cozied up to the rich and powerful in about half of the photos, and then, inexplicably, or rather explicably as the head guy defended the practice in an editorial, there's like a center photo spread of some pretty girls that has little or nothing to do with racing, except these girls did get invited to some of the other functions and appear in some of those pictures, too. For you racing fans who get excited about schmoozing with the big cats at places like Del Mar and Saratoga and Keeneland - this is just the publication for you. It's published out of Miami. Mail subscriptions available.

Class of racing at HIA a step down from the day before, but still, not totally unbettable, as I made money for the 4th day in a row. Another nice meeting with Brad Y.

And then, with the last race on the HIA card, the Florida part of Spring Break 1998 was over.

Thanks much to Brad, the greatest host in the world, for getting me back to the Ft. L. airport after that, and for the glow-in-the-dark Holy Bull t-shirt, and for the FL Derby tickets and other GP perks he provided, and for generally helping to make it a wonderful Spring Break in Miami!

(back home for some actual work but not too much, Mar 18-20)

--- Santa Anita, March 21/22, 1998 ---

Off the airplane, into the rental car, and pulling into the SA parking lot less than an hour later. First stop: program stand. 2nd stop: infield Wine Shed. And stayed there all Saturday.

Didn't no one lower prices at Santa Anita this year. Still $3.00 to park, $1.50 track program, and $4.00 to get in, grandstand. I believe clubhouse side is about $7.50 or so, but of course never checked that out.

And quite a little scam they have going at the Santa Anita admission windows, too. Santa Anita has this frequent customer club named Thoroughbreds, and apparently one of the ways you build up points for this thing is to get your membership card scanned every time you pay your admission. Only some Thoroughbreds never have to pay any admission or even bother to show up, for that matter, as on both Saturday and Sunday, when I paid *my* admission, the clerk in the booth there would pick up a Thoroughbreds card off the top of a pile of them, and scan it through so the absentee would get credit. Quite crafty, and you Thoroughbreds who got credit for the admission I paid - you're welcome.

I don't remember if it was Saturday or Sunday, but SA had some folks going around doing a customer survey, and for whatever reason this guy who approached me felt that the opinions of someone who only visits the track like once a year would actually be useful. So for the benefit of all you who frequent the place, I mentioned the high admission price. Did not mention the Thoroughbreds scam, though, just in case you're in on it. Mum's the word!

Lost $20 on Saturday. You cads! Decent Santa Ana handicap.

Sunday I was to meet up with an Internet racing correspondent named Glen, but first there was the SA Jockey Challenge poster to score and get signed by all the participants, which I did, then dumped the poster off in the mighty rent-a-Achieva and headed out for, you guessed it, the Wine Shed.

The SA Jockey challenge was an interesting event, 4 races in a row of 8 horses with the finest jocks in the world up. Never seen so many horses coming back after long, long, layoffs, but these guys rode them like they were all champions, and Frankie Dettori and Olivier Peslier were constantly outriding their odds. European team up early and big, but a great comeback by the American team to take the contest.

Tough betting too. I'd stopped at a friendly liquor store south of SA the evening before to pick up a set of Sheets for SA, but they weren't providing me nearly the same keen insights as they had at Gulfstream. Didn't make a cent for the first six races until the Jockey Challenge got over with, but then scored a nice exacta that paid $71+ for each $1 bet, followed by the score of the day: A horse by the name of Kessem Power that the Sheets identified as a strong contender, going off at long odds, and Frankie Dettori up, who'd been riding out of his mind all day, but hadn't won yet. He was due and so was I. Cha-CHING! $30+ winning score, multiple times, to make it a winner all day for me, and I did a little dance in the SA infield out back of the Wine Shed that undoubtedly embarrassed poor Glen. Final score: Double cash voucher for the weekend.

Very enjoyable afternoon at one of my favorite racetracks with Glen, a most impressive sunburn, multiple beverages courtesy of the Wine Shed, and a fun fun drive up to Santa Barbara to deal with the following 3 days of brutal conference.

Not too bad of a Spring Break, overall. Lots of miserable work for me on your behalf, though. It was so, SOOOOO tough. ;-)