Canterbury Park, Shakopee, MN, Aug 8

The trip to Canterbury for the Claiming Crown being a true McChump expedition in the old style, no actual attempt to find a place to stay before late Friday night had been made. This, as it turned out, was somewhat of a mistake. Finally a room was secured out on the Interstate about halfway to Albert Lea. When Bob. P., one of my ownership partners who happened to be a local heard this, he being in attendance on Saturday as well (and having provided me a seat inside the grandstand to call home base), he very graciously offered to let me stay over to his place that night, which I graciously accepted.

However, Bob P. was experiencing a bachelor weekend at his house, and wanted to go hit the casino to play some blackjack after the races, so I ended up with a bonus trip to the allegedly fabulous Mystic Lake Casino just down the road from Canterbury. I say allegedly, because just how fabulous can you consider a casino that has little or no external neon, serves no alcohol, employs cheesy electronic craps tables and roulette wheels, and which did not, as far as I could see, have any horse racing related games or a racebook at all? Not too fabulous, was my impression. Can you imagine craps with no table and dice and croupier and lucky streaks and beautiful babes standing around cheering their big roller, and roulette with no big wheel and bouncing ball? It would be like, well like watching racing on TV, or something. Ick.

Stymied for a friendly (or any) bar in which to pass the time while Bob played blackjack, I did some scouting around for something to do and found a game that would enable one to lose 45 nickles at a single stroke. This was quasi fascinating, because I wasn't sure just what the game was about other than losing 45 nickles, so I just kept betting 45 nickles to see what might happen and as it turned out, nothing did, except for my nickles disappearing. Whew! What entertainment! After being way up 50 cents early on, I cashed out the night at -$15.00, and didn't really enjoy hardly a minute of it, except when the mostly nekkid showgirls in their red feather outfits paraded across the casino floor. I just cannot recommend this casino. Thumbs down. The stats: Free pour-it-yourself pop, free parking, free admission, smoking and non-smoking areas available, and all the totally mindless entertainment one could ever want, and apparently a lot did, as the parking lot of the place was sea-to-shining-sea full.

I brushed off about 73 cooties on the way out.

Back at the track early Sunday morning after a restful night at the Chez Bob, I sort of blundered my way in through the employees' entrance and back up to the Press Box to meet with Mark Cramer again, after which we employed the rent-a-Chumpmobile to head for the backside for a small tour and some breakfast.

For reasons I could never quite pin down, Mark has been living on the Canterbury backside this summer, basically since we got back from the Irish Derby, and has been helping out with making selections, writing a backside report for the Cby webpage, helping out in The Pro Shop (a small handicapping help center behind the gift shop where bettors can go during the races and discuss the races with Mark and others), doing some of the new bettor seminars, teaching English AND Spanish on the backside, and generally helping out around the backside when an interpreter is needed. All of this for a groom's pay, and a groom's small room in one of the dorms. He says it has been quite a learning experience to see the racing game from the other side, and he has learned there are such things as flat-bet profit grooms, and he seems to have managed to meet and befriend almost everyone on the backside.

Speaking of which, the Canterbury backside is a nice big open one, with all of the barns and dorms I saw in good repair, and lots of room for horses to get some outside exercise, unlike some tracks. The cafeteria/social center is also a very nice one with all the amenities, including laundry facilities and a rec room and a TV room, and they served up a really tasty breakfast for pretty dirt cheap. Oddly, no Mexican items on the breakfast menu. Negative points for that.

One stop we had made prior to breakfast was the barn where local cult horse Captain Ripperton, 3rd in the $150,000 Jewel the day before, was busy chowing down his breakfast. He looked none the worse for wear. During our breakfast, his trainer, Charlie Smith, came into the cafeteria and stopped to chat with Mark a bit. A typical friendly Texan, Charlie, like Rollen at Fair Meadows, had all sorts of interesting stories about the days "before parimutuel", racing in Texas, Oklahoma, and the rest of the Southwest. Quite interesting stuff, and if you ever get a chance to chat with someone on the subject, don't pass up the opportunity.

On the way back up frontside, we could see horses and horsemen getting packed up to move on, down to Retama, and other points south, as the Canterbury meets winds down for the year. Always kind of a wistful feeling watching a backside start to pack up, like the circus is putting away its tents and preparing to hit the road out of your town.

Back up in the Press Box to handicap the day's card, and for Mark to write up his barn notes, the rest of the crew started straggling in and going over the Sunday card. Meanwhile, the maintenance people took down all the tables and so on that had been put up for the big day before, like cleaning up and rearranging the house after a big party. Back to normal life, back to regular Canterbury races, and back to normal in the Press Box - no buffet on this day, just a quick trip downstairs somewheres to steal a doughnut.

Listening to the guys going over the card was quite a revelation, as the type of analysis was pretty much the same as goes on in a typical day on the HAW apron in the Kelly Sampson Fan Club - lots of pet angles and conspiracy theories, the "Luis Quinonez out in Colorado today" angle, the Jason Eads (up from PrM for the day) factor, the "barn shipping out and needs travel money" angle, and so on and so forth. Quite enlightening. Also on hand for a little while was a youngish features producer for TVG, and I asked him some questions and got some interesting answers. But since he didn't know who he was talking with, namely a big Internet gossip, I won't repeat anything here.

Finally it was time for the guys to go downstairs and hit The Pro Shop, and time for me to hit the apron, for a regular day of racing at Cby. One noticed right off there were considerably fewer fans in attendance, despite perfect weather. There was also no TVG, no Kimber Goodwin, no Laffit Pincay, no Marty McGee, no big production down by the Winner's Circle. Just us chumps, the local jocks, and the Canterbury horses. Hard to explain, but a totally, totally different feeling than the day before, like Sunday was a ghost of Saturday's events.

There were, however, several saving graces: My cash voucher was the same size it had started the day before, there were nine races with full fields of just the type of horses I like to bet about to go off in front of my very eyes, and I was at a beautiful and friendly racetrack on a gorgeous day. Couldn't ask for very much more. No need to worry about yesterday.

About those horses I love to bet: Give me a money-makin' opportunity every time, chump. The heck with those 6 horse fields of regally bred allowance horses at some major track that produce an average mutuel of $3.80. Give me some $5,000 claimers that can't run two decent races in a row. A big field of proven losers in state-bred maiden claimer. A bunch of unraced maidens. Now those are the races where you're likely to get some bang for your buck and turn your $2 into $200 in one quick flash. That's the true handicapping challenge: making some sense out of chaos, and there's nothing sweeter than grasping at just the slightest straw of maybe-a-big-race today and getting rewarded by a monster exacta. IMHO.

Not to say the Cby card on the day was all that bad, but it wasn't the bunch of low-price slugs running at the premiere tracks on Sunday.

The day got started out right with a nice score in the 1st, a MSW for MN breds. Up in the press box I'd been told that the #3, RJ Solo Flight, "could not lose". I jokingly replied that the horse might fall down coming out of the gate. That horse went to post at very low odds. Cannot bet very low odds. But the logical 2nd place horse, #7 Peaceful Flash, was 7-1, so I plunked a win bet on #7, and then boxed it with the cannot lose horse. The result? RJ Solo Flight stumbled coming out of the gate and nearly went down on her nose, rushed up to take the lead, and then got caught late by Peaceful Flash. My return: $16.20 winner, plus a $20.20 exacta. I'm the king again.

But then I kind of gave a good deal of it back in the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th, in the 4th in particular getting burned by jockey SD Sullivan gunning a confirmed closer to the lead and breaking up my exacta by finishing 2nd. Hey! That isn't fair!

Prior to the 4th there was a nice ceremony in the paddock, when Mark presented an award to the "English Student of the Meet", a very nice Mexican gentleman whose name I cannot of course remember, and he looked very proud of his award, and the paddock crowd gave him a nice hand. Kudos to Cby for doing something like this.

The 5th race had a bunch of press box angle horses in it, AND, I might add, jockey SD Sullivan on another confirmed closer. Would he do the same thing again? I suspected he might. A fine exacta bet was constructed, placed, and rewarded when SD Sullivan took Air Pirate home in 1st at long odds in front of the logical horse in the race who was also long odds, returning a very respectable $304.80 exacta to me, Me, ME! Of course I had to run right downstairs and brag about this score to Mark, as it is A Rule that when you can brag that you've done Something Wonderful to a published handicapping author, you must do it. Imagine my disappointment that the press box crew didn't give a rat's a**, as they were all commiserating about the fact that the 3rd place horse had also been a press box angle horse but no one had bet the easy tri.

At least Mark counseled me to keep some of the money in my pocket this time, he having been privy to my big score early the previous day that had been subsequently piddled away. I took this advice right to heart and lost money in the 6th, 7th, and 8th. Hey, no matter what I did, I was still taking home a nice profit.

The 9th was another money-makin' opportunity, 12 maiden claimers that'd never shown a lick of talent in the bunch. Yet, the McChump motto is "some horse has to win", so another fine exacta bet was crafted, this time taking into account a personally invented angle, namely that Jason Eads hadn't won a race all day and it was about his turn. As the horses approached the finish line, the pesky #10 was right up there, the pesky #10 having been omitted from the exacta, while the non-pesky #5, included in the exacta, was dueling him step for step. As they approached the wire, all of sudden, flying on the outside, came the #3, ridden by Jason Eads and also included in the exacta, and they're all getting to the wire together, and ... damn! Too close to call!

After an interminable photo, and an inquiry, the results came back 3-10-5, for an exacta of ~$390 which I didn't have, but it would have also been ~$390 if it had come back 3-5-10, which I would have. Dang! A nose difference between leaving the park with a nice profit, and a huge profit.

Oh well. Tomorrow is another day.

Thanks much to Mark Cramer, and all the employees of Canterbury Park, especially Jeff Maday and Sheila Williams, for a wonderful and unforgettable weekend at the live races. Cby definitely rates a two thumbs up as a place to visit whenever you get the chance.