Turf Paradise, Phoenix, AZ, Mar 31 & Apr 7

Santa Anita Park, Arcadia, CA, Apr 1-2

It's that time of year again - The Big Co. just absolutely FORCING me to attend the conference at the beautiful seaside Biltmore resort just south of Santa Barbara. Dang! But so as not to make it a total loss, I determined to go out a bit early, and stay a bit late, and make something out of the trip. Being the good corporate citizen I am, I did a little searching of airfares and found that if I flew round trip to Phoenix, and then got a cheap shuttle to Burbank, it was way way cheaper than a round trip to Santa Barbara. Isn't that conveeeenient?

-- Friday, March 31, Turf Paradise, Phoenix, AZ

Luckily, McChump #2 could be talked into taking Friday afternoon off, and we got a nice, sunny though cool, afternoon of racing in at beautiful and relaxing Turf Paradise. I don't know what the deal on fires following my Tour lately is, though: First, the burning truck in Arizona last Labor Day, then the house burning down behind Fair Grounds at the end of January, then the string of fires east of Sportsman's on opening weekend, and now today a house under construction up on the hill behind Turf Paradise bursting into flame and going up in a spectacular show of flame and smoke. Okay, I don't remember if this happened this Friday or next Friday, but since I won't be writing about next Friday, we'll pretend it happened today. Awesome, anyhow, and quite a break from the usual.

-- Saturday and Sunday, April 1 & 2, Santa Anita Park, Arcadia, CA

The McChump Party had secured a room at the nearby pleasant and cheap Santa Anita Inn, and was prepared to make a weekend of it. Santa Anita was beautiful as always, and so was the weather which was clear and allowed a nice view of the mountains.

I just love this big old barn. From the south entrance to the west one, to the paddock gardens and the view of the main facade, which has been a bit marred by the new elevator towers, IMHO, to the monstrous grandstand, to the pre-race hoopla of the dignitaries being pulled in a wagon, to the racing itself on a beautiful track, I can honestly say this is my favorite track of all I have visited.

There's some changes since the last time I visited. The first is a remodelling of the apron. It's all terraced now, with lots of fancy ornamental railings: positive change. Also the aforementioned elevator towers in the back: Well done, but overall a negative. Much of the view of the original facade is ruined. There's also a big new jumbotron in the infield, which is the sharpest and clearest I have ever seen, and really is a help for those on track. Up in the right end of the grandstand there's a huge new restaurant, the Frontrunner, which takes away a good number of seats, but is really a nice restaurant and a fairly decent place to watch from (the bar), as the Tour hung with friend Stuart. S. there one day. One change that has happened that is definitely a tragedy is the levelling of the Wine Shed in the infield. There's nothing there now but a unshaded, hot, ugly brick pit. What Frank Stronach was thinking when he he did this is beyond me. All the serious bettors who used to hang there are long gone, who knows where. Makes the infield not even worth visiting anymore for anyone without a herd of kids in tow, IMHO. Maybe that was the plan.

Ultimately we have to face the truth, however, and ask the primary question facing the McChump in Exile Tour, namely: Is it worse than Sportsman's Park? The answer comes back a resounding HELL NO!