Northlands Park, Edmonton, AB, Jul 22, 2000 (Track #89)

-- Thursday, July 20

I may have mentioned this before, but every day you are learning something on the McChump Tour. Today's lesson is that racing is far from the worst run industry in the world: it cannot hold a candle to the airlines, and in particular to the worst of the worst, Northwest Airlines. "Oh gosh, 'traffic delays'". "Oh gosh, you're not going to make your connection in Minneapolis". "Oh gosh, the morning flight is full." "Oh gosh, no we won't put you on another airline." "Oh gosh, too bad you're going to be an entire day late". "Oh gosh, yes we know you paid almost $500 for that ticket, but you didn't really expect that meant any particular time did you? We'll just fit you in at our leisure".

On the way out to pay a parking fee for the enjoyable time I'd spent at O'Hare that day, I looked at the other airlines' monitors. Odd. Hardly any delays. Northwest Airlines: Just Say No.

And to tell you the truth, at this point I cannot honestly remember the last time a flight I was on or meeting either took off or landed on time. Airlines: The Worst.

-- Friday, July 21

Presumably racing at the Marias County Fair went on without me. Stupid Northwest Airlines.

-- Saturday, July 22

An extra added bonus courtesy of Northworst, over 500 miles to drive in one morning from Great Falls to Edmonton, instead of the more leisurely trip from Lethbridge that had been planned. And I almost woulda made it close to the 1:00pm post time if it wasn't for a getting-lost incident in Calgary, and if I had known that the fastest way to get to Northlands from the south was to get off the Calgary Trail as soon as possible and get over to 66th Ave. which turns into 75th Ave. which turns into the Wayne Gretzky Parkway. And for the fact I had to park about 1/2 mile away from the race track because it was Klondike Days at Northlands Park. $4.00, Canadian, in a high school lot.

Entry fee (because of the fair): $5.00, Canadian. Track program, another $2.00.

Not much time to scout the main floor, but what I did see was a real nice bright concourse with a nice tile floor, lots of tables, strategically placed TV's, and a varied selection of concession stands. But I had to get upstairs.

Internet correspondent Curtis S. had graciously offered to share his table with me on this afternoon, and I quickly found him there in the Colours Restaurant area, which occupies the front of the enclosed 2nd floor of the stands, overlooking the 5/8th's mile dirt oval out front. Very nice accommodations, very handy to betting windows, and TV's at every table. For some reason unknown to me, these TV's had TRN on them, apparently the Canadian version, so we were able watch all sorts of races throughout the day, although I don't know if we could have bet them all.

Today's lesson is that in Alberta, a pitcher of beer is known as a "jug". And I must say, good cold Molson Canadian beer coming from a jug after a 500 mile drive tastes mighty fine. However, I cannot report how much this cost, as Curtis graciously picked up the tab. (If it should ever occur that all the good folks who've treated me over the years come to Chicago all at once, I'll have to pawn the ChumpMobile).

Also on this floor - somewhere - is the casino operation at Northlands, or at least one of them, as there were at least two other buildings on the grounds that said "casino". And just to the rear of the Colours Restaurant, a very nice, clean, comfortable-looking, albeit semi-dark, simulcasting bar area, with the big screens and so on. My comment to Curtis was that the whole operation was surprisingly new and modern looking, and he said the entire place had been gutted and remodeled some five years ago. They did a really nice job.

There was, however, racing to attend to, and as I'd arrived shortly before the 5th, I needed to get busy. Curtis and I both agreed on the #1 horse, Bearspaw Gold, and both were rewarded with a nice $9.90 winner. This game is so easy. Naturally I asked Curtis what would be his UPF best bet of the day horse after that race, and he said that Bearspaw Gold would have been it, but since it was too late, he'd go for Crimson Hue in the 7th. And then I discovered it really isn't that easy, losing back some of my fabulous 5th race winnings in the 6th.

Meanwhile, I got a chance to peruse the entire card, and on this Saturday, we had nine races (dirt only - no turf track at NP), with from 7 to 10 horses each, with mdn4000 horses running for $4800, $4250 conditioned claimers after a $5000 purse, $25k claimers chasing $11200, on up to the feature of the day, the Northland Oaks for 3yo fillies, running for a purse of $30000 added to all the entry fees. In short, pretty good purses indeed.

Tragically, Crimson Hue ran 4th in the 7th race (the Oaks), and I passed on that one as I was inhaling a very tasty chicken quesadilla, brought to the table by a very attentive and friendly young waiter. Of course that might be because Curtis is a regular, but I'll give Northlands credit for having good help anyhow. About this time a friend of Curtis' dropped by, and upon being told I was going to Grande Prairie the next day, rolled his eyes. Some people just don't understand.

The 8th was where I chose to make my stand for UPF. Curtis had been telling me all day that early speed was the thing to watch for at NP, and I had observed that he probably was right. Originally a 7 horse field reduced to 6 by a scratch, it seemed likely to me to be dominated early by the #1 horse, Golden Sparkle, essentially a sprinter in the mile race, but who had weakened in the stretch at the same distance last out. I thought he'd last this time. I also did not like the favorite who I figured as a hanger. The crowd did not agree with me, and sent my selection off as the longest priced horse in the field at 14-1. I was almost right, though. He almost won, leading all the way, and just getting collared in the stretch to finish 2nd. Unfortunately by the favorite. No money for UPF, but as it turned out a nice $10.00 place price and $33.60 quinella for me personally.

After that I lost some back in the 9th, and the oddest thing, the horse that beat me, Six Pack To Go (yes, I know), well, I left him out of my carefully constructed quinella box because the track program, produced by McKinnie Systems, said the horse was 3-0-0-0 lifetime at the distance. "Sure", I commented to Curtis, "today is the day that horse has to decide to win at a mile." "What do you mean? He likes the distance. Look here" at the DRF. Something like 21-7-x-x at the distance. Hey? What is the deal with that, anyhow, McKinnie Systems? 3-0-0-0 in what timeframe?

So I pondered this for a moment, but not too long as I had to run out to do an errand before something else that evening. Total for the day, even taking into account the $20 bet on UPF horses (a long story on this $10/horse, to be discussed in the next installment), a groovy profit of $8.45 Canadian. Curtis felt I could almost buy myself an American beer with that.

Thanks much to Curtis for a great day, great company, treats, a contribution to United Pegasus, and an all around good time at a nice track.

And the boys down at Mr. Lube on Calgary Trail and about 34th who stayed open just a bit late to change the oil in my National rental whose "change oil" light had come on barely 100 miles into a proposed 2000 mile trip, hey, they were great too. They got me in and out of there in no time so I could hustle back up to Northlands in plenty of time for

Chuckwagon Racing!

That's right, Klondike Days in Edmonton means the Klondike Chuckwagon Derby, and there was nine big races on the night's card, which cost me another $8 to get into.

I'd been dying to see chuckwagon racing ever since I happened to read an article about a chuckwagon driver who'd got killed, and one of the people quoted in the article had gone on and on about the "chuckwagon community" this, and the "chuckwagon community" that, and I guess I found it just a bit frightening to contemplate the actual existence of such a thing as a chuckwagon community, so I wanted to see just what this chuckwagon community was, firsthand.

But of course the chuckwagon racing couldn't start right off, there had to be a bunch of hoopla beforehand, like some buggy driving exhibitions through some PVC pipe "hazards" that were set up to simulate a bridge, and a stockyard, and something else I don't remember maybe a pit of rattlesnakes, so I took the opportunity to do some ground floor exploring that I hadn't done earlier in the day.

This really is a nice track. The asphalt apron out front is a bit plain, with some aluminum benches and a few tables, and a smallish "wide spot" type Winner's Circle, but the ground floor is immaculate, with the aforementioned tiled floor, a quite attractive color scheme, comfortable looking designer type (compared to most racetrack furniture) chairs, lots of tables and the little tables wrapped around posts, and nice wood trimming. Also, up on a raised dais sort of thing at the back is a long line of concessions stands, where such things as Chinese stir-fry (around $6.00 for the various flavors), carvery sandwiches, pizza, and your usual sausage and burger type items could be found. The beer selection was a bit on the lacking side at the downstairs bar however, but not bad. And the big glass of Molson Canadian rang in at something like $3.25.

Out front I took in a few more notes on the track itself, with a nicely manicured grass infield, a full function toteboard, with a small lake behind that with a fountain or two in it, some very nice landscaping and bushes down in the clubhouse turn, and an extra "stakes Winner's Circle" also down by that end. The grandstand itself is a medium sized affair covered in blue sheet metal, with the ground floor, enclosed 2nd, and then some outdoor seats up top under a big cover. Nice small dirt walking ring down on the left end of the apron, in front of the door to an indoor paddock (which I never saw). Very pretty overall, except for a big wide dirt spot in front of the stands poking into the infield that had some bleachers wrapped around like this was a rodeo ring or something, but no, this was the starting point for

Chuckwagon Racing!

You see, they don't just line them up and say "go", no, it's much more elaborate than that.

First the chuckwagon drivers drive up and down the track a few times to warm up the teams of 4 thoroughbreds pulling a flimsy-looking little chuckwagon (with the sponsor's logo all over the "cover") that wouldn't have held enough food to keep midget cow-punchers on the trail for more than 2 days. Then the drivers take a spin through the starting semi-circle which is equipped with lines of rodeo type soft barrels, and all the while the announcer is calling out the sponsor's name and doing a little ad, as well as announcing the driver so-and-so, 3rd generation chuckwagon driver from the Peace country, or maybe Red Deer, and he's been 2 time world champion chuckwagon driver and was the winner, or maybe 2nd, in the chuckwagon races down to the Calgary Stampede earlier this summer.

Then the drivers approach the starting area and pull their teams to a stop between the barrels, pointing diagonally out onto the track, aimed the wrong way. An outrider on foot, with his own horse in one hand, takes the lead horse of each team in the other to steady them. Another outrider on foot, with his horse in one hand, grabs onto a small red "stove" that looks more like a painted pony keg at the rear of each chuckwagon. For a moment all is still, until suddenly the sherriff rides by and blows a beastly air horn.

Then all hell breaks loose.

The outrider at the rear flings the red stove into the rear of the chuckwagon, and then starts trying to mount his own horse. The outrider at the front releases the snorting team and tries to get out of the way as quickly as possible, all the while trying to mount his own horse. And meanwhile the chuckwagon driver is whipping his team to speed while negotiating a tight figure 8 type of turn back through the barrels and the other chuckwagons and the outriders until he's out of that small starting area and headed down the track the right way. Then all four chuckwagons and all eight outriders pound around the tight turns and short straights of the track in a cloud of dust in a wild procession that looks like a chase scene from a John Wayne movie, with the drivers pounding away for all they're worth on the horses with the reins.

The general idea is to win the chuckwagon race without incurring any penalties, and the rail seems to be the real good spot to be so you want to do that figure 8 thing real fast and get out first. Although I did see one real nice move on the outside on the 2nd turn that won one race from behind, and then in another there was a photo finish when one driver slipped through a hole at the top of the stretch and caught the leader. But overall, the rail was the place to be.

Each driver gets a time, and penalties are assessed for such things as running over barrels, or your outrider losing touch, or your outrider not finishing, or probably a million other things. Then there's like 4 or 5 nights of these things, and the lowest overall combined times win, so you don't really have to win your individual heats. $85,000 in prize money on the line overall. No betting. As I recall, they were running the 5/8th's mile, including all that commotion at the beginning, in around 1:20. Drivers from the Peace country seemed to dominate. It's like the Louisiana of chuckwagon racing driver production.

So, there it was: The Chuckwagon Community. I was duly impressed.

After that I wandered over into the big carnival going on down the way, and they had all the really cool rides, such as for instance the Zipper, and Gravitron, and this one thing that looked like a giant slingshot for people, and there was an excellent looking haunted house affair that had a picture of a giant tongue coming out of a hole and grabbing onto a fair maiden, in the process exposing her underpants. I did not see Tilt-A-Whirl on the grounds, but I assume it was there, as it is at all the really good carnivals. But it was real crowded there, so I just had a $2 corndog (corn: too much; dog: too small and kind of dry; stick: excellent) and left.

Later I got heartburn from the corndog, and on the news the next morning I heard there was a big fight later on at the carnival that required the attention of a host of law enforcement officials. But I was sound asleep by then and missed the whole affair.