fun in Montana

Northwest Montana Fair, Kalispell, MT, Aug 26 (Track #98)

Yellowstone Downs, Billings, MT, Aug 27 (Track #99)

Sculpture at boundary of Blackfeet reservation

Skip travelogue; go right to racing;
wonder about that picture above for the rest of your life.

-- Monday afternoon, August 21, Billings, MT --

What with not going to Lewistown and the big Cowboy Poetry Festival therein, there was an extra day to hang out with the friend in Billings. This afternoon, he is engaged in a ritual that my dad engaged in when we were kids - driving around town, paying bills. Stop at the electric company. Stop at the gas company. Stop at the bank. The conversation, of course, is about the smoke in the air. I don't think it's all that bad myself, maybe you can't quite see the Absarokas, and you can barely smell the burnt wood smell well maybe just a little, but for someone used to crisp clean air all the time, it's quite irritating to him. And then, said he, changing the subject

"There's one more stop."

"Oh yeah? Where's that."


Uh oh.

I know I promised 0-stinkin-casinos on this McChumpalooza Tour when it started, but this is the real story of how it happened that I broke my promise. It was my friend's doing. Honest and for true.

A bit of background.

Back in the 70's the good citizens of Montana legalized (non-parimutuel) gambling in a referendum. Only it wasn't quite clear what it was they'd legalized, so that was tied up in courts and the legislature for awhile. Finally, after these great men of the lagislature had ciphered on the problem for a spell, it emerged that what the people had really wanted to legalize was simply poker games and such. There would be no big Vegas type casino stuff in Montana, no slot machines, no craps tables, no roulette wheels. Just some friendly poker games in the back rooms of taverns. However, some folks who had worked on behalf of the gambling referendum weren't sure that the great men had interpreted their wishes entirely correctly, and so more court action ensued. What finally emerged from this round of the people's will getting sliced and diced by the lawyers and legislators was that probably keno machines and electronic games like blackjack machines had been in people's minds when they voted, too, because by some odd technicality these equate to poker. And so the big Montana casino rush was on.

Over the past 20-odd years that the new gambling law has been effect, the entire state, every bar and gas station in it, has been transformed into a huge glittering mass of keno machine casinos where you never EVER see a live poker game in progress. You can be out in the middle of the most desolate section of Montana, and if you run across a crossroads gas station, you can believe there'll be a room with at least 8 or 10 keno machines in it. And to drive down the main street of a bigger town like Billings or Great Falls, you'd think you were in the middle of some Outer Limits vision of the Las Vegas strip ... which, in fact, you are.

Which brings us back to Hudson's, a fairly typical little keno casino on the north side of Billings, with a small bar and a small restaurant, and a nice big keno room.

My friend likes this place because it has a screaming deal in the afternoons before the "crowds" get there at 5:00, and the screaming deal is this: If you put $5 into a keno machine, Hudson's will also put in $5, and the only rules are you have to play at least 5 nickels at a time and you cannot cash out before 1/2 hour is up (to prevent you from playing one spin and walking out with their $5). So you start out with 200 credits, you're playing 5 nickels at a time AND, and this is a most important AND, they are bringing you free beers. Not real big ones, and you have to take house brands like for instance Crud, but free all the same.

Keno is a really stupid game, when it comes right down to it, but we hung out there for about an hour, downed three free mini-beers apiece, and I cashed out my voucher for $20.40, a cool $15.40 profit, while my friend had made close to $50. Isn't this what living is really all about?

Later that night on the news we learned that there was a big new range fire out on the Crow reservation, some miles south and west of where the racing was yesterday. More smoke for the air. And I listened in vain for news of back home, of the all-out assault by Illinois on Wisconsin.

-- Tuesday, August 22, on the road, Billings to Great Falls

Normally this country north of Billings is a great place to see antelope, but not this year. The fields and plains are burned dry and so brown they couldn't support wildlife of any variety. A little further on, as the road turns west into the Musselshell River valley and we begin to follow part of the very last of the trail of the Nez Perce on the flight to the Bear Paws, the missing wildlife begins to show up. The entire critter countryside is crowded down into the narrow valley, the river just a slow muddy trickle, but still able to support some green vegetation, and of course the farmers' haystacks are there for the nibbling. Farther, north of Harlowton, the Minuteman missile silos sprout to the side of the road, and the rent-a-ChumpMobile whizzes on by at a nominal 70mph, oblivious to the fact that it is passing within 200 yds of a hydrogen bomb, for it is merely a machine and its consciousness is somewhat limited. North of Judith Gap, the town with the least excuse for existence of all the towns, the Judith River basin country that Charlie Russell cowboyed, and later painted, is a bit greener than it had been south, not much, and there's actually water in the Judith River. Not so lucky is Belt Creek, Portage Creek in the journals, further on, just east of Great Falls. All the time I lived in Montana, and all the times I've come back, it's always been a sparkly rushing stream. Not this year. It's bone dry. My parents' back yard is a lush, green oasis, with a busy sprinkler in the garden, and it's not such a bad smoke day. Only stinks just a little, and the haze isn't all that bad.

-- Wednesday, August 23, Great Falls, MT

There's some bad news waiting. Seems the city isn't going to renew the horse racing lease next year and is going to tear down some barns at the fair grounds. It looks as though horse racing may be kaput in Great Falls.

This is bad news for racing all over northern Montana, as Great Falls is the primary training center feeding meets such as Kalispell, Missoula, Shelby, and presumably, Helena. It's the same old story as everywhere: Goofballs running the show.

When last I wrote about the racing program in Great Falls, there was a fairly professional group named the Race Track Management Group running things. However, when they went back to the Montana State Board of Horse Racing to ask for dates the next year, they asked for a slightly reduced meet. The Racing Board, at the instigation of the horsemen, decided this was bad for Montana racing, and awarded the dates instead to a different group, the Great Falls Horse Racing Association, that lacked experience and a basic business plan, not to mention the bond that had been demanded of the prior group.

Toss in the City of Great Falls, which leases the fairgrounds property from Cascade County, and which has failed to spend one cent of the taxes taken in for fairgrounds improvement on any of the backside facilities, not to mention the money the State and Montana Simulcast Partners were paying the city for stalls which had been demolished to construct a quarterhorse chute, which money apparently the City had been merely been pocketing instead of constructing new stalls or fixing old ones. So suddenly, this year, after the three year lease with the GFHRA is up and it hasn't been a screaming success, the city decides they aren't making enough money off racing, that the backside is a disaster that the GFHRA hasn't fixed, and that the barn area property would be better off developed as something else as its taking up 1/3 of the entire fairgrounds. Never mind that the lease with fairgrounds owner Cascade County stipulates that "The City shall not suspend the major activities at the fairgrounds inclusive of ... Horse racing ..."

Plenty of blame and stupidity to go around on this one. The one hope is that the County, which seems committed to horse racing and actually owns the grounds, will step in and say "No way, Jose" to the City.

[They did. There will be racing in Great Falls in 2001, though a reduced schedule. Visit while you still can. June 23, 24, 30; July 1,4,7, 8, 14, 15, 28 and 29]

-- Thursday, August 24, at the Great Falls of the Missouri

Since Governor Racicot had declared the entire state, or at least the forested parts, a disaster area, closed, no visitors, there would be no trip to the cabin in the Rockies this go round. So I had prevailed upon my parents to take a day trip a short distance down the Missouri, to Ryan Dam, which sits atop the Great Falls of the Missouri.

There's an island there, in the middle of the river just below the falls, where Captain Meriwether Lewis had first viewed the falls, June 13, 1805, calling it "the grandest sight I ever beheld" and a "sublimely grand specticle". That, of course, was when there was water running over it.

There's a park on the island now, and the rock that Capt. Lewis carved his name into is all defaced, but there's still spectacular viewing of the falls. Well usually. This year there is so little water in the river that every gallon of it is being diverted through the electricity-generating turbines, and the bare, dry Great Falls of the Missouri is a sad sight indeed.

That evening brought a strong west wind, up, and over the mountains, and back down onto the plains, bringing with it a generous measure of smoke from the fires in the western part of the state. The whole world smelled of burnt wood, eyes watered, lungs itched, and the bright Montana stars failed to materialize in a cloudless sky.

-- Friday, August 25, the road north, into the heart of darkness

This is it. Today's the day. The McChump Tour is a goin' in. Damn the forest fires, full speed ahead. There's racin' in them thar hills.

The fields and pastures along the Rocky Mountain front are nearly as dry and lifeless as their friends in Eastern Montana. Maybe a bit yellower, rather than brown. The mountains, usually right in your face, are hazy, and distant, hiding behind the veil of smoke. The farmers have given up on this year's wheat crop and simply rolled it up into huge yellow round bales that dot the foothills up to the Rockies. As the car tops a hill at the south end of the Blackfoot reservation, two huge steel mounted warriors rise up at the side of the road, and then are gone. What was that? I've never seen that before. The road turns west, into Marias Pass, the old North Pass of the fur trapper days, and skirts along the southern edge of Glacier Park. The pass is filled with smoke, probably from the fires just south in the Bob Marshall Wilderness. Breakfast is calling, and though I'm a few minutes past the 11:00am cutoff, the dining room staff of the wonderful Izaak Walton Inn at Essex accomodates me with a nice omelette. (This Inn is highly recommended as a place to stay, btw.) The Flathead Valley? Also filled with smoke. So much smoke you can't even tell where it's coming from. Looking at the NOAA satellite maps before embarking on this trip, I'd have thought to be able to at least see one or two of these fires, as it seemed this whole northwest corner of the state was burning down. But no. Whitefish, Olney, Stryker, Trego, Fortine - still lots of smoke, still no visible fires.

-- Friday afternoon, August 25, Eureka, MT

Having arrived rather bright and early at my lodgings for the weekend at an ultracool house in the woods, and with a whole afternoon free, I was offered the opportunity to go into town to see their fair, the Lincoln County Fair, or maybe the Tobacco Valley Fair, or something like that. Being always agreeable to fairs, I agreed.

On the way into town, I asked where all these fires were. "Oh, there's a big one to the west, on the other side of Lake Koocanusa, and one a little bit south of town, and then there's the Lydia Fire, maybe six miles from here, just over that ridge." Now mind you, that's six miles downwind from here. It was fairly still and calm in these parts on this particular day, and I could see it, I really could! Well not any flames or anything, but the smoke rising up from the Lydia Fire, a column of smoke distinct from the rest of the general haze. Kewl!

The fair was a pretty cool one. Maybe it didn't have Tilt-A-Whirl, or The Zipper, or Gravitron, or any of the required rides, in fact no rides at all, but they did have a horse showing competition that was going on when we were there, and a big exhibit of quilts as well as a bigtime vegetable and flower competition, and there were some pens with elk in them, and some animal barns and to my surprise my host knew the names of all the different breeds of rabbits, and some crafts booths. There was also this huge giant long picnic table that some loggers or more likely ex-loggers from around the Eureka area had built, probably of wood taken from National Forest lands, and sent as a show of support down to Nevada or wherever it was that the local citizens had "taken back" National Forest land from the US Government by opening a road the Forest Service had closed. Only after the road had been successfully liberated so that the people could continue to freely cause erosion in the canyon where the road led, as was their God-given right as Americans, there was the problem of what to do with the giant picnic table, so here it was back in Eureka. It occupied a central spot of honor on the Eureka fair grounds, demonstrating the local population's solidarity with workers everywhere whose livelihood depends on free access to, and exploitation of, Federal lands as if they were their own. Later that night, and the whole town seemed to be abuzz about this, the fair's big attraction, "The Bull Thing", was to take place. My host wasn't quite sure what transpired at "The Bull Thing", other than that bulls were somehow involved.

The best part about this fair, though, was that my host knew absolutely everyone there, and it was a treat listening to all the conversations all afternoon. Mostly they went like this:

"I thought you'd retired from working at the fair!"

"Well I did, but Joe's out on the line at [name fire here], so I'm filling in for him."

A large portion of the male population in those parts was out on the fire lines, it seemed. It was like being in a town on a war footing. The menfolk were away, and all the talk was about the war. In fact one of my relatives was out there fighting fire, on the other side of Lake Koocanusa.

-- Saturday morning, August 26, Whitefish, MT --

My host had informed me of an attraction that was not to be missed, and since it was right on the way to the horse racing anyhow, I decided to stop in, and well that I did. For you see, in the tradition of the Cows on Parade in Chicago, and the whatever horses in Lexington, the citizens of Whitefish were not to be outdone. They had organized "Moose on the Loose", a parade of painted and decorated full sized fiberglass mooses in the village square, and these were some exotic moose, indeed. When you choose to live the McChump lifestyle, things like this just come to you. Excellent.

-- Saturday afternoon, August 26, Kalispell, MT --

Well, here we were, a week of exceptional adventure behind us, ready to plunge back into the world of racing again. A crisp, clear day with a stiff wind had cleared the Flathead valley of smoke, my wallet was full of money begging to be wagered, and I was lost in Kalispell. Oh not really lost, mind you, it's not like you couldn't get out of town and start all over in about 5 minutes, it was more like can't find the fair grounds, despite explicit instructions from the host.

And it's not like it was total loss, because I got to listen to more of the local radio station from Kalispell, where, if you could get by the affected mannerisms of the Paul Harvey wannabe commentator, one learned that the primary story in the news was ... forest fires! Imagine! For instance, there had been several traffic stops for people tossing cigarettes out their car window. The Forest Service was running out of firefighter equipment. The local heavy equipment owners were complaining to the Forest Service that "outsiders" were working on fires down in the Bitterroot Valley and getting paid for it, instead of the "locals" from Kalispell, and other locals were complaining that they weren't getting hired, even though there were no immediately local fires and the Forest Service was already short on crew bosses. Some candidate for political office took the opportunity to show up at the meeting with the Forest Service and take the side of the voters, expressing his view that yes indeed they should be sharing in the wealth. The Flathead Indian tribe was offering a reward for information leading to the arrest of whomever had intentionally started a fire on their reservation, allegedly so that more work would be available fighting fires. The burning of the National Forest and the subsequent infusion of Federal fire-fighting money seemed to be the biggest economic boon to these parts in some years - can't get paid for cutting it down anymore, might as well get paid as it burns. Governor Racicot, self-proclaimed un-candidate for Secretary of the Interior, blamed the Clinton Administration for the fires. Environmentalists blamed the Forest Service, and loggers blamed the environmentalists. No one bothered to blame the fact that the entire state was simply tinder try because it hadn't rained, except for the Forest Service, and everyone was mad at them so the lack of rain was undoubtedly their fault, too.

Finally, though, I'd had enough of that, seen the sights of Kalispell, like the groovy courthouse in the middle of main street, and still hadn't found where I was going, so had to stop and ask directions. I hate that.

"Oh you're almost there. Just go another three blocks. But our fair was last weekend."

D'oh! Could I have made a fatal error? The Racing Journal had sworn up and down that this was a racing weekend!

-- Saturday afternoon, August 26, Northwest Montana Fairgrounds, Kalispell, MT --

Whew! The Racing Journal was right. There was racing, the 2nd weekend of a two weekend, 5 day meet that started with the fair.

The Flathead County Fairgrounds, where the Northwest Montana Fair racing was to take place, turns out to be located on the northwest side of Kalispell, kind of down the hill and off to the right of US 93 as you're coming into town from the north (a miserable busy road, as this entire section of Montana is getting seriously overpopulated by fruit loop transplants from California). Parking in the lot out front was free free free, as was admission, but the program rang in at $3.00. Compared to the Crow Fair program, though, $3.00 was a screaming bargain, as pp's were included.

What we had here is your basic fairgrounds setup, pretty deserted on this day except for the grandstands, and a few concession stands out back of it on what looked to be the midway. The vendors in business on this day were all of the public service variety, such as your Elks, and your Jaycees, and your Shriners, and your Boy Scouts, and so on. Tragically, none of these seemed to hold a license to sell beer, not even the Shriners and this defied belief because how on earth can you drive around on those little scooters if no alcohol is involved - now really, think about it - and no beer was to be found. Anywhere. Now I could understand no beer at Crow Agency the previous weekend, but this was about intolerable, especially since I had been behaving myself for an entire day. Just goes to show you that when you get too many California fruit loops in your midst, things start going right down hill in no time. Hmmmph! I mean, where is the Sheriff's Posse when you need them?

There were, however, flying wedges of Boy Scouts roving the facility and selling bottled water, and one flying wedge had what seemed to be a little sister in tow, a precious little blond-headed girl who the boys were employing as a "water pusher", and when they came around and asked if you could resist this little girl selling water, you really couldn't. So I bought a plastic bottle of water from her ($1.00), steeled myself for a handicapping experience that would be unique, to say the least, and entirely without "inspiration", to tell the truth, and hunkered on down.

There were also flying wedges of "Little Miss Rodeo" queen wannabees selling 50/50 tickets to the crowd, and they wandered the apron singing out, in unison, and 4 part harmony, "Get ... yer ... 50/50 ... tickets!", but I have had extensive experience in the world of 50/50, and know that the wise do not invest in the 50/50 market. So the Little Miss Rodeos wandered the apron without acknowledgement from moi.

The basic setup is a wooden grandstand in primarily red and white color motif, of venerable ancestry, medium size, with wooden seats and a wood roof held up by some steel I-beams, and a big section of wooden bleachers down to the left. Plenty of seating for a far bigger crowd than the maybe 400 who showed up on this racing day. Narrow asphalt apron behind a high chain link fence in front of that, including the mandatory losing ticket barrel, where you could throw your losing tickets in, and maybe later in the day win a drawing and score big with some $25/$15/$10 consolation prizes. I knew better than that, too. Down at the left end of the whole affair was a dinky little paddock area with the saddling stalls set up against a rusty corrugated metal building, and a small, dusty, dirt walking ring.

Out front was a narrow 4f dirt track, with a QH chute down to the left end, enclosing the county rodeo ring which made up that part of the infield which was not bare grass and languishing heavy equipment, a small "toteboard on wheels", and a very nice view of the Rockies in the background, where the Bob Marshall Wilderness was currently in flames. Barns down to the left, and a residential neighborhood immediately behind the fairgrounds.

The card on the day consisted of 10 races, with between 5 and 8 horses per race, 66 entrants total. Not huge, but bettable. Five quarter horse races and five thoroughbred. Mostly the purses were not huge, like for instance mostly in the $1400-$1700 range, but we did also have the big race of the meet on this day, the Charlie Russell Quarter Horse Futurity, 350 yds of burning speed for a purse of $45609.

On the jock front I recognized a few, like for instance my buddy Roger Buening who had screwed me at Evergreen and I vowed not to bet him, for which vow he immediately burned me in race 1, and Shannon Wippert, and Mike Phillips, Holly Gervais, Rita Ekins, and that was about it. Trainers were mostly a mystery to me, except for the Birdrattler clan, whose name I recognized from previous visits to Montana.

Betting wise, I didn't do too horrible - put a whopping $67 through the windows, and got back a whopping $64, in between inhaling a $1 corndog from some public service organization or another, and a $2.75 giant cheeseburger from the Shriners. And getting nicked for another $1 water by the tiny, but adorable, water pusher. On the UPF front I managed to pick a 2nd place horse, yet again, Silver Chaffee, in the 6th. Lately I'm not doing so good.

Otto Tac, trained by Chuck Lindsey and ridden by David Brown, won the big race. I got the longshot 2nd place finisher in that one for $12.20/$6.60 PS. Don't be telling me I don't know my quarterhorses, chump! Me and the crowd had managed to put $1586/$431/$335 WPS into this race, the feature and betting event of the day, along with Q $1053, X $352, and super $3634. It was some big pools. We kicked booty. We made money. We came. We saw. We conquered. We drank water. While so doing, we managed to generate one of the lowest daily handles we've generated all year, at least on the McChump front anyhow. Duh.

And just like that, it was over.

But at the end of the regular racing program, there was, once again, an Indian Relay Race scheduled. This time, I thought I'd stay to see what this was all about.

Several teams were entered in this event, and I made the immediate favorite Team Birdrattler, as Team Birdrattler had cool uniforms, and also, I thought, probably a good pick of horses from the Birdrattler racing stable. The other teams didn't seem to be nearly so professional.

The object of the Indian Relay Race was three laps around the track, each lap on a different horse, bareback. Assistants stood at the outside rail holding the 2nd and 3rd lap horses, while the contestants stood on the track holding their 1st lap horses. Some Indian music started up on the PA, and suddenly the race was off! The riders leaped onto their horses and tore off down the stretch and into the turn. Team Birdrattler was lying 2nd. As they came back into the stretch, the riders guided their horses at high speed toward their assistants, leaped off into the dirt as the horses about crashed into the rail, grabbed another horse, leaped on, and took off again. These pit stops were crucial, and a bad one could cost a team many lengths. The field was beginning to get strung out a bit by this time, and you could see that some teams were definitely more professional than others. The crashing, leaping, and grabbing was repeated a 2nd time, only this time around one leap wasn't so successful, as the rider bit the dust and his horse took off alone. One team down. It was clear that this was a runaway by this point, and it wasn't Team Birdrattler winning. The margin of victory for the winning team was about 75 lengths, and another 75 back to third. When all the dust had cleared, I would have lost money, had there been any betting. This was quite a spectacle.

There was to be another heat on the morrow, to decide the ultimate championship, which I guess had started the previous weekend. I'm not exactly sure on the scoring of Indian Relay Racing. Perhaps it works on the chuckwagon racing plan, an overall points sort of thing. Anyhow, the sun was setting, and I wanted to get to the other side of Glacier before it was gone completely, so it was time to leave before learning any more.

A definite thumbs up for racing at the Northwest Montana Fair, with the exception of the no beer part. That was kinda bad.

-- Saturday evening, August 26, Blackfoot reservation, just east of Glacier Park

My host had cleared up the mystery of the metal warriors. It seems an artist from Kalispell had enlisted a bunch of little kids from the reservation to help him collect up some old junk car parts, and then he had welded them all together into pairs of mounted warriors to guard (at least two of) the entrances to the reservation. There was one pair I had previously missed at the west entrance just outside the Park, and then the the original pair at the south entrance above the Two Medicine River. You do not see things like this just every day.

-- Saturday night, August 26, highway north of Great Falls, MT

It was dark, so I never saw it coming. That stiff wind from the west that had cleared the Flathead Valley of smoke was also bringing a river of smoke from somewhere down onto the plains again. Only this time it was the worst. The headlights shone into a yellow haze. Sometimes the visibility was downright dangerous. And the smell! I imagine this must be what hell is like.

Finally settled in Great Falls for the night, I'm told there's a couple of new fires to the west, and that an old one, close to the cabin, is acting up again.

-- late Sunday morning, August 27, Billings, MT

My friend's hibernating bear family is once again hard to rouse from slumber, yet my friend is mysteriously absent. Finally, though, his paddock inspection kid is persuaded to roll out of bed and accompany me for the day's racing activities.

-- Sunday afternoon, August 27, Yellowstone Downs, Billings, MT

No gettin' lost incidents on this day, as the paddock inpsection kid proves a reliable guide to the MetraPark fair grounds on the east side of Billings. I suspect he maybe has been there before.

Parking here was free, admission was $2.00, and the fabulous program rang in at $2.50. And sadly, or maybe gladly, that's about all I wrote down about the entire day, as there was so SO much to do with a youngster in tow to teach the arts of handicapping, plus at this track they were selling beer in a nice little bar area just inside the door. It was like $3 for a big giant Fat Tire. Something like that. I was forced to go back again and again, trying to remember that price.

The grandstand at MetraPark is a considerably bigger affair than the job at Kalispell the day before, as befitting a powerful city such as Billings. A real entry, a real concourse, and a real indoor paddock down under the left end. What kind of bit the big one was that everything of a racing nature was located on the ground floor, and if one was silly enough to go up into the stands for a seat, one soon found oneself coming downstairs anyhow to place a bet or whatever. One soon found the apron most accommodating. Being as how this was a most pleasant Montana summer afternoon, that wasn't all that objectionable.

Out front was a 4f track with mandatory QH chute, which also seemed destined to double as a car track during Big Doin's, a mostly grass infield except for the running track inside, and a minimum function tote. Nice view of the south rimrocks of the Yellowstone River in the background. We had 10 races on the card, 3 QH on the front end and then all the rest TB (where surely my fortune would be made), 6-8 horses per race, and purses from $1400 all the way up to $2000.

I was determined to teach the paddock inspecting kid all there was to know about handicapping, as so far he had been simply incredibly lucky so far as I was concerned. We went in to the paddock. I explained to him how the #7 horse in the 1st, No Brakes Needed, a paint horse and surely a paint horse was due in my life, especially with regional legend Kym Espy up, had it all over these other nags. No Brakes Needed was the sure winner. I would back him up with a powerful $2 across. The paddock inspecting kid opted to back the #3, Buggy Rebel, the stinkin' 5/2 m/l favorite (with my money of course). Ha ha, loser kid, you are goin' down.

Tragically, I inadvertently backed a 4th place horse and the kid backed a lucky $11.80 winner. Surely, an anomaly. Pure luck.

In the 2nd neither of us won, as I was only betting win for the kid and his horse stunk out the joint in 2nd, while my WP horse suffered no end, no end, of bad luck to finish 4th.

In the 3rd race I got my chance to really shine.

"Note here, kid", said I, "What do you notice about this race?"

"Uhhhh", answered he.

"No, that's not it", I said. "Look here. See that horse's name? Jumpin' Jan Flash, the same horse that just won that 660 out at the Crow Fair last weekend, and look here, there is no mention of that race whatsoever in the pp's! We know something the crowd doesn't!"

The kid duly noted it, and then we both duly noted this was a 300yd race and JJF had never done a thing in races that short. Both of us decided to ignore our special knowledge and back different horses. This kid picked the wrong horse altogether, and I chose a $12.20 winner. Ha, ha.

Round about the 4th the mystery of my friend's earlier absence from the homestead was explained, as he and his other kid showed up at the track. It seems he had experienced a $350 winning night at Hudson's the evening before, and, feeling lucky, had gone back early this morning to try it again. This time he'd won a mere $850. You loser! Don't you know you'll never win at keno?

Now, of course, I had two rank rookies to teach how to win $2.20 a shot at racing, plus the paddock inspection kid to impress with my prowess. Little wonder no notes were taken!

In the 5th I accidentally lost money while the paddock kid picked a $6.60 winner. It was because I was explaining handicapping to my friend. My friend swore his horse betting career was over. I asked, sagely, did you quit the first time you lost at Hudson's? He was forced to answer "no". I nodded, knowingly.

In the 6th the paddock kid picked a $3.80 winner, while somehow my horse ran out again, but the friend and 2nd kid were forced to admit that it was indeed possible to pick winning horses. Progress!

In the 7th, someone managed a $14.40 winner, only it was the pesky paddock again, but then finally, in the 8th, I showed my friend how it was done by scoring a $5.60 quinella. He was hooked. The 9th would be his opportunity to strike.

"Now look here", I explained, "This 2 horse, Cowboy Poet, he just won last weekend at Crow Fair and there is no record of it in these pp's!" This was indeed news to him, as he'd been working while me and the kids had been at the Crow Fair, but he decided to include the #2 in a bet he'd recently learned about, oh I don't know where, the $1 tri box, with the #1 and #4. Meanwhile, I decided to bet the 1 entry for UPF, and box the both of them up with the #4 in a quinella. We were going to clean up on this one, and contribute to charity at the same time, for sure. Paddock kid took the #6. My friend  and I visited the beer stand, just for luck, leaving the kids in charge of the apron for the time being.


Ha ha paddock kid! A cool winner for UPF, $8.80 Q for me, unknown but "good enough for an all day profit", like about $42, for the friend, and nothing for you!

Tragically, when all was said and done at the end of the day after the 10th, the paddock inspection kid had made a nice profit, and I was substantally down, as substantially as you can get when you're betting big like this, like about $39.80 down out of $78 bet. Damn that hurts!

-- Monday morning, August 28, Billings Logan Airport

You wouldn't hardly think there'd be any problem getting a flight out of a little 4 gate airport like Billings on time, would you? But of course, this is United Airlines we're talking about. The 8:00am flight to Denver finally manages to leave at the fashionably late hour of 9:00am, and it is going to be tight if not impossible for me to make my connection in Denver now. Stupid, stupid United.

The Billings Gazette has news of a new fire to the south of Billings, up in the mountains near Red Lodge. Someone crashed his motorcycle and the cycle set the forest aflame. They're calling it the Willie fire, after Willie Nelson, who'd been doing or had just done a concert up thereabouts. Maybe the rider was leaving the concert, or something. I don't recall all the details. I was having trouble keeping all the fires straight by this point.

And you know - there was no mention in the paper of a devastating airstrike on Wisconsin. That is particularly disconcerting. That miserable excuse for half a state will likely be discovered to still be entirely intact when the plane arrives at O'Hare. Assuming THAT ever happens.