-- Tuesday, August 1, morning time, Batavia, NY
Damn! It is going to be a hot one today! Hot and ugly, as it has rained most of the night, and now the morning sun is sucking all that moisture right back into the air. I remember being in this part of the country, many years ago, back in the bad old days, and the view is just the same - you can see the air, it's so humid. Yuck! Us western boys just will never get used to that. But still, I must soldier on, for this is the McChump Tour. And besides, quitting right now and going home isn't really much of an option.
There's a sign by the road for somewhere called Batavia Downs. Making Tracks says this is a harness track. It also says no dates in 2000. Harness doesn't seem to be what you'd call thriving in this part of the country. Buffalo Raceway also doesn't seem to spend a whole lot of time actually open for business, as I'd checked that possibility before departing. Oh well - I don't know that I could have stood the excitement anyhow.
-- Tuesday, August 1, late morning, Lake Canandaigua, NY
So you're in the Finger Lakes region, you may as well take a gander at a Finger Lake, just to say you've seen one, right? And thar she blows, stretching out to the south between the hills into the morning sun. Looks every bit a lake - kinda blue, with a watery sheen to it. Okay I've seen one.
-- Tuesday, August 1, a bit later, Finger Lakes Racetrack
Set off a side road somewhat south of the NY State Thruway and a few miles north of the town of Lake Canandaigua, Finger Lakes is real easy to find, since there's many a sign pointing the way. Parking in the big north lot is free, free, free.
From the lot the view is of a smallish, low building, an attractive gray in color, surrounded by a good grove of trees. Admission, however, is not free, ringing in at a cool $2.00, and the program gets you for another $1.75.
Just inside the gates, at the back of the building, clubhouse side, is the paddock/walking ring area, and it's kind of pretty, with lots of flowers. Not so pretty is the grandstand side of the ground floor, a dark yawning empty expanse that immediately put me in mind of the dark yawning empty expanse of the grandstand side at DRC (RIP), with absolutely no life at all, and just a few mutuel machines for taking bets if you wanted to spend your day over there. Which it appeared to me no one intended to do. I can't say as I blame them - the amenities consisted of a few big round tables scattered about with a few lonely TV's hanging here and there, on a white concrete floor, all in the midst of the most hideous color scheme - light blue, pink, and yellow on the walls - seen in the history of tracks painted up with whatever pastel paint was on clearance sale down at the Crafty Beaver (or other local hardware store) that fateful day 25 years ago when someone decided the joint needed a new paint job.
Yeee-OWWWW! I escaped onto the apron, pronto.
Kind of your generic apron. Asphalt with a slope, litle lawn down to the left end, populated by some metal mesh benches, with some even older ones made of hardwood slats. And, as this apron faces directly south, it was roastin' out there in the sun. No place to spend the day at all, in my book, so I stood back and took a look to see what I might want to do with myself on the day.
This is a medium sized grandstand, with a big sheet metal roof on stanchions and plenty of open seating on the grandstand end. There's also some open seating on the club end, and some enclosed areas up top of that, presumably the turf club or whatever. Basically your standard layout. I decided to cruise on over to the clubhouse side of the joint and see what I could see there, and the best plan seemed to simply go down to the front of the apron and cross the horse path via the gate by the scales, so that's what I did.
This side of the apron is the same as the other, only on this end the little lawn has some picnic tables. Unused on this day. The track itself seems quite a bit nicer than the rest of the place, a mile dirt oval set around a big plain grass infield with a few trees scattered here and there, a medium function toteboard set up a bit high or so it seems to me, lots of nice landscaping around that, and a couple of big flowerbeds to either side, one with red flowers spelling out a big FL, and then the entire backdrop trees except for some barns visible down off the left end. Perfectly acceptable, and probably looks nice enough on TV, which it seems is important to everyone these days (except of course for one of my local tracks that doesn't even care how it looks on TV much less to the few live patrons who bother to show up).
The 1st floor of the clubhouse had a bit more life, as it actually had some concessions, though not what you'd call much of a selection. Nothing but hot dogs ($2) and sausage. A giant Gennessee beer rang in for $3.65, once you could get the attention of the woman at the concession stand. No Genny Cream Ale to be found, and that kind of chapped me off, as Genny Cream Ale was one of the few good things I remembered from the bad old days when I had visited upstate NY in the past. This end's a bit friendlier than the GS end, with some actual seating areas and TV's, and the bank of mutuel windows right in the middle, and a small, very small, "Hall of Fame" hung on the wall leading back out to the paddock.
I was a bit disappointed, though. It was time for first post, and on the whole ground floor there were only maybe 150 people. Was this shaping up to be a dead day, or what? Sure it was Tuesday, and sure the heat and humidity were horrible, and sure the place wasn't air conditioned, but still, you'd think there'd be more people in the greater Rochester area than this who'd be out for the day.
Oh well! Time to attack that racing card!
Uh oh. This day was going to be a tester, for sure. Race 1: $4k claimers. Races 2 through 4: $4k claimers. Race 5: A powerful $7.5k claimer. Races 6 and 7: NY allowances (the really good kind, for purses of $9500 and $14700). Races 8 through 11: Open allowances all for less than $10k purses. Race 12: A $4k maiden claimer where I wrote down the comment "worst of the worst!". Yes indeed, all the best horses were here today, from tracks such as Ft. Erie and Mountaineer and Garden State and Philadelphia Park and other high class tracks not to mention Finger Lakes, and it was my job to pick the winners of these things. Another giant Gennessee beer seemed in order. Such races always appear far clearer with extra beer.
In the first I convinced myself that the four horse had as much chance as any other horse. This after much soul-seraching. As it turned out I'd convinced myself wrong. The four under jock Joe Badamo never really got into the race and finished 4th. $6 right down the drain. I went back into the clubhouse to hang around there for awhile in the relative coolness of the shade, and after a short time chanced to overhear a conversation between two patrons who possibly also bet the four - or come to think of it, looked like they might have been some sort of track or racing officals or connections - and who were quite upset at the ride Mr. Badamo had given the horse. Something about "pulling", and all sorts of bad things, and 60 days, and an "unsatisfactory ride". I got the distinct impression they were of the opinion that Mr. Badamo had cheated! Well I never! But at least there was finally something interesting going on. So during the next few races I listened around some more.
This crowd has a really bad attitude! Everyone, it seems, suspects the outcome of every race, and harbors the deepest suspicions about any and all results. I was even beginning to get into the spirit, wondering what some horse was doing with with these strings tied around his hocks. And meanwhile convinced myself that a WP bet would be a good idea on the horse who eventually ran 3rd in the 2nd race. Rats! Cheated out of another $6!
I hadn't really thought about going up to 2nd level, but overheard a young lady tell her dad she was going up to the "gift shop", so thought I'd take a stroll up there to see what this gift shop looked like.
Whaddya know! So that's where all the people are! The 2nd floor harbored a much bigger crowd than the 1st, maybe 200 in all. Probably because the 2nd floor sort of felt like some air conditioning was involved, at least on the clubhouse end, and the color scheme is actually tolerable.
There's some stairs here on the clubhouse end concourse up to what must be the turf club, visible from outside as the enclosed area with restaurant tables and table TV's. Down grandstand end way (through some doors, that end the air conditioning experience) is a big bright concourse set up as a simulcast area, with some nice carrel areas set up at the back, a small gift shop that's actually a gift table, and an additional concessions area that mightily expands the concessions offerings, as here you can also get a chicken sandwich. There's also another little bar area. Plus there was a very welcome bit of breeze through the area and out front on the aluminum grandstand seats. I decided to do as the Romans do and spend the rest of my day up there.
Third race brought about my big chance for UPF. Favorite #8 Princess and Me looked a sure winner. And he was, taking an early lead, and winning easily by about 3-1/2. I'm sure some people felt cheated by that outcome, and harbored suspicions about the results, but I was happy enough with the giant $3.50 win price.
By this time I'd found the perfect place to sit: Way down at the left end of the stands a few rows in front of a group of 4 old gentlemen who'd brought chairs out and were sitting in the aisle, and who kept up a constant stream of disparagement, sarcasm, innuendo, insult, and accusation toward the track, the trainers, the riders, the horses, each other, and everyone involved in the whole operation plus probably a few who were innocent bystanders, all afternoon. They were absolutely hilarious. Who needs skydivers and so on when you've got that kind of free show? They were crackin' me up all day.
It didn't help my betting much, though. Another $6 down the tubes in the 4th. Way more than I shoulda down the tubes in the 5th. More in the 6th although I actually did cash but not enough to cover the bet. Wonder of wonders a winner, 1/2 of a crummy tri in the 7th. Gave $8 back in the 8th - in a race I'd written down "no clue!" on, to boot. God only knows what happened in the 9th, as I made a much bigger bet than usual for me and was rewarded with a $7.20/$3.90 WP horse. A big rain started just about the 10th, and all of a sudden 2 minutes to post magically passed in like 30 seconds as they hurried to get the race under way. I got shut out. Good thing. Then it really started raining in the 11th, where I managed to lose only $2.50. In the 12th I shot my wad on those worst of the worst maiden claimers, and was rewarded with what I deserved - nothing. Total bad effort for the day: negatory $61.65. Ouch. Needless to say I do not have any pearls of handicapping wisdom to impart from this particular day.
The rain had sort of stopped by the end of the card, although it looked like it might start up at any old time, and indeed you couldn't hardly tell from the sky what was rain and what was humidity, so I took the earliest possible opportunity to escape and hit the highway headed east.
Final book on Finger Lakes: Well, worth visiting once, I guess. Or maybe a place to go if you are stuck in Rochester with relatives and your mother-in-law is driving you batty. Even if it is hot and humid outside. The 4 old guys were just absolutely outstanding, however. Finger Lakes needs to package that attraction up and sell it.
Naturally, since the rain had come from the west and disappeared toward the east, and I was headed east myself in the super-fast Rent-A-ChumpMobile, in no time I was right back in the thick of the downpour. Almost all ... the ... way ... to Amsterdam. Stupid rain. Stupid upstate New York.