-- Morning, Sunday, Aug. 12, ~South Pass, Wyoming:
Today we are embarked on a little "off the odometer" sightseeing expedition to the great South Pass, where all the emigrant trains crossed over the Rocky Mountains on their way to Oregon and other points west. Very quiet and still. The Interstate now follows another route, far to the south. I meet Harleys heading west, riders finally finished with their week of debauchery in Sturgis.
From the overlook turnout, South Pass is visible on the horizon a couple of miles off to the east. Below it is Pacific Springs, visible only as a clump of green, critical water after the trains had left the Sweetwater River on the east slope. Rand-McNally says there's a monument to Narcissa Whitman and Eliza Spalding, first white women to cross the Rockies, somewhere around here, but I can't find it. At the turnout there's also a friendly gentleman from an RV who doesn't know either, and he's on his way to the OCTA (Oregon and California Trails Association) convention in Casper this coming Wednesday. He asks if I'm a trail buff, and helps me look on some of his maps for that monument (still not found), and gives me an OCTA brochure. He and the wife and their RV head east, backwards on the Oregon Trail, and I head southwest, generally following the Trail forwards, toward Fort Bridger.
(Later reading of a book I had in the back seat all along revealed that the monument was actually up on the pass, which would have required some gravel road and rut driving, so the heck with that anyhow.)
-- Aug. 12, shortly before 1:00pm, Evanston, Wyoming:
Okay, I admit it. Shoulda got started maybe 1/2 hour earlier. Today I am not going to make it in time for first post. There's still 11 or 12 miles north on Wyo-89 to go, and the speed limit here is no 75.
-- Aug. 12, 1:12 pm, Wyoming Downs parking lot (free):
Well, this is quite a pleasant surprise. That's a very nice looking little track there, in the middle of nowhere, and the parking lot is jam packed, and there is actually a big line of people at the admission booths!
Perhaps the jam up at front was because people were fishing to come up with the $5 general admission. Or maybe they were looking for the extra money to actually get a seat. But surely the $2 program was no hardship. Whatever the case, actually getting in was a slow process.
Right inside the gate one is faced with a choice. Upstairs, for which you need a resrved seat, or downstairs to the concourse and apron, for which you have already paid $5. I chose the latter.
The results of the first are still on the toteboard: 4-1-5-3. That's how close I came.
Today is the final day of the Wyoming Downs 2001 meet, which is perhaps why there is such a big crowd on hand. Or perhaps it was the perfect, warm sunny weather. The big sloped concrete apron was covered with folding chairs, the concourse was packed, and the seats up above were also full. Nice crowd. Which didn't bet much. Despite some constant urging from the track announcer.
I don't often notice the announcers much at unfamiliar tracks, but this guy, Brad Walker according to the program, was something special. He kept us busy all day with a running commentary on everything going on, encouraged the people to actually go down and take a close look at the horses on the track, came up with a number of clever and funny comments during the day, and did what I thought was a fine job of calling the races, being especially good at calling very close finishes before the photos had even been examined. So kudos to him.
This really is a nice plant. Medium sized open grandstand of steel I-beam and corrugated metal construction, with a big corrugated metal roof, but all quite tasteful in light earth tones. Stadium style seating up the stands, and a few sets of aluminum bleachers out on the apron below the pay seats. Big corrugated metal announcer's booth perched on the front of the roof. Set of betting windows outside, just to the left of the stands, and then a very nice paddock to the left of that, with a dirt walking ring surrounding grass, and very nice covered saddling stalls. Small astroturf Winner's Circle set into the concourse at the left end.
Downstairs on the concourse are betting windows, concessions stands at either end, a small gift shop, and the beer stand, plumb in the middle, with a stupid white fence sticking out into the walkways, and which made traffic from one side of the concourse to the other miserable all day. There were also some simulcast monitors hanging around, showing Del Mar and the Cal Fairs. Various table and chairs scattered about for those who wanted to spend their days inside watching these. What's upstairs? I don't know; never bought the reserved seat ticket.
Big giant beers, which thankfully included MGD among the offerings, were $3.75, and the food offerings which I didn't try included cheeseburger $4.00 (these were very popular judging by the lines), BBQ beef $4.75, gyros $4.75, and your basic hot dog $2.50. Later in the day it was announced that everything was now half-price, and people swarmed the stands. Maybe this was why they'd all come out.
Out front was what appeared to be a nice 7f or maybe mile dirt oval, with chutes at either end, to start 6f thoroughbred races on the back chute, and 550 yd QH races on the front. Nice, full function toteboard, and a huge swampy lake filled with wildfowl were the chief features of the infield. Low, dry rolling hills of SW Wyoming everywhere in the distance. Quite a pretty setting.
And the racing!
For the final day of the meet they'd assembled a card of 12 races, thoroughbreds and quarter horses, all distances, all sorts of levels, although mostly it was a "big race" sort of day, with from 7 to 12 horses per race, mostly on the big side. The Wyoming Downs Derby, 400 yds for QH, drew 8 chasing a purse of $5200. The Claiming Futurity, 330 yds, had 10 chasing $11050. The 550 Mixed Breed Championship: 12 running for $5800; the Diamond Classic Derby at 400 yds: 10 after $17,182.50; the Bettie Bullock Memorial Derby, 5-1/2f tbreds: 8 for $8825; and then the big race of the day, the Diamond Classic Futurity at 350 yds: 10 chasing a big $96,772.08.
It was, without a doubt, a first rate money-making opportunity!
If, of course, one could handicap.
My horse disappointed me sorely in the 2nd. The horse I bet in the 3rd lost his rider. Finally in the 4th I hit a whopping $18 quinella. Lost it back in the 5th. Bet the #7, Sand Mountain Dash, to win for UPF in the 6th, and he managed to come in 2nd. Picked the eventual 3rd place finisher to win/place in the 7th.
Things were not going particularly well.
That is, until the 8th, another one of those Derby/Futurity type races where all the horses had to qualify in trials, and where the previous 2nd place runners always have a good price and often win, and so on and so forth blah blah blah.
$3 quinella partwheel, some prev-2nd place prices with some prev-1st short prices. $1 tri, some 2nds/a couple 1sts/some seconds. And then some other stupid bets. All told, half the days betting bankroll on the line, $60 American dollars riding on the outcome of a 400 yd, 20 second dash. My mouth went dry. I needed another beer. To reinforce what the previous beers had just led me to bet.
When all the dust had cleared, the stupid bets had lost, but I had half the $417.80 tri, and 1-1/2 times the $124.40 quinella. Cha-ching! A moment ago I was not The King, but now I AM The King!
And then after that I gave them back $20, but left with a couple of races to go when I saw that I was probably only going to be King for one race that day.
Trainers Ron Moosman and Lee Giles managed to win a few races on the day, which put some more money into UPF's coffers via James C.'s pledge, the spare change bankroll shot spectacularly into the black, and I got a nice little sunburn and had a great time.
Wyoming Downs gets a definite thumbs up. Really a surprise to find such a nice track in such an out-of-the-way place.
Total miles traveled to get to this track: 157