-- Monday afternoon, Aug. 27, many feet over the northern U.S.:
This afternoon the McChump Tour is engaged in "spot the track from the air". The Cascade County Fairgrounds track in Great Falls is clearly visible. I'm on the wrong side of the plane to see Missoula, and the Northwest Montana Fair track is apparently too far to the north, and would likely be obscured by smoke anyhow, as the Bob Marshall Wilderness is aflame again this year, with at least four separate fires visible and smoking away, and then a huge monster fire north of Kalispell somewhere puffing a huge cloud of smoke into the air. Playfair in Spokane is plainly visible, though. No horses on it today, and unfortunately, none in the foreseeable future. And then of course the pilot has the nerve to approach Seattle from the north, so no chance to even try to spot Emerald.
The ChumpMobile is ransomed from the Seattle airport parking garage at the bargain cost of $156 for the week. Note to self: Find out where the long term parking is next time you try this.
-- Tuesday morning, Aug. 28, I-5 south from Seattle:
Two things to note about this freeway: I have never been on an Interstate apparently constructed of cobblestones before; and people hereabouts seem not to have learned of the "Adopt A Highway" program yet, as this is the filthiest, most litter-strewn, stretch of Interstate I have ever driven. And I'm somewhat of an expert.
-- Tuesday noonish, Aug. 28, still on I-5 south:
Look! Here comes Portland again. There's Portland Meadows, right by the road. Looks like a decent enough place from the highway. There goes Portland again.
-- Tuesday evening, Aug. 28, Grant's Pass, OR:
Now this is a cute little town! Kinda touristy, quaint, stuck right in the middle of some beautiful mountain country. There's racing here, too, except I missed it, last weekend or the weekend before. The radio news says there's some civil unrest fomenting in some town near here, something about "the headgate", and local hotheads storming it and opening it, while the U.S. Marshals try to keep it closed. Local religious authorities are calling for calm and tolerance. I determine to avoid all public gatherings near any gate that evening. Once hotheads storm one gate, pretty soon they're all equally dangerous, is my thinking. And quite luckily, the only gate in the immediate vicinity is the one leading to the motel pool. But I cast a wary eye on the several little kids splashing about anyhow. I dunno ...
-- Wednesday morning, Aug. 29, Redding, CA:
It's been a beautiful drive down from Oregon this morning, featuring the grandeur of Mt. Shasta as the highlight. But now, coming out of the mountains, the valley is filled with smoke, as there's yet another forest fire burning somewhere off to the west. The news is filled with reports of the little towns and highways that are closed up there. And there's also been a brush fire down by Los Angeles that had I-5 closed for awhile. Shoot! What am I getting into here?
But there's good news, too. Somewhere in here, The ChumpMobile passed everyone's dream. Keyword passed. We gots stuff to do yet in this life.
-- Wednesday morning, Aug. 29, just south of Redding, CA:
All trip long semi-trucks have been speeding, ignoring "truck limits" like the signs weren't there, and often exceeding the auto limit by no small margin. And all trip long, whenever you saw Barney with someone pulled over to the side of the road, it was never a semi. Always some private car, while the trucks just whizzed on by. But today a California Highway Patrolman actually had gumption enough to pull one of the b*stards over. Mr. Patrolman, whoever you are, I salute you.
-- Wednesday afternoon, Aug. 29, Sacramento, CA, ~12:45 pm:
Okay boy, you better hustle, or you're never going to make first post.
Whip into the parking entrance at Cal Expo, and cough up the $6 parking fee. Pass all the lots close to the gate, as they're full. Park all the way out in west bumble, with about a 3/4 mile hike to the gate. Meanwhile, time's a wastin'. Wait in a long line to pay $8 to get in. Yikes! And then ...
Man, this is a monster fair. The track isn't immediately visible at all, but there's a sign that says head left. So I do, for maybe 1/4 mile, and then start wandering around looking. Here? No ... How about here? No ... from somewhere far, far away Boots and Saddles plays. Crap! Where's that damn racetrack? I'm never going to make first post.
As it turns out, when the sign said left, it meant way Way WAY left, and finally there it looms, at the eastest end of the whole monster fairgrounds. 20 miles from where the car is at this point, naturally.
I rush in to discover that post time was really 1:15 pm, so I have a couple minutes to bet. Buy a voucher, punch out a bet on the the #2 on general principles at 1:11 pm, and then go out front to see the results. This looks to be a quarter horse race, or maybe a funny distance tbred race, as the gate is way, way back in the chute. The horses are getting ready to go in. And they're off!
My choice, the #2, got kind of a bad start, and then got stuck down on the rail. I can tell by the way they're running, full blast, that these guys aren't going any farther than the finish line, and there's nothing worse than a bad start in one of these sprints. They're all running kind of funny, though. And as they get closer, they look kind of funny, too. Something about their ears.
As they pass the finish line I note that I have unsuccessfully wagered on the 4th place finisher of six mules. InstaCapping(tm) at its finest. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, and sometimes you bet on a mule.
Following that, I decided a program might be in order. That cost $2. But of course, since for that $2 no pp's were provided, a $4 DRF was also required. I also decided a beer was in order. $5.50 for a bottle of Sierra Nevada, and of course a tip on top of that. My goodness! This place certainly is not what McChump #2 would term "a value play". I wondered what a hamburger would cost, $25?
No, not hardly, as it turned out. These were "only" $5, priced quite competitively with the $5.50 polish sausage ("a gold coin in every bun"), and the $3.50 hot dogs ("made of only the very finest imported ground mealies and animal parts"). The concession value of the day in the grandstand seemed to be a little Mexican food stand that had 4 flautas for $5, and as the day went on and I got hungry I tried these and they were pretty decent. But my advice for anyone attending Cal Expo for the racing would be to either eat a huge lunch before you get there, or wander out into the fair where every food item imaginable is available (on a stick), and the prices are somewhat more reasonable, because - let's face it - these prices are just WAY out of line for fair quality racing.
And speaking of the fair quality racing, I picked up a nice $28.60 quinella when the Arabians I had selected for my 3 Arabian quinella box finished 1-2-4 in the 2nd. Don't let anyone tell you there is no value in Arabians, even if it is McChump #2 telling it. Plus this race once again proved my assertion that betting quinellas is the right thing to do at selected times, as the $1 exacta paid only $10.20, so don't ever let anyone try to convince you that the quinella and a $1 exacta box are exactly the same thing because THEY'RE NOT! So there. Don't knock it till you've tried it.
The day's card consisted of 10 live races, interspersed in the program with a couple of Monmouth races at the beginning and then the entire Del Mar card later on. Besides the mule allowance/optional claiming 1st (purse $6,000) and the Arabian allowance 2nd (purse $6,500), the card consisted of an appy $5k claimer (purse $6,000), five thoroughbred events for generally unsuccessful horses such as maiden claimers and N2L, top purse of $13,000 for the featured clm12500n2l race, an appy starter allowance ($6,500), and rounding out the card, a mule "allowance" for mules with an average SI of 55 or under ($4500), and as it played out this was pretty much a mule maiden claimer. As I looked over the pp's for this one my thinking was that these were some pretty bad mules, and that the race didn't at all match up in quality with the other fine offerings on the card, and that I probably wouldn't be staying for this one, even though the race featured that well regarded mule Kis My Okie Ass (Mike's Moon - unknown mare). The fact that the anticipated post was 5:43 pm and I still had to drive like 900 miles that night, more or less, had no bearing on this decision. I swear.
Time for a bit of exploring.
The facility itself is much nicer than I really expected for a fair track. In fact it would be a real nice premier track pretty much anywhere except for the big circuits. The main facility is a big open air, covered, concrete and steel monster, not real fancy, but there's some flower boxes hung on the front to spruce it up. Big 1st floor concourse, with betting windows and concessions and a very large, "any kind of seating you could imagine" state-of-the-art simulcast center (with an actual theatre), and sports bar on the left end, and then two levels of seating up above, with free stadium-style seating areas on either end of the 1st level and some boxes in the middle, and some fancier looking boxes up top of the 2nd level of seating. The up-upstairs cost $3 extra, and seemed to be "Turf Club", but as you can imagine, the McChump Tour had nothing to do with that baloney and so left totally ignorant of what might have been up there. Probably the type of people who'd spend $3 extra, though this is just speculation. There's also a pretty big, but barren and uninviting, 2nd floor concourse - betting windows, a concession stand selling "specialty sausages" for, you guessed it, $5.50 (and I'm guessing the specialty was Polish), a few folding tables fronting about 3 TV's, and little else. Pretty bleak. Make your bets and get out, you scummy horseplayers, seemed to be the theme of the 2nd floor concourse. The announcer's and press boxes hanging from the front of the roof looked out of place, real bad looking corrugated tin affairs.
Big sloped asphalt apron, with folding chairs on the left end, and anchored stadium type seats on the right of the Winner's Circle, which was poked into the apron at about the finish line, and was attractive, with some hedges and a couple of palm trees. Grassy area to the left of the apron with a "private tent" on it (somewhat incongruous in the context of a fair, but no doubt booked up years in advance, along with the "turf club", for the harness meet if I know my harness crowds), and on the right the paddock/saddling stall area, arranged quite interestingly in a circular layout, with way more saddling stalls than this meet would ever need. Nice walking ring, and covered stalls designed in a unique fair motif.
The track's the thing. A full mile dirt oval, nice and wide, no rocks, safety rail, with chutes on both ends. It was also very nicely groomed, by groovy tractors with tank tread type propulsion systems. The infield is a very nice and attractive one, all grass, with a big lake with fountains, and a small lake, a full function tote with palm trees, hedges, flowers, and a big screen (which also showed the non-live "card" races throughout the day), and in the background, trees, barns, and the general neighborhood.
With all the positives going for this track, three questions arose: Why was the tbred racing so non-competitive, why were so few people at the races on a beautiful day (even though much energy was expended on a "you're the one" promotion that singled out people on track TV to win a prize), and why were there so few birds in the ponds? Okay four questions: Add "Why was the most irritating, yammering, obnoxious woman in the world present on the apron at Sacramento on this particular day?" to the list.
And why did I lose $46.60 on the day, and pick yet another 2nd place horse for UPF? It certainly wasn't the beer, at $5.50 a pop, I'll tell you that.
The good thing about the McChump Tour is that mysteries can remain unanswerable. No thinking required.
On the way out of the fair I bought an eggroll on a stick (eggroll rating 5, stick 10), and observed some sort of parade down the midway, featuring parade participants.
Cal Expo gets a fairly limp thumbs up. It is a nice facility, and has potential, if one was to maybe come on a weekend when an actual crowd might show. Maybe.
Total miles traveled to get to this track: 3701 (2809 air, 892 ground)
-- Wednesday late evening, Aug. 29, central valley of CA:
Oh man. I thought that wind in Oregon was something. Nothing at all compared to the howling wind from the west off the mountains that tries to blow the ChumpMobile off I-5 on our way south tonight. In the dark. This wind just blows.