-- Thursday morning, Aug. 30, I-5 heading south:
Note to all: Avoid the Kettleman City Super 8 motel like the plague. What a dive. I suppose the prominently displayed sign that read "Absolutely NO refunds for rooms!" might have been a tipoff.
North of Los Angeles, maybe Castaic, it's easy to see why that fire had I-5 closed. The hills right next to the road are burned black. Amazingly, all the homes down in the bottom of the valley are untouched.
Who designed the Los Angeles freeway system, anyhow? One minute you're on 5 lanes, then all of a sudden it cramps down to 2 and traffic slows to a crawl, then boom! 5 again and it's clear sailing. This guy should be tied down in a hill of fire ants.
-- Thursday afternoon, Aug. 30, Del Mar Racecourse:
Arrival with plenty of time to spare. Parking: $3.
I didn't head in right away, but instead went into one of the admin buildings to meet old friend Mary Shepardson, and catch up on all the news. Mary took me upstairs to meet legendary horse racing Internet guru Miles Michelson, and let me tell you, Miles has life tough. His office is on the uppermost level of the track, what I assume is the press box level, and looks directly out over the track. I cannot imagine a worse way to spend a work day than looking out over beautiful Del Mar all day. Miles, you have my sympathies.
Also got the special tour out on the roof for a good view of the ocean (and no matter the view, the surf STILL does not quite meet the turf), and then said adieu for the time being, for Mary and Miles to pursue their work day, and me mine.
My choice to go back out and come in like the normal chumps, just to document. Clubhouse admission: $7, but that includes a program.
I was beginning to despair that I would never see another DQ on this trip, to take advantage of Gary W.'s pledge. The Del Mar stewards, however, did not disappoint. First race, boom! Inquiry and a DQ, second place finisher down to 3rd. The way I saw things, it was a good call, especially as moving up the #8 got me the quinella. At $4.60, I was screaming my head off for that one.
The Tour has been to Del Mar before, and so have you probably, so not too much description in this story. The only thing I noticed that had changed much since my last couple of visits was the infield, where the County had transformed it for the fair. It is/was now "Horse Beach", with an ultra-groovy faux sand sculpture of three cartoonish horses, and a cool tiki bar set in a beach setting. With these improvements, and all the rape and pillage Magna has performed on the Santa Anita infield, particularly the transformation of the late lamented Wine Shed into a smoking hole, the Del Mar infield now rates as the #1 infield in racing from the viewpoint of the McChump Racing Tour. It's nice, too, that you can get right up against the backstretch rail of the turf course, and watch and hear the horses come thundering by up close, jocks talking and clucking.
In fact, as I wandered the track and enjoyed the beautiful day and facility, and a good card of 8 competitive races (even if four were maidens), a creeping feeling came over me: Del Mar has maybe finally overtaken Santa Anita as my favorite (mainstream) track. Maybe. That was kind of a surprise, but maybe not. Last time I was at Santa Anita I felt a definite irritation at the things Frank had done to ruin my favorite racing experience. It was only a matter of time.
Well maybe not so competitive. In the 2nd I nailed the $4.20 quinella. Woo hoo. There just didn't seem to be any horse that could close one bit, and all the speed horses were bet down to a fare-thee-well. This continued all day, except on the turf, where I made my only decent score of the day when Laffit Pincay brought me home a $9.20/$4.80 WP horse. Overall, however, I did pretty stinky, losing $46 on the day. These California tracks have been tough on the spare change bankroll! Did hit my UPF bet, getting Lord of Speed in the 8th, a big $7 winner, but of course my own bet on that one was an exacta, which bit the dust when a relative longshot got up for 2nd. Those 1-3 finishes in my exactas and quinellas are bringin' me down, man.
On the concessions front, things were very much on the expensive side. For instance, a carved sandwich would have run me $6.50, and a big sausage $6 even. No thanks. I went with a $4 lobster taco, quite tasty, and later a $2.50 corn dog from the infield, good and greasy. The beer situation was also bleak. Mary had recommended a micro-brew named Karl Strauss, but I had a heck of time even finding it on sale. Finally did, however, in the infield. $6.50 for 16 oz. Ouch! It was pretty good, but not THAT good. Lesser beers were also quite pricey, but I didn't write those down. Something like $5.25. Didn't indulge in many at all, at those prices. Couldn't have anyhow. For some reason, most of the concession stands started closing up before the 7th race.
Following the races I hooked up again with Mary, and the Del Mar staff donated a bag of Pacific Classic hats for the fundraiser's "small racing token of appreciation" to the $25 or more contributors. Off to dinner then, with Mary, and Miles, and Julie, and Lisa, for the first good meal in a few days at the Brigantine up on the hill, overlooking the track. Quite tasty. And picked up by DMTC. Thanks very much!
Huge thumbs up for Del Mar! Beautiful facility, beautiful setting, beautiful weather, and friendly helpful employees. Can't beat that. If only the beer was cheaper ...
Miles travelled to get to this track: 490