Apache County Fair, St. John's, AZ, Sat, Sep 15, 2001 (Track #122)

-- Saturday, 9/15, western New Mexico:

Very pretty and deserted drive this morning from Socorro up US 60 and into the mountains of western New Mexico and eastern Arizona. If you had a hankerin' to disappear from civilization, this might be the place.

Three highlights:

- Magdalena (?) - Sign on the way into town: "Turn your clock back 100 years, you're entering Magdalena". Yeah ... no. My feeling is that the modern highway is probably much preferable to what existed then, as far as getting through this town and gone.

- Pie Town - McChump #2 and I had speculated a great deal about what one might or might not find in this town if one ever visted there, when we'd seen the signs for it a couple of years ago. As it turns out, one finds little. Sorry chump, pies are not in evidence.

- The VLA radio telescope array - Just sitting there out in the middle of the high desert miles from God and everybody, this thing is quite impressive, a big cross shape of radio telescope antennas spreading out over miles, all pointing off into the southeastern sky, silently listening for ... something.

-- Saturday, 9/15, St. John's, AZ (just on the AZ-NM border):

This isn't a real big town, and I probably could have found the fairgrounds myself if I'd applied some effort, but I stopped and asked. "Just up the hill and to the right, on the way out of town". And there it was indeed, on the northeast edge of town, by the airport.

Well! I thought the fair at Burley, ID, was pretty small, but that thing was almost a giant compared to this. There's a very small midway on one side of the entrance road (no Tilt-A-Whirl, but Gravitron and The Zipper), a muddy dirt parking lot, the track complex, and then off the 1st turn of the track some exhibit barns and food booths and so on, but very, very small. Overall, however, deliciously cheesy in all aspects.

Apache County Fair program 2001 Parking in the muddy dirt lot was free, as was admission. (Anyhow I think it was - there was a girl at the track entrance sitting there with an admission taker's apron, but she asked for nothing as I cruised on in). Racing program was $2.50.

I'd arrived a bit early, so decided to sample the cuisine. I went with a green chili chicken burrito, $1.50, which was quite good if one discounts the presence of chicken bones. There was also a little shed out back selling cans of several mass-market brands of beer for $1.75.

This is a classic little county fair setup, complete with a tiny, rickety little grandstand of aging wood, peeling white paint, lots of seemingly randomly-nailed cross members holding the whole thing together, and finest corrugated tin outer skin. Open air bench seating above, under the corrugated tin roof and wood roof supports, and a small double outhouse sized announcer/judges booth perched up top. Small, close, low "concourse" down below with the betting windows and room for people to place portable chairs in the shade (and in the way). Just out back there's a newer looking add-on annex built of cinder blocks that provides a small open air "simulcast area" that is pretty much a concrete slab with a roof, some plastic chairs, and a couple of TV's hanging from the rafters. Sweet! They did manage to cycle the two TV's through a number of signals, as I saw Fpx, LaD, Calder, BM, and AP up there at various times throughout the day being enjoyed by the six or seven people in this area.

Out front there's a small asphalt apron, a small saddling area/paddock to the left, with covered stalls and a dirt and woodchip walking ring. Barns out behind the paddock. The track itself is a very narrow, dirt cloddy, 4f bullring, with a raggedy natural grass infield behind a dusty rodeo ring, and a small, mini function toteboard on wheels. High plateau as the backdrop. The track also serves as the Winner's Circle here.

Finally, however, it was time for racing. Almost.

First we had to do the flag raising and National Anthem ceremonies, and the track announcer told us as much. We all quieted down from our pre-race revelries, dutifully took off our hats, and came to respectful attention. Two elderly American Legion type gentlemen started out from the apron towards the flagpole out in the infield, flag under arm. First they trudged across the dirt cloddy track. Then they trudged through the dusty rodeo circle. After some additional time trudging they reached the actual flagpole and started unfurling the flag. The recorded anthem started up.

The flag was not cooperating. First the top corner refused to be attached to the cable, then the bottom. Then it wrapped itself around the elderly gentlemen and had to be rassled some more. Meanwhile the Anthem progressed. Finally the flag was subdued, attached to the cable, and started to rise. I wondered if some especial tragedy had struck St. John's aside from the recent national tragedy. The elderly gentlemen finally noticed that the flag had, of its own volition, somehow managed to attach itself to the cable in the upside down nautical "Mayday" position. Down came the flag. The Anthem was wrapping up. Another tussle ensued. The Anthem ended. After only a short interval the flag was righted, and finally raised halfway up the short mast in silence. A mighty cheer erupted from the collective throat of the crowd. Yay!

We had a pretty good crowd on hand on this, the first day of the big four day, two weekend meet at the Apache County Fair. Lots of families, kids, and cowpokes. Many enjoying their beers. At least one enjoying too much, as later in the day he left the fair in one of the ambulances after some mysterious event under the stands involving him, a folding chair, and the ground. I didn't quite see the whole affair. One enterprising individual received a shipment of small American flags from a connection during the course of the afternoon, and proceeded to hawk them to the crowd on hand. If anyone hesitated to make the "donation" he would harangue them, with greatest sincerity, "Are ya an American? If ya are ya NEED a flag!" My opinion was that if he was as sincere as he acted, so close to the Sept. 11 events, he'd have been giving them away for free out of the goodness of his heart. But no, these flags cost money. Others did not share my opinion. Soon small American flags sprouted from the jeans pockets of a large number of the crowd. One smallish dog even sported a flag attached to his collar.

Everyone was having fun, with the possible exception of the volunteer mutuel tellers, who had little or no clue as to what it was they were doing and who sang out "Help! Help!" pretty much anytime a patron approached them with a bet exceeding the difficulty of Win, Place, or Show. In response to the summons one of two very harried looking supervisors would rush over and show them how to punch out something like a quinella box, or God forbid, that most dastardly of all bets, the part wheel. I personally believe some of the crowd was intentionally flustering these poor tellers, however, as they would approach and ask for something like the "$2 win 3 place 4-5 double" as a unique description of the 3/4,5 exacta part wheel. There'd follow a moment of stunned silence. "Help! Help!"

The racing on the day consisted of eight races, six for thoroughbreds and two for quarter horses. I'm not sure of the actual purses here, as it was based on the point system, where purses are decided after the end of the day when the take is figured out. 100 points in total. $1000 tbred claimers raced for 11 points. 2yo QH contested 10. The feature of the day, $3200 claiming tbreds going a distance of 4f, were chasing 13. From four to eight horses per race. I didn't recognize so many of the trainers here, but the jock colony was familiar from other Arizona fairs and Prescott: Anna Barrio, Richard Gamez, "Scooter" Ron Beverly, David Reyes-Frisby.

The very first race got off to a rocky start after the flag ceremony had already delayed things. The horses didn't want to go to the paddock. Then they did. Then the race finally went. At the end it was real close for 2nd and 3rd, and there was a real real long interminable photo finish, because apparently the photo finish camera had malfunctioned. Placing judges were consulted, and finally a dead heat for 2nd and 3rd was declared. As far as I know the payoffs for this race never did appear on the mini-tote on wheels, that's how long this affair went on.

The 2nd resulted in another photo, but this one was resolved in a timely manner. In the 3rd we had a photo AND a DQ. I lost out of the quinella on the DQ, but I thought it was a justified DQ. Even if you hardly ever see them in quarter horse racing. In the 4th I picked The Final Hurrah for UPF, but that turned out to be a 2nd place type horse. Nothing particularly stupid happened in races five and six. In the 7th a horse lost its rider resulting in another inquiry (no change). Nothing of note in the 8th, either.

Round about the 5th I'd had enough of taking pictures so determined to go dump my camera in the car. On the way back I looked over at the cheesy fair off the first turn, said "Why not?", and wandered on over there to see what was happening. Not a whole heck of a lot, as it turned out. Some food and craft stands.

But there was music coming from somewhere, and I soon discovered it. What we had was a small stage with a rock power trio made up of local 14 yo boys, and the stands in front were chock full of local (and tri-county) 14 yo girls who screamed and squealed after the songs. I was never reminded so much of "Joe's Garage". But I had arrived at the end of the set, which was announced by the band leader after a song which was seemingly their last. "Well, that's the end of our set. We didn't think it would go that fast." Apparently there was still time to kill. The teenage girls were having none of that, though, and screamed requests. One or another of the boys had an objection to each request, however. Finally one of them took charge and decided the band would play "Somewhere Over The Rainbow". This was fairly horrible. I took refuge in the Chickens and Rabbits barn until it was over, then slunk back over to the racetrack.

Racing had proceeded without me (not entirely, as I could see the 5th race coming right at me from that 1st turn vantage point), and I'd managed to lose once again. In fact that was kind of the hallmark of my betting on the day, losing, and I managed to walk out of the place having left $29.10 with the bettors and track association of the Apache County Fair.

But all in all, an excellent day with lots of entertainment and fun folks at a fun little fair and track out in the middle of nowhere. Huge thumbs up!

Miles travelled to get to this track: 259