Now who said you must have wagering to run a horse race? It's just not so (though it isn't quite as fun.)
And so, early on a Monday morning in August (a day which apparently some people had off), you would have found me and Dave Z. from Arlington meeting up in the parking lot at the Oakbrook OTB and switching to just one rig for a long, long 3-1/2 hr. trip from Chicagoland to visit a track Beyond Podunkville, down in Greenup, Illinois. a little town in downstate Illinois farm country, on the road between St. Louis and Indianapolis. For fair racing. With no wagering.
Fair racing in Illinois is supported by the Department of Agriculture, to promote the breeding and boarding and feeding and whatever of horses that consumes agricultural commodities. They supply most of the purse money, for races limited to Illinois breds. Even added to whatever the fair might put up, it's not much. Which of course does not attract all the star horses in Illinois. In fact, most were either very unsuccessful lowe level cliamers from Fairmount, or horses with no past performance lines at all, apparently homebreds from all over southern Illinois. The Holsapple family had a lot of them in.
Furthermore, while harness racing at the downstate tracks is pretty popular, with lots of fairs hosting it and most running multiple days, not so much with thoroughbred and quarter horses. Maybe because those require real jockies, who knows. So this day was one of the few days all summer that the flats horses ran, at one of the few fairs that put on such races.
The fair did have a couple things going for it, namely great fast food out back like giant pork tenderloin sandwiches, and a great race caller, namely Kurt Becker, he of Keeneland fame. Apparently his family is from down in these parts and his afther called fair races for years. And he made these low level races interesting by pointing out the lineage of this horse and that, plus of course doing a much better job of calling races than the usual fair announcer.
But the real story on the day was a shortage of jockies for the thoroughbred races. There were only a couple/three of them who had actual jockey pants and boots, including Mr. Reliable Lindell Wells, and then a couple guys who were apparently volunteers or exercise riders, wearing jeans and cowboy boots.
This worked okay for awhile, until one jock got hurt. Then they had to scratch a horse or two from each race. Then one guy had to go home to feed his farm animals. That left just three jocks and put the program in some serious jeopardy.
However, a call went out to the crowd for volunteers and a brave local decided he would take a shot at it, since he has done some exercise riding. He actually rode a pretty decent race, all the way around the two turns. The problem came when the race was over, and he had to pull that hoss up after the stretch. Apparently his legs were not accustomed to all the stress of a high speed horse race, and ran out of strength just about then. Boom, down he went on the clubhouse turn. He was off the card for the rest of the day, and we were down to just three jocks again.
But what's this? On of the quarterhorse jocks who was there for a later race said he would give it a try. Never rode a thoroughbred race before, but how hard can it be? Plus he had real jock pants so you know he was a professional. So off that race went with the quarterhorse jock riding, and he did pretty good out of the gate and down the backstretch, but he ran into difficulties on the first turn he encountered, when he forgot to slow down. Wide, Wider, WIDEST, and almost at the outside rail, until Boom! Down he went. Also scratched from the card, including the QH race he came to ride, which was probably not real welcome news to the trainer and/or owner of that QH that had to be scratched.
It was quite a day to be a jock.
Was there any wagering at this fair? Well ... not what you'd call organized. But it was there, with folks betting amongst themselves.
And I do think a good time was had by all. Except maybe all those jocks that fell off. They're some brave guys.
Later on Dave and I went out dinner with Mr. Becker, Dave and him being longtime acquaintances, and many fne stories were recounted. Then the long drive home. What a day.