Well, I didn't REALLY go all the way to Austin just to visit Manor Downs, but as long as I was in the neighborhood, why not? They got horses. They got wagering. They got beer.
The 2007 McChump ??/365 Racing Tour
Summer Vacation, McChump Style
22 Exciting Tracks! 20 Exotic States and Provinces! 28 Thrilling Stories! Lotsa Trout!
Warning! The 2007 stories are mostly pictures, and not for the faint of bandwidth!
Ahhh, yes ... Spring. Hope springs eternal. Your year is renewed.
Start out with Opening Day at the old ballpark. Your friend has to perform the heimlich on you after you try to swallow the new higher prices of tickets and concessions, balloons are loosed, and jets fly over. The Sox kick off a losing year of truly stunning proportions. Next.
I think I might have mentioned McChump #2 has this thing for Arkansas Derby weekend at Oaklawn. Oh of course, he sort of liked it before, like when we went a few years back, but now, after the muddy mess he saw the one year, when the swells in their expensive suits had to piggyback women in their finery through the mud of the track to the infield for the post-race ceremonies, well ... he's hooked. I mean, that's there's class. So, somehow, here we are again ... and man, we're hoping it will rain, so someone can get a picture this time ... unlike the dummy who didn't think quick enough last time. Dummy.
There are so many good reasons to visit Canterbury Park, which you might have gathered from the fact that I've been there so many times. First and foremost, in my opinion it is the best run and customer-friendliest racetrack in America. No kidding. A big part of that from my standpoint is Player Relations Director (or whatever his title is these days) Jeff Maday, but it's clear the good attitude toward customers comes all the way down from Mr. Sampson. Del Mar and Emerald are close, but this place is the best.
On a beautiful Spring Montana Sunday I paid my excessive $11 Bucking Horse Sale admission, sat down on the bleachers at the Eastern Montana Fairgrounds, opened my program, and prepared to handicap the day's worth of racing at the 2007 Miles City Bucking Horse Sale meet. Ten races, so the program said, but the 3rd, 5th, and 9th looked a little funny. The races were listed as "Miles City Bucking Horse Sale Match Bronc Ride", and the horses listed, such as Wild Man, and Jumpin Jim, didn't have pp's as such, but rather comments like "Steve Dollarhide received a No Score on this horse at the 2007 Clovis, CA Rodeo". And, all the rider names were blank. I studied and I pondered, but I couldn't figure out exactly what this was all about. Finally it dawned on me ... this must be some sort of betting on the bucking bronc rides that take place between races!
The 2007 "Track Too Far" Tour
Three weeks, eight tracks, a bunch of scenery, and 4933 miles -- it was, in fact, at least one track too far, if not more. But I soldiered through. Man, was I exhausted and glad to get back to Montana. But there were some nifty little tracks, and lots of nice scenery. Never again, though! At least, not for awhile.
Up at the crack of 8:00 am or so after a restless night due to the paper thin walls of the fabulous (but cheap) Evergreen Motel of Princeton, BC, I was off, headed west to Vancouver and a date with Hastings Park. This drive from Princeton to Vancouver ... that's something you have to experience sometime, winding down wild river valleys with startlingly vertical green mountains around every turn. Some of the prettiest country I have ever seen.
I had trouble believing how long it took to drive from the dinky town by the Canadian border down to Auburn, WA. It looks so close on the map! Thank goodness for 2:00 pm post times on Sundays, is all I can say. Just before post time for the 2nd I rolled in to Emerald Downs, for what ... my 4th visit to this fun little track? It's always a joy to come back ... nice clean, well-designed facility, good service, good concessions, and decent enough racing, though I was a little disappointed in field sizes.
After a free 3rd of July city fireworks show just outside my groovy motel in Corvallis, a leisurely drive down I-5 brought me to the Josephine County Fairgrounds in beautiful Grant's Pass, OR, located in the mountain country of southern Oregon, almost to California.
It was kind of a long drive from Grant's Pass down to Pleasanton, but not too bad for a chump sort of guy. I kind of arrived late, and then didn't know where the heck to park at the Fairgrounds, and then called up McChump #2 and found out he and that notorious horse trainer Phil O. had weenied out from the racetrack anyhow because it was too hot, and were in the OTB up front. So then I had to walk over to the stupid OTB and pay extra to get in the stupid OTB after I'd already paid to get in the stupid fair, and anyhow, that first day wasn't a real success, and things were pretty stupid.
We had a few days to kill between the end of our Pleasanton visit and the beginning of Vallejo, so it was tourist time. First stop: San Francisco.
McChump #2 did not want to do the Yosemite drive, so he went direct to our next stop, Reno. My thinking was, "Hey! When's the next time you're likely to be here, maybe never?" So drive I did. Man, that's a long way up! And down.
Central Oregon after Prineville was it, the point at which I almost bagged it and abandoned the trip. I was tired. It would be so easy to break it off then and just head back to Montana summer base. But no. No true professional would do that. Besides, when might I ever be back this way again? Maybe never? So, once more into the breach, dear friends, and back through Washington and across the border to BC and its winding mountain roads.
Of course, that was a whole state away, with more driving and scenery on the way.
It sounded good on paper, according to AP's promotional announcement:
"Join us at Arlington Park on Pepsi Family Day on Sunday, July 22, for Fiesta in the Park, a Latino style family event in recognition of what Latino jockeys have given to horse racing. The atmosphere will be seasoned with traditional Latin American food, family entertainment and Latin American music. Enjoy performaces [sic] by Marachi Los Palmoreos, Mariachi Perla de Mexico, Ballet Folklorico Heuhuecoyotl and the William Gomez con Chace Orquestra."
On paper, and in reality. Two completely different things, it turns out.
You just never know if this time you visit the races at Great Falls will be the last. This year Montana lost racing at Missoula due to the cost of jockey insurance, and Great Falls was in question, too. Add some bad blood - or so it is reported - between the racing management at Great Falls and senior personnel at the Montana Board of Horse Racing, the usual city/county tension over the use of the fairgrounds, the fact that the races lose a little money on paper each year (but of course, no one has any clue how much positive money - like the horsemen's, or mine for that matter - comes to town in associated business like motels and restaurants and etc.), the uncertainty over what help the legislature really gave the industry when they passed account wagering and fantasy sports wagering laws, and you've got yourself a situation where any day racing might be kaput.
After the crushing disappointment of Arlington's Fiesta in the Park, I didn't really hold out much hope for the Beach Bash. But once again, it SOUNDED good, according to the AP promotional announcement:
"The week-long series of special events and charitable affairs kicks off on Saturday, Aug. 4, when Arlington hosts its inaugural Beach Bash featuring live music by Southern Course, a Jimmy Buffet cover band, a sandy beach in the park area, Tiki Hut bars with signature beach drinks, a mechanical surf board and appearances by the Hawaiian Tropic girls and hula dancers throughout the day."
All good things must come to an end, and the summer in Montana was no exception. Finally it was time to leave the smoky Rocky Mountain front and start heading back to Chicago, albeit in kind of a roundabout manner. Billings was first on the stop, for a little more racing, and a little last fishing.
Come Saturday of my last weekend in Montana, it was still damn hot. Real hot. Couple that with the unprofitable outing at Yellowstone Downs the day before, and a few other excuses, no one really wanted to go out to the Crow Fair for the racing but me. Weenies. But go I did, and as long as I was heading out that way, determined to go the extra mile and visit the Little Big Horn Battlefield, which I hadn't seen in quite some time. And literally, it's about an extra mile.
Okay, I'll admit, Elko, Nevada, might not be on just everyone's route from Billings, MT, to Chicago, but it was on mine. Mainly to see a racetrack I hadn't seen before, but also to see The White King, who had gripped my imagination ever since McChump #2 discovered this amazing ferocious roadside attraction when he stopped in Elko a year or so back.
Okay, I'll admit, Dodge City, KS, might not be on just everyone's route from southern Wyoming to Chicago, but it was on mine. I've wanted to see where Matt Dillon and Miss Kitty lived and loved for, like, forever. It's been been burning in my brain worse than the White King. My way of thinking was, when are you likely to be back this way again, maybe never? So the trail home led south for awhile, to southeastern Colorado and across the border to southwestern Kansas, and the big Gunsmoke shrine I imagined therein. But there was a lot of driving to do between southern Wyoming and there, and as long as I was going that way, I wanted to stop and visit the Sand Creek Massacre site out in the middle of nowhere in SE Colorado, and it only stayed open until 4:00 pm. Must hurry!
I wasn't sure I was all that excited about stopping at the Columbus Races on the way home, as the last time I was there, it was pretty damn disappointing. But I thought to myself, what the hey self, it's on the way, more or less, you might not ever be back this way again, and besides, Prairie Meadows doesn't race on Sundays, so I don't really even have that option. Columbus it was, or nothing, and live racing of any sort beats nothing every time.
This stupid horse we bred - he was supposed to be better. An Elusive Quality, after all. They were running and winning all over the country. But not ours. He was stupid, and headstrong, and small, and could run only a little, like 4f before he quit, and was always getting hurt, or something. Stupid horse.
Quite frankly, I have no idea who or what horse is in most of these Kentucky Cup Day pictures, and don't feel like making the effort to research it. It was just a fun day, it didn't rain us out this year, the snacks and beverages were excellent as always, the company was great, there was horse racing, there was wagering, and that's about all that matters. What else can you ask? Thanks again, Jeff! (Mostly just pictures)
I'm pretty sure these last two are the big race.
Well. Here we are again at the baseball park, and guess what? The White Sox stink beyond belief. This is one of the worst seasons I have ever suffered through. It is once again time for a young man to turn his attention to the racetrack, quickly.
Well, I didn't REALLY go all the way to Austin just to visit Retama Park, but as long as I was in the neighborhood, why not? They got horses. They got wagering. They got beer. So we drove down by San Antonio. And oh yeah - as long as I was in the neighborhood, I temporarily blew off my Retama boycott.