Bad Scene at Belmont - The Chumps' BC

Belmont Park, Nov 3-4, 1995

The Big McChump Breeder's Cup Expedition started out right enough, when McChump #2 called and woke me in my hotel room at 7:00 am Friday morning and informed me he was down in the lobby after an all night flight from Phoenix. As The Big Co. had seen fit to force me to attend a conference in New York City, the *week before the Breeder's Cup* would you believe it?, I'd decided to keep the hotel room an extra couple nights and stay for the BC. McChump #2 thought that sounded like an excellent idea, too, and scheduled a flight to NYC. So there he was, down in the lobby at the crack of dawn, and the big outing was officially underway. Breeder's Cup Day! The crown jewel of the 1995 McChump Racing Tour! We both went back to the room to sleep for another three hours.

When the big outing did actually get underway later that morning it was an adventure: a brisk hike down 7th Ave. from Times Square to Penn Station, taking in all the sights and sounds of the big city and her people, a stop in a combination grocery/deli/newsstand/porno shop to pick up some umbrellas because it was supposed to start raining later that day, and suddenly there we were at Penn Station, ready to catch the Long Island Railroad train out to Belmont.

The Belmont Express is actually a pretty good deal, and convenient. Eight bucks gets you round trip from mid-town Manhattan to Belmont's doorstep, and no fighting traffic or surly parking lot attendants or crazy cabbies. Much nicer train cars, and more comfortable, and more quiet, than for instance Chicago subways. A highlight of the weekend, for sure.

Grandstand admission: $1. A bargain. Program: $1.50, but that includes the simulcast section. Double bargain. Giant and I mean giant beers: $3.00. True value! Hot dogs and so on around $2.25, and all the other food was similarly dirt cheap, relatively speaking, and there was a great selection of stuff, including an interesting little French motif stand that ran out of delicious-smelling red bean soup just as I got there. This stand had a sad little sign posted on the front that said the new concession contract holder for next year at Belmont had not renewed with them, and so they would not be back, and appreciated all the business their loyal fans had given them over the years. Made me sad, to see something unique like that being lost at a track, and I hope that the new concession contract holder for next year comes to their senses and keeps the food selection at Belmont varied and interesting instead of cheaping out to the "you want food you get hotdogs" menu of a certain local track of mine that I haven't written about yet this year but will in the near future, I promise. But I digress. Bottom line: big BSF for Belmont's food.

The Belmont plant itself was HUGE and cavernous with the tiny little Friday afternoon crowd, and we wandered the entire thing, just to get a feel for the place. Clubhouse upgrade: $2. Bargain City, again. The paddock was immensely beautiful, as was the track and infield, and the plant itself is in pretty decent shape. We were looking forward to a wonderful day at the track the next day, BC Day.

Friday afternoon's betting was somewhat of a disaster, partially because the card consisted primarily of tough allowance races with all sorts of bizarre conditions, featuring some really good horses like Lord Carson and Caress that had been nominated to the various BC races but had, for whatever reasons, been entered on Friday instead. Primarily, however, I blame our poor Friday showing on the easy accessibility of giant beers and the fact that McChump #2 had left all the Groovy Numbers on the train for someone else to find and use to score that Easy Money. On the way out, McChump #2 discovered that he had somehow misplaced his new umbrella, as well. And it was a struggle for him to find the train tickets.

After an evening spent in midtown Manhattan, a good portion of it at Jimmy's Corner Bar, which is located in the middle of a block, Saturday morning broke overcast and a little drizzly, but actually not too bad compared to what had been predicted. There'd been a hell of a storm during the night, but now the streets were drying off, and all the water had run off to wherever it is that water runs off to in New York City. Not too bad at all. We looked forward to another enjoyable day.

What a difference a day makes. Things were totally different at Belmont. The crowd, for one thing, although that you'd expect. The admission, for another: $10, a mere thousand pct. increase from the day before. I've seen this before, of course, at AP for instance on Million Day - but there AP is paying the purses. (Didn't really affect us though, as we had tickets.) Just inside, another difference: much higher concession prices, although in fairness I must say that by the end of the day I did manage to find the $3.00 giant and I mean giant beers tucked away in some back corners. Turns out those were only minor differences.

McChump #2 had to go conduct some business with the friendly folks down at Customer Service and check cashing services, so the task of placing our bets for the Juvenile Fillies fell to me. The lines at the windows on the ground floor grandstand side weren't too bad, or so I thought. I stood and I stood and I stood as people rang up one $1 Pick 7 ticket after another in front of me. What a drag! I made it up to the seats with about 30 seconds to post. But I knew things would be better once all the Pick 7 tickets were in. Yeah, right chump.

Enough people have already written how bad the mutuel window scene on the entire grandstand side SUCKED! on BC Day, so I'll skip most of the details, but I will say I blame Belmont entirely for pulling most of the live tellers immediately after the Juvy Fillies. No lie! Soon as that race was over, and all the Pick 7's in, almost every live teller on the grandstand side closed up shop, leaving everyone, novice and pro alike, to struggle with an inadequate number of cranky, hard-to-read, unreliable, and poorly programmed Autotote machines. And as we all know, the General Public generally hasn't got a clue how to run these things. So the machine lines were s-l-o-w. The result was: watch a race, run down to get in line to bet, run back up to your seat with 30 seconds to post, and repeat. None of the joy of a day at the races - no time for the paddock, no time for the post parade, no watching the odds, no going for a beer. NO BEER! As I said, this SUCKED! I suppose we could have bagged betting altogether and just enjoyed the horses and the spectacle, but that is of course contrary to the McChump credo.

It wasn't just the mutuel lines that SUCKED! though. There was also the concessions, and this wasn't the lines so much as the poor and I mean poor help manning the counters. In the break before the Classic I stood in a twelve person line from 23 min. to post until 2 min. to post. Twentyone minutes to serve the eleven people in front of me. The guy in front of me observed that the man behind the counter probably raced icebergs in his spare time. A few minutes later he observed that the best he'd done so far was "show".

I got to talking to this guy in front of me - a nice friendly New Yorker like I found most New Yorkers to be all weekend, contrary to myth - and he told me this was the first time he'd been to the track in four years. He was totally disgusted with Belmont's BC Day presentation, as was I. Now - think like a track executive here. It's the biggest day in racing, you have a beautiful park, it's not actually a bad day, you're going to have a big crowd there with probably lots of guys like this who only come out once in awhile, racing is a sport with dwindling attendance - so what do you do? Make these people's experience pleasant and memorable, right? Try to make the day fun so maybe they come back a little more often, right? Oops - I meant - think like a BELMONT track executive.

To make a long story end a little sooner, I'll just say that the show Belmont put on, at least for their BC Day live fans on the grandstand side, SUCKED! It totally negated the pleasant experience I'd had on Friday, and more. And it was entirely a result of inadequate help on duty, IMHO. How tough can this be? You know how many people the park holds, you know how many tickets have been sold, you know how many tellers it takes to man your windows, you know how many people it takes to work concessions - and then you leave half the windows closed, and employ about 1/2 the number of people needed? Come on.

One last little moment of joy on the way out. I stood in line to cash my voucher, and when I got there the guy says "no silver". So I hand him my voucher and start digging in my pocket for change to make an even dollar amount, and he looks totally disgusted that I wouldn't think to leave the change from the voucher with him. Yeah, right chump.

But never let it be said that McChumps have any brains. We hadn't been insulted enough by New York racing. On Sunday our flights didn't leave till late afternoon, so we decided to check out the OTB we'd walked by, down on 7th Ave. and 38th Street. After some breakfast and coffee action in Greenwich Village, and some wandering around a cheesy midtown street fair (no music, no beer, hardly any food, and just a bunch of flea market type booths - and the guy selling cheap cutout C&W CD's didn't even have Red Sovine's Greatest Hits - this is a street fair?), we made it down to the OTB. Well, neither McChump #2 nor I had thought to don our dress slacks, sport jackets, and ties before going to breakfast (in fact neither of us had thought to pack these items at all), so we were not allowed to spend $5 for the privilege of going to the snooty upstairs part of the OTB. The guard just smirked and pointed to a door that looked like it led to a broom closet, and told us that was where we belonged.

We didn't think so. Let me tell you, this was the absolute worst OTB I've ever been to. I think someone has already trashed it on this List, but I'll add my $.02. Hardly any seats so everyone has to stand. No tables. Small and cramped. Hardly any TV's, and those there were kept flashing to soap operas right in the middle of races. In short, this place also SUCKED! I even prefer the little un-airconditioned room with the folding tables and two TV's in the middle of the Arizona desert to this sad excuse for 1/2 an OTB. So we left without even placing a bet.

So ended the big McChump BC Outing, with a sour exclamation point to the sour day before. This is the first stop on the (to date 13 stop) 1995 McChump Racing Tour that I haven't mostly enjoyed, and the first time I have felt compelled to totally trash a track. And for me that's sad. For sure I won't ever be going back to Belmont, and from now on when people complain about New York racing, I believe every word of it. I'm even going to start my own little boycott, and quit betting any Belmont races whatsoever. Sure, you say "Hey Chump! That's probably going to hurt your local track and horsemen worse that it hurts Belmont", but it's the thought that counts, no matter how wrongheaded and misguided, right?

Just like Belmont and NYRA think they did a good job on BC Day.


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