McChump's Gamblin' Fever - Part 3

Jerome County Fairgrounds, Jerome, ID, Jun 10, 2000

-- Saturday, June 10, breakfast time, Denny's by the Boise airport

Always you are learning something on this Tour. This morning the Boise newspaper has interesting news items. For instance, the White Sox beat the Cubs. And also for instance, there is an important new webcam out there, CornCam, where in your spare time at the office you can watch corn grow. "Cheer as the mighty cornstalks battle wind, hail, and rainstorms". Usually cornstalks are underdogs. I'm a sucker for underdogs. I'll be rootin' for that corn. Most definitely I will have to be checking out CornCam when I get home.

Another thing learned: This Denny's has the worst service of any Denny's in the world. Probably. Don't stop here.

On the way out of town I heard three, count 'em three, actual radio commercials for horse racing at the local track, Les Bois Park. Don't that beat all! Can't remember when I last heard a radio commercial for racing in Chicago. I believe it may have been back in ot '98, during the Fall Hawthorne meet. How do can they afford to do that in Idaho?

-- Saturday, June 10, 12:30pm, Jerome County Fairgrounds, Jerome, ID

The usual McChump good luck in finding racetracks in strange towns returns, as the fairgrounds is spotted just off to the left of the street, just north of the westernmost of the two Jerome exits from the interstate. Kind of out behind the National Guard building, if you're familiar with there that's located. No signs or anything, but I can recognize a fairgrounds when I see one, so I turned on in and scored a free parking space in the lot.

Today is the opening day of the Jerome County Fair meet, a meet which doesn't actually coincide with the Fair itself (that's around the end of July), and the meet is scheduled to run just today, tomorrow, and the two days of next weekend. Jerome is one of a number of little towns that host short, one or two weekend meets in southern Idaho during the summer, including Emmett, Burley, Rupert, Blackfoot, and Malad. Pocatello and Idaho Falls hold slightly longer meets, and then there's Les Bois Park in Boise which has a fairly long meet. So you could pretty much take in some sort of racing no matter what summer weekend you were in Idaho if you were of a mind to. Which I just happened to be.

There's an admission on the day, $2 American, and the program is an additional $2.50.

Just inside the gate we're at the rear of the grandstand structure, yet another ancient old wooden monster held up by one million aging boards in a jumbled latticework structure, and while this one is a bit bigger than the ones at Union (here they employed what looked to be utility poles to hold up the roof), it's not a whole lot bigger. The white paint is peeling nicely. There's also two sets of uncovered aluminim bleachers, one at either end of the grandstand. Nice horseshoe pits down past the right end bleachers. The Lion's Cub concession booth is right there by the admissions booth, as is the little restrooms building. The beer, however, turns out to be for sale down by the mutuels windows which are located back of the paddock, down to the left end of the bleachers. One of those big 16oz MGD plastic bottles rings in at $1.50. Don't that beat all! Arlington charges $5.00 for exactly the same thing. How can they afford to do that in Idaho?

Thus armed with refreshment, I took a seat in the paddock seating area and opened up the program to see what sort of challenges might be confronting me this day on the gamblin' front. Oh oh. Quarter horses. Oh oh, oh oh. Lots of maiden quarter horses. Yes indeed it was going to be one of those days, but at least there was one thoroughbred race to bet on, as between the live 6th and 7th we'd get the opportunity to bet on this TV race from New York, called "The Belmont".

The live card consisted of seven races, with four to six runners per race, one for appys and paints, all the rest QH (or "mixed"), three maiden races, two futurity trials, and two allowances. Given the relative paucity of runners per race, coupled with the general inexperience of most of the runners, it was a program sorely lacking in actual pp's. Purses ran from $400 to $625, and most races required a $25 entry fee (this had also been the case at a couple of other tracks on this trip). The jockey and trainer names were, again, totally unfamiliar.

The track out front was a small 4f job, with the mandatory quarterhorse chute, and the rodeo stuff in the grassy infield. The track wasn't nearly so narrow as the one the day before, but oddly it had a distinct downhill pitch to it from the top of the stretch to the finish line. I would definitely look at any world's records coming out of Jerome with a jaundiced eye. Kind of a "manufactured home" subdivision provided the backdrop, and a small toteboard on wheels all the essentials.

As I had now suffered two devastating losing days in a row in my gamblin' endeavors, I was determined to be a winner today. But given these short fields that meant being a winner pickin' sumgun, and also accepting some way shorter odds that I normally would. I steeled myself for the task with a big juicy double cheeseburger from the Lion's Club stand, $3.00, not nearly so greasy as the double burger I'd had the day before in Oregon. Ahhhh ... much better.

The first race, originally scheduled for four horses, lost 25% of its competitors when the 3 horse was scratched. That didn't stop me from betting. Well from trying to bet. There was this one guy there, in a white shirt with a fishing fly print all over it, and I have no idea what he found to bet so much on during every one of these races, but if you got ever behind him, it was like lights out for 3 or 4 minutes. And this was with the best mutuel teller of the bunch. But I did get my bet down, and when all was said and done I'd lost $1.60 on that race. Rats! But there was still a long way to go.

And a bit more exploring to do. It was one of those perfect days when it was just a bit cool in the shade, and just a bit warm in the sun, so I was back and forth, back and forth, one race in the sun down by the paddock, and one up in the stands under the roof. A lot of the crowd of 150-200 people there seemed to be doing much the same.

Sitting up in the stands, directly across from the finish line, directly under the photo booth (and also under the catwalk where our announcer wandered to and fro doing the announcing), I noticed something odd. The finish line mirror didn't seem to point directly back across the track at me. So I looked up, and it didn't seem like the camera was positioned directly on the finish line, or what I thought the finish line should be. Hey! These quarter horse races are so close all the time, just a little screwup in the camera angle could cost someone bigtime. I'm sure it was probably me that was screwed up, but anyhow, I'd have a ready made excuse if I lost any photos.

In the 2nd I pegged a nice WP winner ($5.00/3.60 in a five horse field - what do you want?) so I was back up, a most groovy $12.80 Q in the 3rd, another $12.80 Q plus $2.40 place in the 4th and I'll tell ya - I WUZ ROBBED from the win in the photo in this one! Well that's my opinion, anyhow. I lost some another close win photo in the 5th as well, but mostly I was a quarterhorse gamblin' champ, and when I cashed all my winners prior to the big simulcast event, I found myself up $17.90. I am the king! Actually, I am the king with gum on my shoes, as this place seemed to have a rather serious gum epidemic going on, particularly in the paddock area.

Now, however, it was time for the big event of the day, the race everyone had been talking about down by the paddock - including, it seemed, one of the former (or current) owners of Seattle Slew who was allegedly, for some reason, in Jerome from Seattle for the day, but I never really saw this person just heard the whispering - the simulcast event of the afternoon, the biggie, "The Belmont".

Just a word here about Commendable, and I hope no one thinks this is redboarding. I didn't even give him a second thought. Never gave him a chance. He'd disappointed me too many times. I thought he wasn't GI material and was burned up to boot. I didn't bet a single cent on him. I went with $2WP on Curule instead, which as it turned out was "right bet, wrong day". Or maybe "right bet, wrong horse". Something like that.

There were separate betting terminals for the Belmont from the local races, so I assume these must have been hooked up to somewhere another out-of-state, or at least out of Jerome. And the TV monitors for watching the simulcast were right there by the special terminals, too. Two small TV's with rabbit ears, set on the counter at about waist level, set on either end of a counter about six feet long, and that counter happened to be in a corner, so really, the best that could be accomplished was a half circle of people crowded around, trying to see the fuzzy signal through the glare created by the outside light. And these were the people up front who could see that. The rest of us in the back of the crowd of maybe 35 there could see the back of other people's heads.

And the race was off!

From the back: "Who's winning?"
From the front: "The 10 horse. I think."
Mad scramble in the back to check the program.
"Oh. Hugh Hefner. He'll fade. He always fades. He can't keep it up."
A few polite chuckles. (There'd been plenty of Hugh Hefner humor prior to the race. Now money was on the line.)

Back: "Who's winning now?"
Front: "Still the 10."

Vague, muffled, TV type racing sounds can be heard from the front. Sounds like Dave Johnson is naming horses.

Front: "It's still the 10. Oh wait - the 10's fading."
Knowing looks in the back.

Dave Johnson: "And DOWN the stretch they come!"
At least that was audible.

Back: "What's happening?"
Front: "I think the 3. I can't see too good."
The three? Mad scramble in the back to check the program.

Back: "Where's the 5?"
Front: "Uhhhh ..."

Right: "Come on 5! Come on Alex!"

Front: "Okay. Okay it's Commendable."

Silence in the back. And to the right.

Front: "Commendable, Aptitude, Unshaded. 3-5-4."
More silence. Except there's one man who is very happy, and his neighbors are turning to stare at this phenomenon.

"You had the 3?"

"Yup. $20 across, and a $10 exacta with the 5."

"Hey! Way to go!"

Everyone is neighbors here, and no one seems to begrudge him his winner a bit. One other guy had Commendable as well, and he got his congratulations, too. All in all a fine, close knit, home town community effort in watching this simulcast, neighbor helping neighbor, and then honest goodwill towards the winners.

And yet, I could not help feeling sorry for these good folk. Did they not know that the world had passed them by? Did they not know that what they really should have been doing, instead of being out enjoying this beautiful day with their friends and neighbors, was to have been staying home practicing their antisocial hermit skills while calling in their bets via phone to some out-of-state leech? Did they not know the opportunities they were passing up, to complain about their phone bet service, and bemoan the opportunities they did not have to bet the 7 horse in the 8th race from some track 15 states away because this or that track had some exclusivity agreement?

I could only shake my head in sorrow, and gamble away $2 more in the last race.

-- Saturday, June 10, 4:30pm, Twin Falls, ID, Super 8

Well dang! There was so little driving today it hardly feels like a McChump Tour! Will ya look at that map? Only 42 miles down to Jackpot, NV, and we could get involved in some real serious gamblin' activity if we wanted to ... nah. I think maybe I'll kick back with the book I stole from my mom and see if Atticus Finch can really win one for that underdog Tom Robinson.

Later that night on the TV station from Boise, there's an actual TV commercial for horse racing at Les Bois Park. Don't that beat all! Can't remember when I last saw a TV commercial for racing in Chicago. I believe it may have been back in ot '97, during the Arlington meet. How can they afford to do that in Idaho?

-- Sunday, June 11, 1:30pm, South Jordan, UT

Today we're sitting out front of the Salt Lake County Equestrian Center, home of Laurel Brown Race Track. The Utah horse racing community has a real public relations problem, in that I could never find any kind of contact information for this place, or when races are supposed to take place here, or anything. The AQHA web page had said there was racing today. The Racing Journal said it had ended several weeks ago. Today, at least, The Racing Journal is correct, for I am the only one here. Well me, and maybe three horses across the street.

But I wanted to see the place anyhow, the home (or former home) of the $150,000 Utah Classic Futurity, the $25,000 Du-Barb/Lee Giles/Frank Hart Futurity (how's that for a name?), the $25,000 Beehive Futurity, and several other races in the $20,000 range. Not world beating purses, for sure, but purses all the same, and racing, and there's a nice little grandstand right there obviously designed to accommodate people.

But there's no gambling in Utah. No bettors "paying all the bills". People going to the races even when there's no gamblin' to be had. It defies all Derby List logic. It is a conundrum wrapped in an enigma, for sure.

Luckily, I've got a backup plan to kill time till the plane, an excursion up Big Cottonwood Canyon to visit some sites from my youth, sites like Brighton, and Solitude. Back then I wasn't so wise. Back then I didn't know the only possible reason one might have to fly halfway across the country and then drive to some nearby and not so nearby attractions was Gamblin' Fever.


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