--- Sunday, November 8, 1998 ---
Yesterday the weather was wonderful, warm and bright. Today is cold, and cloudy, and a little bit drizzly.
Yesterday a crowd of 80,000 packed Churchill Downs, and it was nigh impossible to even see the horses, from the seats or at the paddock. Today's crowd at this track, though bigger than usual, barely puts a dent in the parking lot, and prime spots by the paddock, and prime seats overlooking the finish line, are easy to come by. Half the stands are locked up and not in use. But the simulcast areas are busy, as usual.
Yesterday one couldn't see 90% of the races because of all the crap Churchill has in their infield, not to mention all the people standing in front. At this track, it's easy to see everything.
Yesterday, one couldn't hardly get a bet down at the live event. Today that's no problem.
Yesterday, everything was a ripoff, including those jacked up $4.75 giant beers. Today, everything is pretty much free, including a snappy selection of chips laid out at the grandstand bar. Beer's still too steep at $4.00.
Yesterday, the card featured the finest horses and jockeys and owners in the land - according to the program, anyhow. Not that the schlub fans could really see much of them, though, except for the stretch runs. Today, it's journeyman jocks, and cheap claiming horses, right out there in front of the apron, just a few feet from the rail where anyone and everyone can find a place to stand and actually be close to living, breathing horses.
And yesterday the media swarmed the track and the event. Today there isn't a swarm as such, but they're out there, a couple of television crews, and some print reporters, and some photographers. You see, today is a special day at this track, as well.
Today's crowd that's showed up is special, too. They're mostly male, mostly older, nothing different from many tracks, but they're all talking about what they remember, and what the government should do, and what a shame it is, and how sad. There's some people out there who've never been here before. There's some people there who haven't been in years. There's one Derby Lister there to make one last bet on an old campaigner she's liked through the years. (Horse won.)
Over the PA, and on dedicated monitors, the track is replaying some of the greatest races ever run there. An old campaigner, Badwagon Harry (?), the money winningest horse in state history, is brought out in a blue blanket to parade in front of the crowd. Some in the crowd ask their neighbors, "Is he still alive?" The leading jockeys and trainers and owners are recognized. The card of races goes off, the apron filling before each race, only to empty again after, like the track is breathing its last labored breaths, as the people disappear back inside to escape the cold.
Meanwhile, the simulcast players inside play their TV horses, mostly oblivious to the unique live program going off right out there on the front side of their stands.
Finally, the 11th, and final, race in the card comes up. Some special announcements are made, and the post parade is something special today, too, as the jockeys and outriders turn back to the crowd and the track employees and give them a big round of applause. The crowd responds back in kind. For that few moments, time seems to stand still.
The final race goes off, and is won by a $6250 claiming horse by the name of Southern Flavor, with longtime local favorite jockey Lester Knight up.
A nearby patron turns to his friend and remarks, "That race was SOOO fixed!" A fitting end.
One last Winner's Circle presentation, a special ceremeony with a special banner, one last announcement or two, and the final day of live racing at Detroit Race Course, ever, is finished.
Inside there's still plenty of simulcast action, of course, until late in the night. At least until December 31, when that goes away, too, and the track starts coming down.
About 8:30 pm the simulcast patrons are still there, sending their money out of state to benefit tracks and programs like the one from the day before, where the normal person can't buy a decent ticket or see squat for live racing. Somewhere in the plant, a fire "breaks out" in a heating duct, and the simulcast patrons are advised to leave. Not these modern day Neros. Oblivious to everything but their TV horses and the gambling opportunities they represent, these "racing fans" too dumb to get out of a burning building keep trying to get bets down. A second announcement is made, and finally the TV's are turned off, shrivelling the TV horses up into mostly unbettable bright dots at the center of the screens. The simulcast herd finally awakes from its stupor and pushes and scrambles for the doors and the parking lot, where the fire trucks are starting to arrive.
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