Alaska or bust

Evergreen Park, Grande Prairie, AB, Jul 23, 2000

-- Sunday, July 23

This morning I feel slightly gypped. First off, this section of road northwest of Edmonton is called the Moose Parkway, or some such, but I haven't seen even one moose so far, except for the big yellow ones on the signs announcing that this is the Moose Parkway. Secondly, now that I'm beginning to pick up radio signals from Grande Prairie, I'm beginning to think that I was right in the first place about post time at Evergreen Park being 6:30, and not 1:00 like the Equibase chart says was post time last Sunday. After all, if there's going to be the big closing ceremonies for the Alberta Summer Games at 2:00pm at Evergreen, there's not hardly going to be any racing then, now is there? I probably didn't have to get up quite so early.

A friendly man at a Grand Prairie gas station confirms it. 6:30.

Well shoot, now what to do with an entire afternoon in a small and rather featureless town in northern Alberta? Of course, there was this one sign back there a bits ...

I've got it! I'll drive on over to Dawson Creek, BC, and see if I can find Dawson!

Dawson was not to be found, but a very tasty lunch at the Alaska Cafe next to the Alaska Hotel was, and so was the beginning of the Alaska Highway. Looks like a highway, all right. (Note to mileage pledgers: this side trip was subtracted out of the total on the odometer.)

Lesson for the day: In northern Alberta and nearby BC, they put gravy on their French fries. Not bad.

Soon enough, though, post time came rolling around and the rental ChumpMobile rolled back into Grande Prairie. A note to the wise: If you are travelling to Grande Prairie from Edmonton way, and wish to reach Evergreen Park, do not follow the signs saying Evergreen Park This Way. For some sadistic reason, these little signs lead you in a big loop all the way around town. Instead, you want to turn south on 99th street (or Ave., whatever) just when you get into town, which turns into 98th, and you just follow that a ways down to the southeast edge of town and then suddenly, poof, there it is, Evergreen Park.

On this particular evening, two huge loaded logging truck trailers graced the parking lot. Why, I do not know, unless the Alberta Summer Games had included some of those big pole throwing events.

Parking in the gravel lot: free. Admission: free. Program: $3.50.

This is one of your smaller type grandstands, brown in color on the outside, and named not Evergreen Park but the somebody-or-other stadium. Inside, on the well-lighted ground floor, there's about seven teller windows at the rear on one side, and a small table area with a beer stand for those who choose to sit to consume their concessions. Concessions stand/table on one side of the front, and a small curtained off "casino" area completing the final quarter of the floor. This casino had five players when I peeked in.

As it was family night at Evergreen, there was also a table set up for the kiddies. Face painting seemed very popular among the young set, but there were also some pages torn out of coloring books to color, and some paper plates with two holes cut in them so the kids could make their own masks. With all this and more available, it seemed odd to me that most of the kids there seemed to spend the night running up and down the apron. Oh well.

Out front, the stands themselves are constructed of sturdy concrete, so no banging up and down those, with a surprisingly deep number of rows of aluminum bench seats, open to the elements but with a nice big roof overhanging. There were also some bleachers against the front of the stands, on the asphalt apron, and big sets of bleachers at either end of the stands, as well, to accommodate the really big crowds like for instance earlier that day at the closing ceremonies. (These had been sold out. That was probably a durn good-sized crowd, as we had about 400 on this nice night, and the place was nowhere near full.)

Down on the right end of the apron is the paddock and walking ring, small open stalls kind of saddling area, and this walking ring, well, it kind of looked like it had been gouged out of the forest floor a week or so ago. Which reminds me - this place is smack dab in the middle of a pine forest. Everywhere you look a forest. I couldn't even tell where the barn area was.

Your basic unimproved infield, this night sporting a couple of semi-truck trailers apparently left over from the games, and sadly these blocked the view of the backstretch from the apron. No infield toteboard. One had to go inside to look at the few TV's hanging around. The track is a 5/8th's oval, with deep dark dirt, and a good number of rocks. Inside that, there's the other track, a half mile oval, scraped bare. I suspected what that meant.

Yup. First race: harness horses. My work would be cut out for me on this night, for sure. In fact, all my skills would be tested, as we had two races for harness horses, two races for quarterhorses, two races for thoroughbreds, one race for appaloosas, and one race for paints and appaloosas. Only the mule breed was not represented on this night.

I scored up a nice cold Kokanee beer ($3.00) from the pretty girl running the apron beer wagon, and set to work cipherin' on that first harness race.

This race, a 1 mile pace (4 turns) for maiden standardbreds and a purse of $1320, features 5 horses with some rather dubious records of achievement. Mostly, they've been stinking out the joint at higher quality tracks, like Northlands. There is, for instance, Split The Loot, with 9 races showing, and total earnings of $287. There is also Debt Collecter, the biggest money earner of the bunch with $4014 lifetime, in at least 17 races. However, he ran pretty good last time, has a .335 trainer, is getting a much better post than his last three races, so I'll ignore that DNF two races back. That's my horse. He's due.

Two steps after the gates swung forward, Debt Collecter broke stride and settled into an easy canter. He was still in an easy canter the first time past the finish line, trailing the rest of the field by about 50 lengths. As the winner passed the finish line, Debt Collecter was at the 3/4 mile point, and finally got into stride. He crossed the finish line pacing like there was no tomorrow, as the other horses were pulling up on the backside. The crowd broke into a cheer.

There is, at Evergreen Park, something called "The Slow Horse Sweepstakes", wherein you can write your name and phone number on the back of a losing ticket and toss it into a lottery barrel on the apron, and then presumably at some future date, someone will pick a ticket out of the barrel and someone will win something. I dutifully wrote my name and number on the back of Debt Collecter's ticket and tossed it in, for he is the slowest horse I have ever seen. As of this writing, no one from Evergreen has called to tell me I've won anything.

Race #2 was also something of a tester, a 250yd contest for maiden appaloosas and paints, purse $1300, and four of the six contestants had never run before, or so the program said. (This Equibase program said a horse in the previous race was 0 fer 4 for 2000, yet the horse clearly had 6 races showing. Go figger. Maybe in harness racing "qualifiers" don't count.) This Equibase program also showed no workouts of any sort for any of these horses. I listened in vain for workout announcements. The track program boldly picked three of the first timers as its top three selections. Not me - I bet the two that had run before, figuring that the 5 at least had some decent SPI's, and the 6, well, you could excuse that last 10 length loss because it was the horse's first start, out of the one hole, no less. As it turned out, this was real bad thinking on my part. One of the firsters won, the 6 finished 2nd, and the 5, well maybe he got up for 4th. Drats, only two races, and already $8 in the hole.

I'd been thinking that, in the matter of a UPF "best bet" horse, I might be having some difficulty tonight, and had best strike as soon as I felt even reasonably confident about something. The 3rd was a big 8 horse field of N2L allowance appaloosas, running 440yds for $1300, and even if I didn't understand why 6yo Dashing Gold who showed a lifetime record of 0-0-0-0 would be in this race, I decided to fortify myself with another Kokanee and hunker down in this race and make some money for UPF. Thankfully the announcer cleared up the Dashing Gold mystery with the announcement that the horse had won a race in 1998, though created another mystery in why there were no pp's, and that record said 0-0-0-0. But by now I'd about given up on the program being accurate, so who cares.

My choice boiled down to the #7, Ok Easy Pay(AP), who'd just run two credible races, breaking his maiden in the last, and in both of these races at shorter distances, garnered comments like "driving finish" and "finished strong". Now there was an appaloosa looking for 440yds. And it didn't hurt that he was an absolutely beautiful specimen of the appaloosa breed, big and strapping, with a lovely blanket of white spots across his haunches. $5 on his nose for UPF, and $3WP for McChump. (Only $5 today, as I figured that if I go $10/$5 in my Canadian jaunts, that'll about work out to $5 American per horse. Plus I didn't want to crush the odds, as there was only $349/$378/$194 in the WPS pools, to go along with a $279 exacta pool and a $376 quinella pool.)

Ok Easy Pay(AP) got the early lead, was strongly challenged late in the stretch by the #5 Ok Wild N Easy(AP), came back gamely, and at the wire it was ... either 7-5 or 5-7, I couldn't tell. After a long long wait the 7 started circling the small "wide spot" Winner's Circle and the results of the photo were announced, and, YES! Ok Easy Pay(AP) had won! A very groovy $6.50/$3.60 WP price, too. A cool $16.25 in the bank for UPF.

The 4th race, the Northern Mack Quarter Horse Derby, for $4655, was probably where I should have taken my UPF stand if I'd been looking ahead, as OK-bred Daddy's Belly Roll was easy to pick as the winner, but that whopping $4 win price was for me only. And then I gave that money back in the 5th, another harness race.

About this time I was feeling a bit peckish, so decided to see what might be for sale at the concessions stands inside. And there was lots. Pizza $3, steak sand $5, chicken breast sand $4.50, hot dog $3, hamburger $3, pierogies 6 for $3.50, something called the "tri-actor" breakfast (for slots players I guess) $5, and my personal choice, "Alberta beef on a bun", which consisted of some thin cut beef like Italian beef on a hamburger bun and slathered in, you guessed it, gravy, $3.50. I also saw some girls with fries and gravy, but didn't catch the price on those.

After that I won on a 5-1/2f tbred race, lost on the $36360 MBNA Challenge Championship Finals for quarter horses and I bet way too much on this race as I was feeling cocky about my quarterhorse skills, plus one of my favorites jocks Roger Buening got his horse in all sorts of trouble (but the jock that beat me in this one, Shawna Barber, was a real good looker, so that eased the pain), and then lost again in the 8th. Total for the evening: negatory $12.50.

Overall, a fun evening at nice small town track, absolutely beautiful weather, friendly people, a nice beer find in Kokanee, and finally off the schneid for UPF. And as I walk out I find a strong parallel between travelling in Canada and England: After big day of money spending, your pockets are so full of change that your pants are falling down around your knees.

And incidentally, the Equibase charts for Grande Prairie say this program started at 1:00pm, too. 1:00pm in Turkey, maybe. And the conditions posted in those charts? Well, those seem to be all goofed up, too. Race 2 was not for quarter horse maidens, for instance, and race 3 was for appaloosas only, not mixed, and for instance race 6 was actually a thoroughbred race at 5-1/2f not a QH race at 550 yds. I was really disappointed in Equibase this trip.

-- Monday, July 24

This morning I feel slightly gypped. The road signs out here in the wilderness south of Grande Prairie promise caribou, but none are forthcoming. The airwaves are filled with assertions that this was the greatest Alberta Summer Games ever, and the bad news that one of the local favorites racked up a bunch of penalties in the last night's chuckwagon heat at Edmonton, and now is in deep trouble.

This afternoon I am in awe at the rock and ice cathedrals lining the Ice Field Parkway through Banff national Park. And today's lesson is that the French word for creek is ruisseau.

This evening I actually had to put on my jacket as it is quite cool at the modest Crossing resort smack dab in the middle of Banff. The sun takes a long time to leave the tops of the huge mountains surrounding Saskatchewan River Crossing. The young resort employees make up most of the crowd at the resort pub this evening, laughing and playing pool and refilling glasses from their jugs. The sing-songy Canadian inflection and accent of the conversation is soothing music, and the Glenlivet is very smooth.

And what's more, there's only 9 hours to drive back to Great Falls tomorrow.


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