McChump of The North - Part 4

-- Sunday, June 15 - Stampede Park, Calgary, Alberta --

Distance: 389 miles
Drive time: 7.33 hours
Construction zones: 0
Authority vehicles spotted: 0
Times lost: 1
Times almost ran out of gas out in the middle of nowhere: 1

This was the sternest test of the McChump of The North Tour to date, in that post time at Stampede Park on Sunday was 1:00 pm, with nearly 400 miles to drive to get there on time, but the test was passed in flying McChump style, even with a patented McChump getting lost incident.

Unfortunately, it wasn't really worth the effort. Stampede Park was a huge disappointment, and it primarily hinges on the fact that there is a (fairly new looking) set of grandstands in the infield, which look like they're there to make the Calgary Stampede rodeo experience more profitable for the proprietors (complete with groovin' little luxury boxes), but unfortunately for racing fans, make the live experience SUCK! I mean, there's a second set of stands right there in the infield that you can't see over, no matter where you sit. The best analogy I can think of is if the United Center was to stage a zamboni race in the middle of a Blackhawks game, and you got to see the zambonis start off at the east end of the ice, race down to the west end and then under the stands, and then you had to stare at the stands on the other side while the zambonis raced around somewhere under the stadium and all you had to go on was the announcer's call, and then all of a sudden the zambonis popped out of the east side again and raced to center ice and you just got to see the end. And in 6f zamboni races, all you would see would be that last part, because the start would have been somewhere under the stands. After the novelty of zamboni racing wore off, would you pay to see that? I think not.

But pay you do at Stampede Park. Parking: $3.50. Admission: $2.25. Program: $2.00. Beer: $4.00. That's right, $4.00. And that for a crummy medium sized Budweiser or some strangely named and not too tasty Canadian beer that even the locals weren't ordering in favor of the fine handcrafted taste of Bud. Hot dogs were okay at $2.25. Pretty big ripoff overall though, I thought, especially given the show you got, which was about 1/3 of each race.

On the other hand, the racing was good. Nine races of pretty full fields of very competitive horses. In fact, for those on the Derby List who crave big fields of competitive horses, I'd say Stp fills the bill. The horses were so competitive, in fact, that it was difficult to throw out very many participants in any race, and made it a rough day at the betting windows. My handicapping was pretty good but my betting was pretty bad, constantly picking the wrong horse of the five competitors in the race, resulting in a day in which only two tickets were cashed, which meant a quantity of fine American cash was left in the pockets of the Calgary bettors and those participating in the takeout.

Which reminds me - Takeout in Alberta goes as follows: On a $2 bet, 6.4% goes to the government, and is partially paid back in purse supplements, while after that the track takes 10.0% on WPS and 18.4% on exotics. Interestingly, it was quite a bit different in Saskatchwan, where the numbers were 10.8% province and federal taxes on all bets, 5% track and purses on WPS, 15% track and purses on X/Q/DD, and a whopping 19.2% track and purses on tri/pik-3/pik-4. So there's the opportunity to pay up to 30% takeout on the super duper exotics in Saskatchewan. I don't ever want to hear any more whining on this List about takeouts in the U.S.!

Unlike the previous two Canadian tracks, most of the horses at Stp were regular residents of the track. Very few shippers from elsewhere. Purses ranged from $4200 for $6k maiden claimers up through $7600 for veteran $18k campaigners up to the feature of the day, $50000 for the Herald Gold Plate Handicap, which featured a horse I've actually heard of in Northernprospector (he didn't win).

The pools I wrote down had 8457/4625/2733 WPS for a clm4250 race with 7 participants. No one was cursing jockeys when they came back losers. In fact, this was a hallmark of Canadian racing fans: good manners. Take a lesson, Chicago railbirds.

We reverted to colored saddlecloths and individual stable silks here in Alberta. I guess maybe the Alberta owners are more affluent or something.

Stampede Park and a local radio station did some between race promotions that seemed very popular, namely a game where a participant tried to pick some overturned cards to win up to $10,000 in cash, and some little games where the DJ asked fans to be the first to bring up things like sunscreen, and lipstick, and so on. Man - the reasonably big Sunday crowd was scrambling up there for this one. I was hoping they'd ask who had a Marquis Downs pocket racing schedule so I could run up there and meet the radio babe who was handing out the prizes, but no such luck.

What else - the simulcast facilities down on the concourse under the stands were less than adequate. If you didn't get there early, you got nowhere to sit. There weren't enough TV's, and there weren't enough tellers. In recognition of this fact, Stampede Park actually had some machines, and I made liberal use of them after just the first race. The food selections pretty much sucked. A gift shop that I didn't know what the heck they were trying to accomplish, because none of the merchandise was about racing. Rodeo stuff? HEY! That they had.

And on and on, and every race that went off that I couldn't see pissed me off. It's the horses, dammit! It's not huddling downstairs to watch the stinkin' race on TV. This is LIVE racing - get it? Even Belmont on BC day let you see the races. Even Prairie Meadows and Philadelphia Park. This grandstand in the infield business was easily The Most Aggravating thing I've ever encountered at any North American racetrack. I KNOW this is Stampede Park, home of the Calgary Stampede. But geez - treat your racing fans like something other than an afterthought to fill in the time between this year's Stampede and the next.

Final McChump rating: The lowest. If I had a two thumbs down icon, Stp would get it.

If you happen to live in Calgary and that's all you can get, I guess that's what you get. If you happen to be in Calgary and want to see live races (sort of), well okay. But OOPS! - the meet is about over, so you'll have to go up to Edmonton, where hopefully they have the good sense to let you see the races you came to see. But as far as going out of your way to visit Stampede park, forget it. Certainly, driving 389 miles is a total waste of even a chump's time.


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