McChump's "Podunk Track of the Week" Tour - Week 1

-- The Woodlands Racecourse, Kansas City, KS, October 12 --

The original plan here was to make it to KC by Saturday night so I could enjoy a big evening of live dog racing before live horse racing on Sunday, but it didn't quite work out that way. Thanks to having Way Too Much Fun at AP on its final day (aided and abetted by my favorite AP bartender, the lovely Laurie), things got started out a bit late on Saturday, and the best I could do was make it to St. Louis by nightfall.

St. Louis? Nightfall? Why chump! That means - yes you guessed it - thrilling harness racing at Fairmount Park!

Unfortunately, harness racing hadn't got a whole lot more thrilling since the last time I saw it two years ago, and the Luvchalk family - I, Weall, and Youall - were ruling at the windows, so my interest quickly waned, and I stomped out an angry loser of $15.40 and headed back to the friendly Days Inn> of Collinsville ($39.95 single).

Before hitting the hay, I checked the local news, which predicted a continuation of the beautiful warm weather in the St. Louis area, but a big swath of rain out in western Missouri. Sure chump. Weather guys are never right.

Hit the rain Sunday about 100 miles out of Kansas City, and pretty soon it was coming down in buckets, so much that I had to check the Chumpmobile sharply, and we loped into Kansas City on a very soft pace. Crossing over into Kansas, the sky lifted and the rain let up, to the point where it was just ugly and overcast and cold, but at least one could see 200 yards ahead.

No gettin' lost on this day, thanks to the handy glovebox copy of the "Making Tracks" booklet, but I thought back wistfully on the great Getting Lost incidents of the past, like for instance when I'd discovered the World's Largest Ketchup Bottle while lost in Collinsville, and decided "Making Tracks" was sort of a mixed blessing. Still, I did manage to make Woodlands by first post ...

I don't know why, but I'd imagined The Woodlands complex to be some sort of supertrack where they ran both dogs and horses on the same track, or at least on side-by-side tracks, but it isn't like that at all. The two are totally separate, with the horse track and grandstands on the west side of the parking lot, and the dog track and grandstands on the north side. Two whole separate grandstands! Man - that's some money investment!

From the outside, The Woodlands is a pretty good looking medium size facility, on the order of Hoosier or Prairie Meadows, but better looking than either of those, and it's pretty nice on the inside, too.

Admission: $1.50. Track program, including a simulcast section: $1.25. Unfortunately, that's not a pp program, so a $4.25 DRF was required as well.

First thing that confronts you upon entering is a big ol' escalator leading up, so I let myself be led up.

Turns out "up" is the upper enclosed clubhouse area, which is pretty nice, with lots of television monitors and standing tables and such, but extra $$$ for a seat if you want to see the live races, and of course the McChump Tour doesn't have a budget for extra $$$ seating. So I headed back downstairs to find the free seats and access to the apron. Decent food selection upstairs at attractive prices, though, and the official McChump lunch-o-the-day consisted of a tasty roast beef sandwich for a very modest $3.00 before I hit the apron.

Well I have to say, downstairs and outside (downstairs is all outside) wasn't particularly the place to be on this windy, cold, rainy day, but since all McChump reports to date have been made from the cheap seats, I buttoned the McChumpJacket(tm) up tight and determined to grit it out with the other 70 people (of which at any given time 40 were horsemen) and three mutuel tellers on the lower level. But downstairs might actually be *the* place to be on a warm day, as there were plenty of picnic tables and free seats and benches available, as well as a nifty looking infield picnic area on the clubhouse turn end of an attractive "au naturel but landscaped" infield with a nice line of trees in the background. I'd like to see this one on a nice warm summer day - but this wasn't one of them.

Kudos to the mutuel tellers and the paddock area bar staff who stuck it out in the open on this cold rainy day - most impressive.

The card on the day consisted of 11 races to be contested over a track which was markedly "encharcada (sloppy)". Not too bad on the purse front, either, with KS-bred maidens competing for $9,925, $2500 claimers going for $3250, and open MdSpWt going for $7350. Unfortunately, I couldn't see where the purses were coming from, as total wagering in all pools ranged from $4,000 up to about $10,000. Must be one a them deals where off season simuls are supporting the live purses.

The first three were QH races, and of course I had to take my chances, based on my extensive knowledge gained from Prescott Downs, but I lost the first miserably, and suitably chastened, decided to pass the 2nd as my favorite horse was very low odds, and headed off to the paddock bar for my first cold frosty of the day ($3.50, giant), while the odds went up on my "imaginary horse", which won, of course, paying $7.20. Bummed, I was. Bummed, but encouraged that I wasn't that bad a QH handicapper after all. Boldly I laid a WP bet on a longshot in the 3rd.

Stinkin' stewards! They took my 2nd place finisher down from behind a longshot winner, when I would have had like a $20+ place price! (Interestingly, the DRF results page lists my #8 as the official place horse in this race, but I swear he got took down. Gotta check this.) This was like the first time all year I got burned by the stewards. It all evens out, I guess.

Finally the thoroughbreds started running, and I kicked big butt. Applying the rule of encharcada which I'd learned at El Comandante, I simply bet the early speed horses to win in the slop, and was rewarded with multiple long priced win and place horses. $11.60 in the 4th, bud-a-bing. $21.80 in the 6th bud-a-bang. $20.20 in the 8th, and an $8.60 place in the 9th - I AM! the king! Well, and some losers in the races not mentioned. :-( Made up for the tremendous loss at Fairmount, at least.

The 10th was the feature of the day, a $25k stakes with a tough looking Chicago horse, which opened at way less than even money, so I decided to pass and hit the trail back to Chicago.

On the way out I stopped at the gift shop located on the lower level to score a t-shirt, and I guess as I was one of the few folks on the lower level (remember, I said most were horsemen), the friendly older lady running the shop asked if I'd had horses running that day. Well no, I had to admit, my horses were running up in Chicago. Ought to bring 'em down to run, she said. Well yeah, I admitted, some of 'em need a little class drop to be competitive. Hey, she asked, got a horsemen's ID? Well sure, I said, producing same. Discount for you, she said. Cool, said I.

So here's the new plan - much like a senior citizen at McDonald's, I'm asking for a horsemen's discount wherever I go from now on.

I asked her if they were still going to have racing next year, and she answered God I still hope so.

Me too. Nice track.

Here's an amazing discovery - when you hit the Chicago tollway system at 1:30am on a Monday morning, it belongs to you. Totally.


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