McChump's "Podunk Track of the Week" Tour - Week 12

--- Turfway Park, Florence, KY, November 30 ---

Not a bad drive at all from Louisville to the greater Cincinnati area, accomplished in about 2 hours through pretty northern Kentucky landscape. Florence itself is an odd little burg, kind of a big truck stop, with lots of chain restaurants, and chain motels, and the Ramada Inn cannot be reccommended as it was a tad on the expensive side at $70-something, and was kind of rundown, but on the plus side there were rooms available when I arrived at 7:30 or so.

For a smaller racetrack town, DRF's were surprisingly hard to come by, and at the liquor stores and so on where I asked, the people who actually knew what I was talking about invariably directed me to another place that didn't carry DRF's, but finally I found someone who knew what they were talking about and directed me to the BP gas station on Turfway Road, where I scored me up a DRF and then went back to my motel room where I promptly went to sleep after 'capping just two races. A most worthwhile search.

But I was *in* town, and ready to get up early, fortify myself with a hearty breakfast, and do my 'cappin over leisurely tasty chow. Except I couldn't find anything but chains, Denny's and the like, and finally ended up eating a most forgettable something or other at some chain or another that had 1000 screamin' young uns, and I didn't get a lick of 'cappin done there either, as they were anxious for you to eat up and get out so they could sit another payin' butt down in that valuable seat you were occupyin'. So finally I arrived at Turfway with them same two races 'capped, and a queasy stomach full of eminently forgettable chow.

The nice weather of the previous day in Louisville had disappeared, and my first view of Turfway was of a soggy, wet, and surprisingly podunk-looking medium-to-small sheet metal construction facility with no particularly redeeming qualities, character-wise. Parking was free; admission $3.00; track program $2.00, but that included simulcast pp's from Laurel, Aqueduct, and Calder.

After paying my admission and program charges, I ended up on the 2nd floor concourse where I finally found some quiet areas to sit and 'cap, and noticed three things right off the bat: the opening day card was crap, the varnished concrete floor made everyone's shoes squeak like they were Michael Jordan cutting sharply on a gym floor, and the sound system was like your worst 8-track in a pickup truck nightmare: "MMMMmmm va mmmmm vvvem MMMwww"! Never did understand what the day's changes were, so ended up winging it as the day went along. More exciting that way anyhow is my opinion.

That 2nd floor concourse is kind of the heart of the live racing facility, and it's sort of a mall layout, with some TV areas with free benches, and several concession areas and banks of mutuel windows, with a quiet little "Chalk Room" down to the left end where you could go and sit as long as you didn't care about actually seeing anything on the TV's since they were too far away, and there was a Food Court area where they were selling little pizzas and stuff, and hot dogs went for $1.50 and hamburgers $3.00. But worst of all the beer prices were mightily inflated, big beer for $3.50 and really big beers for $4.00, except these were really big beers so it wasn't totally bad, and one time when I was in the line this local asks the bartender girl if Jerry Carroll was running out of money or something that he had to charge $4.00 for these really big beers and she just kind of laughed nervously and me and this guy laughed heartily, so naturally him and me were instantly bonding, and I was telling how the really big giant beers at Hawthorne are only $2.75 and we were having a great time in the beer line on the 2nd floor there.

And after that or maybe it was before the live card finally started up and the first race was the mandatory maiden claimer for twelve horses running for tag of $7500, and I actually won a whopping $2 on this race, as this was one of the two I'd actually handicapped ahead of time, and then the 2nd went off, a $5000 claiming event, and I made a large bet by my standards and when I'd entered my bet on the machine the screen popped up with "Repeat Ticket" right in the center like maybe "Repeat Ticket" was the highest priority of any bettor who'd just bet, and even though I meant to hit "Cancel" I accidentally hit "Repeat Ticket" (this is a scam, I just know it) and there wasn't enough time to cancel the bet, so I was stuck with twice what I'd meant to bet and of course my horses finished up the track and I was down big, early. Curses!

Time to wander and lick my wounds.

The front side on that 2nd floor is some free grandstand seating behind big glass windows, with the paddock view down on the right overlooking a non-descript outdoor paddock, and the 3rd level is just up a couple stairs from there, only the whole third level is pretty much deserted, probably due to the fact that there are few seats up there, except for a few free tables on the GS end, and I decided that pretty much it was time to check out somewhere else. Before I left, however, I stepped the place off, and IMHO this whole Turfway Park affair is a mere 150 yds long. Kinda puny.

The 3rd was a $30k claiming event for 10 horses on which my selections finished 3rd and 4th for another stunning loss, and the 4th a N1X in which I managed to only lose $6 by having a show saver. Woo hoo.

By then I'd managed to work my way down to the apron level, a nice apron with a good view of the track and the basic infield with a few trees and a pond and a full feature tote-baord, and it was time for the 5th, a $7500 claiming event for 12 truly awful horses, and I lost again, but I discovered something truly magical: The PA system worked not at all out on the apron, and since there were few people besides me out on the apron in the rain, I was treated to an awesome spectacle - with no warning whatsoever the gate would spring open on the backstretch with a solid "chunk", and then the horses would be racing, and you could hear them sloshing and thundering through the mud on the backstretch, and then they'd turn the corner and the jocks would begin talking to each other, and finally they'd thunder down the stretch in a splash of mud till they hit the finish line, and never once would your aural impression of the race be sullied by a race call or the cheers of spectators. This was pretty darn cool!

Chilly it was though, out on the apron, so I looked for a door "in", and what do you know there was one, and passing through I was transported to a different world - the TP racebook. Glitzy flashing lights, and a black ceiling, and giant TV's, and dark film over the windows so the real world wouldn't impinge on the TV racing world, and snappy little betting desks for the serious bettors, and zillions of people ignoring the live racing outside in favor of TV horses stumbling around tracks in Florida and Maryland, and overall a bizarre sight. And luckily for me and my bad betting - a cash machine.

I spent a few races down there, and found the secret elevators up to the club level, which I didn't take, and some more bars, and managed to fight my way back from the depths of the early losing races, so I managed to finish the day down a mere $16.80.

Overall, the small crowd of mostly older racetrack hardcores was a decent enough bunch to hang with, and I had a pretty good time, but it's got to be a big shoulder shrug: The racing sucked in general, especially for the opening day of a meet, the facility was nothing special, and in general I wondered why this track and its chairman get so much industry press, because when it comes right down to it, Turfway Park is strictly podunk.

Left TP feeling slightly ripped off, and headed across the river to the River Downs racebook to catch a race from Turf Paradise that I really wanted to see, and I'm here to tell ya - the RD racebook is very nice - and then it was time for the long drive back to Chicago.

Interesting thought as I crossed and recrossed the Ohio River on the way out of Cincinnati for like the 20th time on the Fall McChump Tour - right here, from Mountaineer down to River Downs to Turfway to Keeneland to Churchill to Ellis Park to Bluegrass Downs - this Ohio River Valley is the heart and soul of racing in America. Eat your hearts out, right and left coasts.


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