McChump's "Podunk Track of the Week" Tour - Week 3

Oh sure. There's probably the purists out there - Pat - who'll say "hey chump this ain't a podunk track", but my answer to that is "Hey chump, I'm writin' it".

-- Keeneland Racecourse, Lexington, KY, October 25, 1997 --

It's a ugly thing driving the Midwest tracks. No doubt what's ailing racing in these parts: Two weekends ago I'm assaulted by the casino ads in Joliet, and St. Louis, and Kansas City. This weekend it's Gary, and Indianapolis, and Cincinnati. Hey Jon C., - stock argument #14. One can only hope that one day the residents of these parts will wake up and kick this scum out of town, like the good folks of New Orleans did.

The weather chumps are mostly wrong, as there's darn little precipitation between Chicago and Lexington on a weekend that was forecast to be a rain extravaganza. And what do you know? Another fine McChump timing coup. Lost only just a little bit, and not bad lost at that as I got to see some Kentucky horse farms (lotsa cattle 'round them parts too, though, what a gyp), I manage to pull into the parking lot at Keeneland with a cool 20 minutes till post time (the ultimate goal being a 300 mile drive and arrival within 2 minutes of post). Plenty of time to apply all the finest McChump handicapping principles.

Well so I thought. It's a good hike from the parking lot to the plant, so that burnt up some time. Beautiful beautiful parking lot, though, with lots of big ole trees dominating the scene. Couldn't even see much of the plant because of them trees, but the entrance gate is definitely the entrance gate of a beautiful track. Admission: $2.50. Track program: $1.75.

Arrived just about in time to see the "riders up" for the first and was most impressed - the saddling area at KEE is like being in the courtyard of an English cathedral. Saddling down at the left end under some big trees, and riders up down at the right end near the entrance, all in a big courtyard overlooked by the back of the stone block grandstand and some other buildings. Simply beautiful. The best part of the whole place, IMHO.

Unfortunately, inside at the grandstand is ordinary, very ordinary. Concrete floors, low ceilings, cheesy concessions, bad lighting, cramped quarters, and etc. etc. etc. that you could see at most any track in McChumpdom. Very disappointing, but it is, after all, an old track. What it basically boils down to is that Keeneland from the outside looks like a great place, but from the inside looks like a most ordinary establishment. Kind of a disappointment, for one of our "great" American racetracks.

The infield, however, is outstanding and immaculately groomed. Another beautiful point in Keeneland's favor.

As usual my plan was to spend the day on the apron, and unfortunately the apron at KEE is pretty cramped, as the stands are very close to the track and then there's a lot of benches on the apron, so it was a day of lots of bobbing and weaving through the pretty big crowd that was on hand despite the cool weather. Pretty well-heeled looking crowd, at that, with most falling into what I'd call the upper middle class range, and not a whole lot of racetrack hardcores. Sort of reminded me of an Arlington crowd, except with Kentucky accents and bigger hair. And they cheer just as loud for their $2.40 winners. Way too much eye contact, though. And they really didn't bet all that much for the size of the crowd. Big crowd; not impressive pools.

Negative points, for the selection of Bud and Bud Only in the beer world. Positive points for the offering of Kentucky burgoo in the concessions area. Damn this stuff was good! Cheap, too! The concessions downstairs were pretty ordinary, with the usual hotdogs, and nachos, and so on, at reasonable but not great prices, and then a nice selection of sandwiches upstairs in the $4 range. Beer prices not great at all, especially for Bud, so I made do with mixed drinks, $3.50.

Racing on the day was very decent, starting with the mandatory maiden claimer, progressing through a $15k claimer (purse $16k) featuring one of the missing 72 DWL 2yo's (now a 3yo), Annapolis, obviously in to get claimed (he was), and that was pretty cool as I got to hear the DWL asst. trainer call Mr. Young of Overbrook Farm "Mr. Young", and moving on up to a bunch of allowance races, all named - "The Chance", "The Payson", etc. - for who knows what purpose, and culminating with the featured Valley View Stakes (listed), for a purse of $75,000. Lots of horses with very nice pedigrees that you just *knew* cost a ton of money originally, and connections all dressed to kill.

Arlington's leading trainer, Harvey Vanier was there, and had been running his string, but his luck hadn't been nearly as good at AP, as he went into the day at 20-0-3-7. One of his better horses, Barn Swallow, was running in the 7th, "The White Oaks" allowance, and I was going to say "good luck" to Harvey after he'd given the jock a leg up, but Harvey escaped me and headed inside. What the hey, I decided, I'll just follow Harvey a bit and see where he goes. To the windows to make a big bet on Barn Swallow? Upstairs to one of the hoity toity rooms like the Bluegrass Room? Out to the jackets de rigeur clubhouse which is oddly on the left end of the grandstand structure? NO! Harvey headed straight for the bar off the paddock! Now that's the kind of trainer a McChump can appreciate! I felt a bit stupid about following a trainer around so just kept on walking, and cannot report on what Harvey ordered.

During the course of racing events, the University of Kentucky football game came on, and the big monitors in the infield were dedicated to the game. The local crowd was pleased by this turn of events, but I personally found the lack of any pre or post race coverage of the actual races just a little disconcerting. The game would be on right up till post time, then we'd get the race, and then it would be right back to the football game.

Ran into Derbyite Neil Stilwell and family, and was forced to admit that my betting on the day wasn't stellar. I mean, it was good and sloppy, and the El Comandante rule of encharcada should have been holding, but I just wasn't picking the right speed horses. Neil tipped me to the #1 horse in the 7th, Busterblock, who he'd been tipped on by some connections, so I filed that away, and when the 7th came around and I was substantially down, I played Busterblock with vigor and was rewarded with a most handsome winner (over Tansit, btw) that made up a good portion of my losses. But then I managed to give some of the money back in the 8th and 9th, and was forced to stomp out the angry loser of $27.50 on the day.

On the way out I decided I'd check out the gift shop, and was surprised to find not just the usual one little old lady manning the operation, but no less than six gift shop employees in the place, and it isn't really that big a gift shop, so they were pretty much in the way of customers getting to the actual merchandise. Still, I managed to shoulder my way through the throngs of standin'-in-the-way employees and score myself a Keeneland t-shirt. $20.

Final score for Keeneland? Well, kind of a shoulder shrug. Once again I think I must have been expecting way too much. It's pretty darn nice, but it's not like I'm going to make every effort to go back there again whenever I have the chance, like for instance Santa Anita or Arlington.

The search goes on.


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