Santa Anita Park, Arcadia, CA, Mar 9, 15, 16

Philadelphia Park, Bensalem, PA, Mar 17

Sportsman's Park, Cicero, IL, Apr 1

Golden Gate Fields, Albany, CA, Apr 5, 6

Turf Paradise, Phoenix, AZ, Apr 12-18

-- Prologue --

Thanks to the largesse - errrrrr heartlessness - of The Big Co., I was forced to miss the best part of the Sportsman's Spring meet (and the accompanying fine Chicago weather), as I spent most of the months of March and April On The Road, working my fingers to the bone at various grueling conferences and sales office software installs. As always, however, I tried to make work fun, and stopped by a track or two on the way.

-- March 9, 15, 16 --

With the spectre of a brutal weeklong conference at a posh seaside resort in Santa Barbara staring me in the face, I determined not to get too depressed, and wrapped the weekends around the trip to spend more time at Santa Anita Park.

Gone this time was "the juice", and in was "the chalk". Agonizingly in, culminating with The Pick 3 Of All Time, covering a three race series late on the 9th which included a win by Sharp Cat, and another by Jewel Princess, and paid a whopping $2, that's right, two dollah. There's gold in them thar hills! Well not for me, as I ended up a moderate loser.

On this first weekend, I did manage to find some additional food variety lurking in the Santa Anita stands, so I have to raise the BSF awarded to SA. In addition, in one of my frequent escapes from the 95F+ heat of Arcadia and Monrovia, I managed to scout out the names of all the "racing bars" in the vicinity, so I'd be well prepared when McChump #2 joined me the following weekend.

Modesty, and perhaps the Communications Decency Act, prevents me from publicizing the theme of this particular McChump weekend, but I will say it wasn't my idea. So all you get is the facts.

We tried, we really did, to find the racing crowd in those racing bars. The 100-to-1, in the Santa Anita Inn, was more like the kind of place you find all your parents' friends religiously gathered for for the nightly watching of Wheel of Fortune. The 101, on the main drag there in Arcadia, was a little more racing oriented, but not much, and they had a real cheesy band on Saturday night. Luckily, cover was free. They did, however, have California video keno, and I made a huge $7 profit off McChump #2 on Friday side betting the numbers that would come up. The Second Cabin, also on the main drag, was the most likely spot of all, promising $1.00 bloody marys on Sunday morning racing days, and a free Sunday am handicapping seminar of the day's card, and they actually had a good band, but no racing crowd, at least when we were in Saturday eve. One of these days we're going to find that racing crowd at a racing bar. I just know it.

Chalk was the name of the game this weekend, too. We had the pleasure of watching Free House take Silver Charm in the San Felipe on Saturday, but got hammered at the windows by chalk, chalk, and more chalk, as chumps don't let chumps bet chalk. Luckily, SA was having a big contest on Sunday, and we knew we were going to win that to make up for our losses. We dutifully filled out our entry forms for the big $1,000,000 horseshoe toss.

We had a little trouble making it to the Second Cabin for the $1.00 bloody marys on Sunday, in fact we didn't make it at all, but we did make it to SA in time to fill out just one more entry for the big horseshoe toss. And it was "Celebrate St. Patrick's Day One Day Early" day at SA, so the mood was festive, and our spirits were high. All of the water in the various fountains was dyed green for the occasion, and a foamy white scum floated in the pools like froth on lime jello. Kewl!

Chalk hammered McChump #2 again on Sunday, but I was starting to get the hang of things, and was holding about even. The draw for the big horseshoe toss came up, and we held our breaths. Slowly Trevor called out the names of the twenty lucky participants. As he got closer to the end - 17, 18, 19 - our spirits slowly sank. Number 20 was called, and it wasn't us. We came to the sad realization that once again we weren't going to win $1,000,000, and we'd have to face up to the losses we were taking at the track.

Even the big St. Patrick's Day parade in the infield, with multiple festively garbed marching bands, didn't help our mood. And McChump #2 got us lost on the way to the airport. Keep your day jobs, chumps!

-- March 17 --

Less than 24 hours after leaving the warmth of Southern California and the beauty of Santa Anita, I pulled into the parking lot at Philadelphia Park on a cold, cloudy, blustery afternoon. Stepping carefully around all the broken side window glass in the parking lot, I contemplated the plant. It struck me as, uh, functional. Sort of a cross between early state prison architecture and a large refrigerator box. Well, you can't have Santa Anita in every town, I guess.

Upon entering, I paid my $3 admission, bought a program, and crossed through the turnstiles. A large sign confronted me in the hall on the way to "up front": Philadelphia Park honors passes from all tracks. Nice to know, after the fact, as the IL owner's license in my wallet laughed at its former friends, $3. They did hand out snappy little shamrock stickers in honor of St. Pat's day, though. Maybe free admissions didn't get those.

The first floor of Philly Park struck me immediately as, well, as a place I wouldn't normally go out of my way to come back to. Cold, lifeless, sterile, and with a faint odor of stale beer. I perused my program, made a quick bet, and wandered out front to watch the live race go off, a fairly non-descript bunch of lower level claimers. One of my horses came in, and I made a nice profit, but a couple of older characters in fine racetrack garb weren't so pleased, as they loudly queried of their neighbors "Can you believe that horsesh*t?" Well, I could, because I'd picked the right horse, but I stayed humble and didn't mention it.

In fact, I bet four races while I was there, and made good money on three of them for a nice day's profit. I suspect there's good money to be made at Philly Park, if chumps like me can walk in, buy a program, and select winners that easy.

I was feeling a bit peckish, so I went back inside to get a bite to eat. I selected the most appetizing thing on the menu and ordered it, but was informed they didn't carry that anymore except in one small concession stand at the back of the 3rd floor. So I decided to head up the stairs.

Philly Park gets better as you ascend the levels. The 2nd floor is actually nicely laid out to cater to the simulcast crowd. The third floor is even nicer, and I actually felt like I was at a fairly decent racetrack.

Naturally, the food stand to which I'd been referred was closed, so I had to settle for one of the two or three food items actually being vended on that Monday, spicy sausage. It was fairly horrible, but the price was decent. Philly Park, you get a BSF of 14 for your Monday cuisine.

I'd been pretty disappointed that Philly Park was only doing the little shamrock stickers as its entire observance of St. Patrick's Day, but on the third floor I discovered the true Philly Park gala: Irish Dancing Girls. Well, that's not exactly like it sounds. It was a local dance club for girls about 12 and 13 years old who were dressed up in Irish costumes and doing jigs and stuff to boombox Irish jigs and stuff music. They weren't actually too bad, but I couldn't help thinking of that big parade at Santa Anita. Not to mention the $1,000,000 horseshoe toss.

I had to leave early to meet some coworkers for dinner, and as I walked out and found my car mercifully still intact I couldn't help thinking that if I lived in Philly and had only that park to look forward to coming out to all year long - though it probably looks a little nicer in the summer - I'd probably be keeping my day job, chump.

-- April 1 --

Back in Chicago, I found myself back at Sportsman's Park for the first ever "two races on one card" day for my Chicago racing partnership, with one going in the 4th, and aoother in the 9th. During the interim between the two races, as the partners plied each other with multiple fermented beverage products, I wandered out on the apron to take a look at the horses in the post parade for another of the races. One horse in particular, Bucett, was jumping out of its skin. Unfortunately, the crowd had this animal at 40-1, and from its pp's it deserved it. In my enlightened state I couldn't resist, though, and laid $2 across. When the horse won, and I collected my 40-1 PLUS the 10% Sportsman's Tuesday bonus, I'd selected a $92.40 winner. I AM the king! Who needs their stinking day job, chump?

Much to my disappointment, however, Spring had not yet come to Chicago in my absence. I would be forced to go On The Road again.

-- April 5, 6 --

Faced once again with the horrible spectre of spending a week at a conference, this time at a posh downtown San Francisco hotel, I gritted it out and determined that work would NOT get me down, so I went out early to spend the weekend at Golden Gate Fields.

Saturday I could not cash a ticket to save my life, but the visit was made easier as I met up with a couple west coast racing partners, got a nice tour of trainer Rene Amescua's stable, and the opportunity to meet one of the partnerships horses. The day's action was summed up by the Santa Anita Derby: I'd been so impressed by watching Sharp Cat win her previous race that she was my prime bet, but as we stood watching the monitor waiting for the race to go off I remarked "Hmmmm. At 7-1, Free House looks like a bet." But the mutuel lines were kinda long. So I didn't. And lost. The total day was lost.

Except for checking out the concessions I skipped last year. First rate. GGF, you get a BSF 78 for the food variety and costs. Big burrito .... mmmmm!

Sunday I finally figured it out: Throw out the closers, throw out the frontrunners, and just bet any horse that showed a brief flash of speed in its last but lost. I won some of my Saturday money back, but not all. I resigned myself to having to head back across the Bay to the work conference, and keeping my day job, chump.

I'll tell you one thing: Full card is gonna hammer No. Cal. racing. Those short four and five horse fields bite. The No. Cal. bettor gets a look at the size of fields from Oaklawn and the Fair Grounds, and bye bye handle. Actually, I'll tell you two things: I'd heard San Fran had tried to clean up some of the panhandler problem. And they have. Instead of a deadbeat in every doorway, now there's only one on every corner. Bring on them tourists.

-- April 12, 13, 14, 15, 18 --

My brutal travel schedule of the previous 90 days cried out for some vacation time, and Turf Paradise was the benefactor. Actually, the bettors of Turf Paradise, as I lost, day after day after day. It was okay though: Our decent 3 y.o horse, aka Bucky, the official horse of the McChump Tour, was going to make it all back and more, when he won the ATBA Breeder's Derby on the 19th. Me and McChump #2 would split that winner's share of the $45,000 pot, and all would be right with the world. Meanwhile, I was picking up a nice sunburn in the AZ sun, we'd audio sampled the handfishing video for an ongoing Top Secret project, discovering in the process the theme for the week:

"That is rare, that is NOT common".

For instance: McChump #2 explains the Groovy Numbers to another owner partner on Friday - "Big numbers good, low numbers bad". Brilliant. That is rare, that is NOT common, chump.

Now I'll you: Turf Paradise does things right. Those graduates of the U of A Racetrack Industry Management program who are running TuP these days must have been listening during their lectures, unlike the graduates of most management programs who only hear The Universal Management Program Copout, "This may not apply in your particular situation" (I often wonder how engineering programs would work with The Universal Copout). Turf Paradise is a fun track to visit. Patrons are treated well and owners are treated well. Consider quarter day: quarter parking, quarter general admission, quarter programs, and quarter hotdogs. Surprisingly, huge crowds show up. Consider getting your owner's license updated: You are treated like a valuable customer, not a necessary evil pain in the ass. I was losing, but I was enjoying it. Listen up you other tracks - go take a look at what's going on at Turf Paradise. Maybe people would enjoy visiting your facility, too.

OTOH, the track kitchen has declined severely. Whereas a couple of years ago I assigned the track cafe a decent BSF for their food, after this trip I gotta take it back. The food sucked. Burnt sausage. Boo. A lowly 24 BSF for you, Backside Bar & Grill.

-- April 17 --

A much needed break from the track, and besides it was a dark day for live racing ("the only kind") anyhow, so I made a side trip down to Tucson to visit with western partnership's managing partner and her family, a couple partners, and our east trainer, all at the MP's Tucson home/horse ranch for some brews, bbq'ed steak, and horseshoes. As we played out the world championship of horseshoes (and dammit! I WOULD have won that $1,000,000) in the warm Arizona afternoon, our AZ trainer showed up with a recently expectant mare in his trailer, and the aim of picking up a filly to take back to the track.

It was interesting to see how much horses really are herd animals. When the new mare was put in her pen, the other mares immediately went to work trying to show her who was boss, with bites and kicks and so on. After dinner, when the filly headed back to the track balked at getting on the trailer, the other horses in the paddocks picked up on the commotion and became agitated, running back and forth, raising clouds of dust that obscured even Hale-Bopp that dominated the dark, clear, Arizona sky. Eventually the two trainers got the filly loaded, despite the best efforts of the slightly woozy amateurs trying to help them out, and all was right with the world.

-- April 19 --

Stinkin' horse. It's always something. Threw a shoe five jumps out of the gate, ran 1m 1/32 on a bare foot, got sore and faded in the last 1/32, and finished 3rd. So much for the big money, and once again we gotta hang onto our stupid day jobs, chump.

-- Epilogue --

Despite the best efforts of Gov. J. Rife Slymington and his scheming developer friends to turn Phoenix into a giant grid of freeways, generic Mexican food restaurants, strip malls, and faux-Southwestern architecture homes built on what was once the inviolable property of all the taxpayers of Phoenix, North Mountain Park, the real Arizona still lives. Downtown Tempe is temporarily turned into a giant beer and music fest as the New Times sponsors the annual New Times Music Festival, and the sounds of pedal steel crossed with Elvis Costello dominate the night, in an orgy of 60 bands for 5 bucks.

Last stop: McDuffy's, for an incredibly bad band, but one last chance to redeem ourselves. Dog racing. Scoring a departing patron's program early, we practice McChump #2's patented dog pickin' formula - lay out the program, dip a finger in the beer, close your eyes, and hold your finger over the program while the other McChump slides the program around in a random pattern until a drop of beer falls and hits the program. Bet that dog. That is rare; that is NOT common.

We lose. Again. Keep that day job, chump.