Seeing the Ohio River valley in the vicinity of Mountaineer Park in the daylight is somewhat of a surprise when you've arrived after dark. Huge old nasty steel and petroleum factory after huge old nasty steel and petroleum factory scrunched right down on the river, which at that point is flowing through a narrow valley flanked by pretty good-sized hills, made the drive down to Steubenville seem like a trip through the Twilight Zone, but I lived through it and was soon headed west.
Ohio seems like a really big state in the atlas, but that's an illusion - for some reason they see fit to break this state up into 4 separate pages, but it doesn't drive like that at all, and before you could say Isitingood I was turning off the 270 and heading for Grove City, a quiet suburb south of Columbus.
Parking: $1.00, not avoided even though maybe only 17 cars had managed to beat the mighty Chumpmobile to the parking lot at that early hour, about 90 minutes to first post.
First impression of Beulah Park is a pretty, low stone building set behind some nice old trees, which this time of year were mostly leafless except for a few stubborn red and brown ones still hanging in there. You enter in through a small entrance structure spired like the twin spires of Churchill, only to discover that even at pretty tracks admission is an additional $2.00 and track program $1.50.
Mmmmmmmmm! First thing in the door, you walk by the Top of the Stretch delicatessen, and on this particular Sunday morning there was a heavenly smell of soup wafting out of the deli, which sucked me in to check out the menu, if nothing else, which featured lots of excellent food, dirt cheap, and even though I wasn't hungry since I'd visited the Arches on the way, I hung around there awhile smelling the smells and checking out all the tasty menu items like chicken sandwich and pork chop sandwich $3, before scoring up a cup of coffee to take out to some quiet handicapping spot.
But first there was a little exploring to do.
The whole structure is long, and low, and not real deep. Nice windows up front looking out onto the apron, with a shelf along them to lean on and spread out your program, and since it was once again a cold day, these turned out to be the prime spots in the house for watching the races. Very nice tiled floor with interesting patterns in black and white, and teller windows along the back, framed in very ornate green iron grilles. There was also a big chalkboard above the teller windows to post results, but it wasn't used. Otherwise, there's the usual I-beams supporting the 2nd floor, a pizzeria at the far end and a Brat Haus and a Sweet Shop in the middle, and several areas with tables and benches parked in front of banks of simulcast monitors. Nice little Hall of Fame display on the back of one of the staircases leading to the upper seating, featuring a Beulah Park history including the race mare Imp. Overall a very pleasant and well kept facility, and smells great from end to end with all the tasty food items grilling and bubbling away.
There's also a clubhouse - the "Jockey Club" - down past the pizzeria end, but I never went there. The grandstand was fine with me.
I took up a table in front of some simulcast monitors to drink my coffee and handicap the card as the other patrons started wandering in. One younger couple took up the table next to me and I overheard the guy explaining some of the fine points of handicapping to the girl. "Gray horses don't run well in the slop", explained he, while eliminating a contender. I was glad for that advice, as it was kind of a sloppy day. Meanwhile, simulcasts from everywhere under the sun were starting up or about to start up on the TV's. They must have had about 10 signals to bet if you wanted.
Even though it was a Sunday, most of the crowd consisted primarily of the older set, but there were some younger folks in attendance. Not a whole lot, though. The crowd in total wasn't all that big, either. Later, though, I started noticing a bunch of little kids running around, so there must have been more younger people than I noted at first.
The card on the day consisted of the "7-7" program again, starting out with a simul from Thistledown, which the Columbus crowd played as enthusiastically as the Cleveland crowd had played the simul's from Beulah. The staggered card seems to work nicely, at least in Ohio.
The seven Beulah races started with a $3500 claimer for Ohio breds which paid $6600, and proceeded up to a MSW for Ohio 2yo fillies running for $10,400 which was the highest purse for the day. The rest were claimers which paid purses between $4600 and $8300. So basically not too bad, but certainly not anything to get rich off. Basically a notch down from Thistledown, and one up from Mountaineer. Horses were mostly Ohio based, and most had already been running at Beulah and before that at River Downs, but there were a few from Thistledown and Mountaineer and Hoosier and Fort Erie and so on. Smallest field size was 8 horses, largest 11, with the 10 horse race dominating. Top jock is Dana Whitney, who had 45 wins going into the day, far ahead of the 2nd place 29, and several trainers were battling it out for first place, with Luis Palacios tops going into the day. My betting on the day was so-so, and there were some tough races to 'cap, as totally formless horses would come out of nowhere to win, but I managed to walk out the proud loser of only $6.40, which included NOT sharing in the $14,027 tri paid out in the 4th race. But I was mostly enjoying the the facility.
Beers, I had discovered by then, were $3 for 16oz of Bud, Bud Light, Miller Lite, and Coors Light, which pretty much sucks as a selection and a price for 16oz beers, so I didn't really partake of much in that department. There's also a bar down by the restaurant, but I never did quite make it down there to see what was going on.
The track itself is a mile oval with a fairly featureless infield except for a few trees, a small pond hiding behind a full WPS toteboard, and what looks like a 6f turf course inside the club turn end, which I don't know if it is ever used or not but it certainly wasn't on this day.
On one of my trips out front onto the apron (flat asphalt, with a few benches down at the clubhouse end) I'd looked up at the glass enclosed grandstand and thought "Geez that must be tough to see out" as the glass was lots of small panes with lots of frames, so after the second live race I decided to go up and check out the upper grandstand seating area.
Once again, very nicely kept, with box seats down front and about 20 rows of nice comfy folding wooden seats, and a smoking end and a non- smoking end, but damn those windows are tough to see out and they almost remind me of something ... what is it ... I looked up to the ceiling, and sure enough, there were the runners: The windows are actually huge glass garage doors that can be pulled up to make an open grandstand in the summer, and down to enclose it in the winter. Cool!
Long as I was up there, I decided to check the 2nd level concourse, and found the gift shop (nice), a Grill Works (hamburger $3, hot dog $1.75), a big simulcast seating area with lots of the nice little desks for "serious" simulcast players, a cash machine, and windows looking out the back of the stands over something I'd been sort of looking for: the saddling area. And what I saw made me run downstairs immediately.
The saddling area at Beulah is a beautiful smaller version of what I saw at Keeneland, with a walking circle in the middle of white stone buildings and lots of big mature trees, and the sun was shining down nicely, so it made a very pretty sight. Definitely one of the prettiest paddocks in racing. Supposedly Beulah was once known as the "Saratoga of the Midwest", but I'd be more likely to call it the "Keeneland of Ohio" myself.
Overall, the horseplayers and horsemen of Columbus have a beautiful, friendly, and comfortable facility to enjoy. A big thumbs up from me as a place to go out of your way to visit, and worth a return visit in warmer weather for me.