Churchill Downs, Louisville, KY, November 29

It's always something about Chicago that makes the beginning or end of these little road trips a little less enjoyable than a racin' road trip really should be. If it isn't rush hour traffic on Lake Shore Drive slowing things down on the way out of town, it's a sudden snow storm late at night after you've been driving all day under perfectly clear skies, or maybe the northeast wind whipping Lake Michigan into a frenzy till it spills over onto the Drive and closes it to traffic, so you have to do the last 45 minutes at a crawl up Clark Street with all it's stop lights and double parkers.

This morning it was fog, thick and cold, limiting vision to about 300 yards, and slowing traffic to a 35 mph crawl all down Lake Shore and I-90/94, that made getting out of town an agonizingly long ordeal. Of course, just a short distance into Indiana there was no more fog. Go figure.

But I did learn something interesting - you can pretty much tell where you are on the south side of Chicago simply by the smells.

--- Churchill Downs, Louisville, KY, November 29 ---

Churchill is situated in kind of a sleazy neighborhood in south central Louisville, and the road signs telling you how to get there are a little weak, but I managed with only a small gettin' lost incident, and found a place to park in some guy's back yard for a mere $5. On the two block walk to the track I learned that was a silly mistake, as there were still spots left in the official lots, which would have cost a mere $3, or maybe it was only $2. This lost $2 or $3 would of course have a tremendous impact on the amount of handle I intended to contribute during the day.

I entered through the gate right next to the KY Derby Museum after paying my $2 admission, and that's an impressive little museum from the outside, with all the names of past Derby winners on plaques over the door, except there's only room for about 11 years more of winners, so I hope that's not saying anything about the future of horse racing. Never did get inside the museum to see what it was all about.

Track program: $1.50.

This particular entry gate dumps you in right next to the saddling area which is located at the back of the grandstand. As saddling/paddock areas go it's okay, but nothing special. Much more impressive is the view of the back of the clubhouse end of the structure from that point, which is a huge, rambling white structure with about ten hundred wooden stairways snaking down the back of the structure giving it the look of an old timey riverboat or maybe some ancient hotel in New Orleans. The grandstand end is a little less ornate, but still impressive in a sort of old, decadent way, and the names of the past Derby winners are posted all around and on top of the saddling enclosure.

I'd known I'd never make 1st post on the day due to a late start, CD's early start time, and the fog, but I was a bit disappointed to find I'd missed the first four races on the card, and the 5th was fixin' to go off in just a few minutes. But as it was a 12 race card there was still plenty of time to rake in some of that eaaaasy money, chump!

I hustled inside, did some InstantCappin(tm), bet three different horses to win, and found my way out front to watch the race, $50,000 claimers running 1-1/16 miles on the turf for a purse of $33,000, go off. One of my horses, Crimson Flagship, won paying $17.60, and I was off to a decent day of betting. I can see why you're all out there betting CD - this place is so easy!

The place I'd found my way to was the apron out front of the grandstand end and it had tons of free benches to sit on, so that was pretty impressive. But every bench seat was numbered, meaning they probably get sold for the big events, and there is pretty much nowhere at all that one would consider traditional apron with standing room for race day arrivals, so I suspect that this place could absolutely bite on the big race days if you didn't have a reserved seat. And speaking of biting - the whole apron level seemed to be infested with nasty little black flies that insist on trying to fly into your eyes.

From that ground vantage point you can take in pretty much the whole structure, which consists of a l-o-n-g covered grandstand structure stretching nearly the whole length of the stretch, down through the central Twin Spires section, and then onto the multilevel clubhouse end, which actually follows the curve of the clubhouse turn for a bit. In short, this place is simply huge, with seating covering nearly the whole front side of the track. Must be simply deafening on Derby or BC days.

The infield was a bit odd, with bleacher seats facing the track which made it difficult to see the 1st half of the races from ground level, and the entire infield is enclosed by a tall storm fence which looks a bit out of place at a horse racing track, but I suppose serves a purpose when the infield is full of drunks. The infield did feature two separate toteboards and a large display screen which made it extremely easy to keep up with odds and see results. Backdrop is the barns, which makes it not tremendously attractive. Never did get up high enough to see if there were any redeeming lakes or landscaping.

The whole setup reminded me of something I'd seen in my younger days, and finally I figured it out: Churchill Downs is the Indianapolis Motor Speedway of horse racing.

Meanwhile I bet three horses in the 6th again, and once again came up with the winner, paying a cool $9.60 and providing Robbie Albarado with his 3rd winner of the day. Pat Day didn't seem to be riding on this particular afternoon, and the crowd seemed lost.

I wandered back inside to check out the amenities, and found giant MGD's for sale for a mere $3, as well as hot dogs $1.95 and sausages $2.75. The sausages weren't half bad, as I scored up a bratwurst. There was also a very large food court - the Grandstand Grille - toward the center of the lower level, with offerings from Pizza Hut and several other national mass-produced processed food product providers, but I only took a look at that and moved on.

The day's crowd was pretty good sized, and very diverse, with lots of females and kids in attendance, who all seemed to be having fun and weren't cursing or spitting, and they were putting up some pretty good numbers, like for instance 126466/47607/30497 WPS in the 6th plus a 194979 exacta pool. I felt confident that my $2 and $3 bets were not going to crush my odds on this day!

Track bugler dressed up as Santa for the day. Que festivo!

Horses, at least on this card, were very high caliber from big name barns, and the card had consisted of a starter allowance, three claimers, a MSW, five allowances, and two stakes. Not bad. Smallest field size on the day was six betting interests, but most races had like 10 and 11 runners, and were quite competitive.

In the 7th, the "My Nite Out" N1X allowance for 3^ colts and geldings paying a purse of $41,600 after you added in the KY incentives, I did not win any money. In fact I lost some. Rats. I blame my lack of success on the goofs who would step up to an Autotote, open their program, and proceed to handicap the race then and there. It made for long lines, and some serious aggravation and impatience on my part. And every single machine seemed to have its special goof cloggin' up the works. Maybe the track should post some little signs near tables in the area that read "Handicap Here!" and other little signs that read "Betting Only Here!" near the machines. Just a suggestion.

Time to find the secret route down to the clubhouse end for a little exploring, thought I. And it isn't all that easy, as this place is a huge old maze of twisty turny passages all different, but I managed it by going up some stairs, down some halls with all sorts of little nooks and crannies for people to occupy if they didn't feel like actually watching the live races live, and then down some other stairs and out onto the clubhouse side of the paddock, from where I once again found my way to out front. This track is an explorer's dream, and there is no way in the world I could have seen everything in just one afternoon. I found it tremendously interesting.

I didn't win in the 8th, either, as Tansit, who I have written off as a fake, managed to win the money allowance just to spite me.

Round about the 9th race the sun came out from behind the clouds, and it was actually pretty warm out on the apron, and pleasant. Perhaps that revived my spirits, and I managed a nice $20.20 place score on Barefoot Dyana as she finished behind Love Lock in the $200,000 GIII Golden Rod stakes. Shoulda bet the exacta, I guess, but I just can't bring myself to back low priced horses in any way shape or form.

Lost in the 10th again, but then won in the 11th, the GIII Brown and Williamson KY Jockey Club for $200,000, as I thought the D. Wayne horses had it all over the favored Zito entry, and Cape Town did not let me down.

Skipped the 12th to make a foray to the gift shop back by the paddock which was way too small and cramped and crowded, and the merchandise seemed way, way overpriced anyhow, so I didn't buy a thing there.

All in all, a big thumbs up for CD as a very interesting and fun place to hang, with excellent quality racing and reasonable prices, and where I managed a whopping $4.60 profit on the day. Woo hoo!

This place is quite a race track, folks. Most of you probably already know that, but I didn't, and I was very impressed. Good show, CD!