I'll tell ya - this whole McChump business is sure a lot easier when the weather's warm. No need to worry about what sort of nasty ugly driving conditions you might encounter between here and the far-flung outposts of the podunk racing kingdom. So when the weather chumps predicted a relatively quiet, if cold, weekend for the upper Midwest, I decided it was time to go for broke, took a day off from work, and headed off for Detroit as the first stop of a long weekend of podunking.
Unfortunately, I'd kind of overlooked the fact that I'd be heading out of town on a work day instead of the usual Saturday, and the expedition temporarily came to a screeching halt in the mass of slowly moving rush hour traffic inching down Lake Shore Drive toward jobs in downtown Chicago. Just what I needed. Overslept to begin with, had to stop for gas, forgot once again about that pesky time zone thing, and now this. The chances of me making it to Detroit by DRC's 2:30 pm first post were growing dimmer by the minute. I took some solace in the fact that all these folks were heading in to work, while I was going to the races. Chumps.
Benton Harbor. Large piles of snow on the ground left over from the previous weekend's storm. See? See? I told you we'd have been fighting 8 feet of lake effect snow if we'd gone out last weekend! Shut up, chump, I'm not in the mood. We gotta get to Detroit by 2:30.
Luckily, it isn't as far to Detroit as it used to be, ever since they raised the speed limit up from 55 to 70, so we arrived in the Livonia area with a cool 35 minutes to spare before first post.
I really had no idea what to expect from Ladbroke DRC, but I had expected to find kind of a smaller podunk place. Not at all. The DRC plant is a huge old plant, way bigger than I'd anticipated. Big and old. Why, that meant hours of exploring fun! My mood was instantly elevated. Leaving the chumpmobile to its own devices in one of the zillions of free parking spots out front, I paid my $2.00 admission and entered in at the grandstand end.
At first I wasn't quite sure where I was. I mean, there was a big bank of mutuel windows right there in the middle of this huge cavernous space, but otherwise it looked like a large, deserted garage, one of those really old ones like where your grandfather used to work, complete with overhead garage doors along the whole front of the thing. What th' ... until suddenly it came to me: when the weather's nicer they must roll those things up and turn the whole lower grandstand into an open air affair. Well hey - that's pretty cool! Extra McChump points for something like that.
One of the few spots with any human beings inhabiting it at that point was the program stand. $1.75. But they didn't have DRF's there. For that I'd have to go over to the gift shop on the clubhouse side, and how one got over there was not immediately obvious. Luckily, the program guy gave me directions: "Through that door marked first aid, behind the saddling area, up some stairs, and then through another set of metal doors." And that is indeed how you got there. I don't think patrons from grandstand and clubhouse side were ever supposed to mix back in the days when DRC was originally designed.
The transition from grandstand side to clubhouse side is stunning. No more big old garage. No more rows of plastic seats, and no more painted concrete floors. It's plush, and tastefully decorated, and reminded me somewhat of the elegance of Arlington. I suspect it's been totally redone from the original at some time in the recent past, it's so much different from the grandstand side.
The gift shop did indeed have the DRF's, and they also carried a large selection of handicapping books, but the quantity of DRC merchandise was small. The guy that runs it was friendly and helpful.
Right next to the gift shop they have a really nice feature: A "results center" with results from every single track running in the U.S. posted to the board, and actually kept up to date. Nice. Right there on the wall by the results center was also the DRC list of behavior rules for all to see: No Profanity. No spitting. No tossing tickets on the floor. Violators subject to ejection. Although I did see some reprobates breaking the ticket tossing rule, and they were allowed to stay.
The whole clubhouse ground floor is carved up into smaller rooms, all of which fall into the category of "Inside Track" this and that, with one TV room dedicated to non-smoking, and a big TV room with lots of those desk things for the serious player, and a small restaurant area, and a bar right in the middle of things, and a refreshment stand. And the place was packed with a crowd that was very much "regulars". So many people in all these smaller spaces that it was actually kind of uncomfortable for a chump who enjoys his personal space.
I thought I'd probably feel a lot more at home down in the garage end, so purchased a voucher and bet the first from a cool machine that's designed like a slot or VLT machine and where your bet slips drop into a little metal tray at the bottom, and then stopped at the bar to get a beer to take along. Stinkin' Bud again, but also some Molson on tap. I went for one of those. $4.00! Four dollah for a big giant beer! The beer situation at DRC is just way out of line. Even though I was going to be staying the night just across the street and really didn't have to worry about driving, I decided that $4.00 was just ridiculous, and determined to keep my refreshment money in my pocket from then on. Well mostly. And besides, that Inside Track bartender guy was slow and surly. And oddly, he seemed to be counting and recording the number of drinks that each patron ordered. Maybe the idea at DRC is to discourage the consumption of alcoholic beverages. They sure do it with their prices.
Back down at the big garage end, I was able to take up one of the many free seats in front of one of several big banks of TV's showing simul's from Haw, Crc, RP, CD, Aqu, WO, Lrl, and Beu/TD, and get down to some serious cappin'. The card on the day consisted of 9 races, starting with the mandatory maiden claimer for $6250 fillies, and a purse of $5400. $5k conditioned claimers paid $5300, $12.5k claimers $9500, on up to $15.6k for N2X allowance runners, which was the highest pot on the day. The lowest number of runners in any race was 7, with most races at 10, and a couple with 12 contestants. Very competitive fields.
Top jock at DRC is T.D. Houghton, who entered the day with 297 winners from 1330 mounts. Man. That's a long meet. Most of the other jocks I didn't recognize, except for Ronnie Allen, Jr. There was a little survey in the back of the program that asked the jocks where they were heading for the winter, and most listed Tampa Bay Downs as their destination.
There was also a sad little note in the back of the program in a news section: "We'll have the final statistics in our next edition of Ladbroke Weekly. It's safe to say, however, that our live racing took another solid hit over 1996 totals which were down 50% over 1995's pre-simulcasting totals." And also a blurb about the Windsor casino across the river in Canada, which I don't know why it was in there.
My betting on the day was pretty stinky, and made a little aggravating by the fact that there were no machines on the garage side, so I had to traipse back over to the club side before every race in order to feed my voucher through a machine. I did get a really hot tout before one race, as an older gentleman grabbed my elbow and implored me to go put a $5 exacta box on the 6-10. But I don't like the 10. Don't pay any attention to that Form - everyone in the barn is betting the 6-10. But I don't like the 10. C'mon, I know people in the barn - they're all getting ready to ship out and they're going for it this race. But I don't like the 10. C'mon man - bet the 6-10 and then when you win you can buy me a beer. But I don't like the 10.
So I went ahead and bet the 1. Final order of finish was 4-8-6-1, with the 10 nowhere in sight. When I went back inside, the tout was also nowhere in sight.
As it was once again a cold day, the inside/outside routine was once again in force. On my trips out to the apron, I got a chance to look over DRC from the front. Infield is fairly non-descript, with a couple of ponds and DRC signs, but absolutely no toteboard! Track is a one mile dirt oval with chutes at both ends. No turf.
[Note: I was informed that the toteboard had recently collapsed, and apparently has been removed and not replaced.]
The plant itself is kind of an odd duck. Down on the clubhouse end it is enclosed on the first and second floors, and then there is a section of open seating way up top. The Winner's Circle and runway from the indoor saddling area split the entire thing into two, and then down on the grandstand end there's the enclosed garage door 1st floor, a level of mezzanine outdoor wooden paint peelin' seats which look to me to be the best seats in the place (and I did watch one race from there and it is nice), and then above the mezzanine seats it's all enclosed. One of these areas above the GS seats was termed "The Terrace", but it was all closed up. The apron itself is a simple asphalt affair with a good number of free wooden picnic tables for the asking. I never went upstairs on the clubhouse side. But it looks to me like this is one of those places where no matter what type of seating or hangin' out accommodations you like, you'll find them.
Feeling a bit famished by my shabby wagering, I checked out the floor level food selection. All the usual: hot dog $1.75, hamburger $2.75, Polish and Italian sausage $3.00. The Italian sausage was forgettable.
The race card eventually ended, as race cards eventually will, and the McChump voucher was cashed out $27.80 lighter than it originally started, with only one really nice winner on the day that saved me from total disaster. A new podunk losing streak was in the offing.
The Livonia Super 8, right across the street, gets high marks for being a nice representative of the Super 8 genre, being right across the street, and nicking me for just a very reasonable $52.00.
Ladbroke DRC gets a thumbs up. It's a cool old track with lots of character and lots of different places to hang, the prices are very reasonable except for the beer, all the employees except for the surly bartender very friendly and helpful, and the racing is tough and competitive. Well worth a visit.