What a handy deal this is: Hit the races at Thistledown in Cleveland in the afternoon, jump on the highway down to Youngstown and then south from there, and in a mere two hours you're in West Virginia, just in time for the night card at Mountaineer. The last few miles to Mountaineer aren't exactly Interstate - in fact they're mostly like winding, dark, country road - and then you're suddenly blinded by the lights surrounding Mountaineer, but still, it's not bad. Quick stop at the Mountaineer Lodge right out front of the track - well not too quick as the lot was jam packed with the cars of the gamblers patronizing the casino on the left end of the Lodge, so it was difficult to find a parking spot - to secure a room for the night, and they were very nice and found me room at the inn even though I didn't have a reservation and it was Saturday night, which was good, because there wasn't much else in the general vicinity except some trailer parks and I doubted they had rooms for rent, and then I was off to the track for an exciting evening of wagering action.
Couldn't really scope out the track, as it was dark, but parked the chumpmobile (free), entered (free), scored me a track program ($1.50), and proceeded to scout the place out.
Ground floor, grandstand, where I'd entered, was obviously the main floor of an older racetrack, brick construction, steel I-beam supports, but it wasn't too bad - just kind of non-fancy. Concession stands along the front, mutuel windows along the back, and some nice big round standing tables in the middle where you could spread out your program or Form to 'cap, and visit with whoever happened to be sharing the table with you. This grandstand floor was divided up into two main sections by (I failed to write it down and don't remember, but I think it was a simulcast area.)
Apron out front was a standard asphalt model, with a very nice slope down from the stands to the track so you could actually see something, and for whatever reason, it was considerably warmer in West Virginia than it had been in Cleveland, so it wasn't painful to watch the races from there. The main track is a mile oval with chutes at both ends, and then there's a turf track inside, which wasn't utilized on this night. Infield, nothing special, just a big old grass field, and the standard small track toteboard. One special feature was the chemical or whatever plant down past the clubhouse end of the track, which at regular intervals let off evil sighs, like some entity from an Exorcist movie.
Back inside, it was time for the horses to saddle up, and this took place in a round, two story "pit" at the back of the plant, between the grandstand and clubhouse structures. Big balcony all around the pit for people to look in, and a few benches on the balcony, and ceiling tiles with water damage and falling down, and all sorts of smells wafting up from the pit, mostly overpowered by horse manure, and down in the pit there's saddling stalls in a center kiosk and then more along the outer circumference, and instead of having grooms walk the horses around the pit, they've got the outriders and their horses in there leading the horses around, so it's all very crowded, and the horses are putting up quite a tussle with the outriders having a heck of time keeping things under control, and sooner or later all the horses manage to get saddled and sort of straggle out of the pit, one by one, and then there's no horses left and it's just us bettors on the balcony and HEY! What do you know? There's a bar right there off the pit, so ya have to stop in and grab a beer before going out to bet the race. Dang Bud again, and I forgot to write down the price, but it wasn't bad or I'd remember that.
Races on the night consisted of 10, with generally 10 runners per race, and only a couple of scratches all night to make a couple of 9 horse races. The $3000 claimer dominated, for purses of $4000 for maiden $3000 claimers, through $4100 for n2l $3000 claimers, to $4400 for the n4l $3000 claimers, to $4900 for the non-money $3000 claimers. Features of the night were a $9000 purse for n4l allowance horses, and $7800 for a str4000 race. The only WPS pools I wrote down were for the 1st, when the decent sized crowd on hand put $1041/1108/509 in the WPS pools. Leading (by a mile) trainer Dale Baird had runners in the 3,4,5,6,7,8 race, while other Bairds had trainees in the 1,3,6, and 10 (two Bairds). Top jock seemed to be Anthony Dlugopolski, and the Dale Baird/Anthony Dlugopolski combination was lethal. Only jocks I sort of recognized were Elizabeth Lundberg and John Hirdes, although my good friend Jane Magrell had apparently followed me down from Thistledown that afternoon, as she had a mount as well.
Horses were generally all regulars at Mountaineer, although there were plenty of recent arrivals from Tdn, and Beu, and Det, and CT, as well as one runner who'd come directly from Belmont to Mnr, and one from Finger Lakes, and one from Fort Erie. In the "oh how the mighty have fallen" category, we had Impetous Affair, a Black Tie Affair out of a Caro mare, running in the n4l allowance for trainer Dale Baird for the purse of $9,000. Plenty of other "fallens", too, like a Tejano filly out of a Foolish Pleasure mare running for clm3000 - original purchase price sure doesn't equal success!
Food time back inside: Hot dog $1.50, hamburger $2.50, Polish sausage $2.50. The $1.50 hotdog was well worth the $1.50.
Time for some more wandering - upstairs, this time, on both club and grandstand side.
Wowser! Wouldn't even know it was the same place ... carpeted floors, snazzy restaurant area named the "Hollywood Taste Cafe" (or buffet), and mostly, lines and lines of video slots, with a butt occupying every available butt space. But(t)(tm) these video slots weren't nearly as aggravating as the regular type - soft electronic "dee-dee-dee-deet" as the numbers spun instead of the usual din, and what's more, they were upstairs and the hell away from the horseracing area, as opposed to the case in some venues in certain Midwestern states just west of Illinois which are totally aggravating and shall remain nameless. This held little - nay zero - interest for me, so I headed for a different part of the plant, namely the free grandstand seats on the front side of the second floor.
Man. I'll tell ya - some sort of torture artist must have designed this section of the plant. The floor of the enclosed grandstand seating area is steel that vibrates like a drawbridge when you walk on it, and then there's a stage structure right in the way of your sight lines, and worst of all, the benches are these steel mesh things that twist you into an unnatural posture and dig into the center of your back and the underside of your thighs, and it might not be too bad to be down in the TV boxes along the window, but this area wasn't for me at all, so I set out to find a permanent hangin' area for the night.
Which turned out to be main grandstand floor, close to where I'd come in. Not too many people, friendly mutuel clerks (distinct lack o' machines at Mnr), cool co-bettors, and a couple of older gentlemen who spent the entire evening arguing with each other at the top of their lungs for entertainment. Tres cool!
Betting wise - I have no idea. I think I lost moderately. The races were close, and exciting, and watching from the apron was warm and comfortable. And of course the beer was cold, and reasonable.
Pretty soon it was the end of the card, so I guided the Chumpmobile the 1/4 mile back to the Lodge and hit the hay, passing up the opportunity to sample "The Mountaineer Experience" at the casino attached to the hotel. Gift shops at both the track and the lodge sold out of my size in t-shirts. Rats!
With the sun the next morning, I strolled down past the golf course and took a look at the track from a distance, watching the horses working out in the early morning hours. Nice old structure, tucked down in a small valley along the Ohio, and a very picturesque setting. Except for the cheesy trailer park across the street, and the trailer with a Mountaineer vehicle on top, and the "Win a Mountaineer at Mountaineer!" sign.
Cool track. Thumbs up, in a big way. Well worth a visit, and even worth going out of your way. Excellent and friendly employees and patrons, and competitive and exciting, if not world class, racing.
Mountaineer Lodge a bit pricey at $92.50 but hey - I could have been sleeping in my car, and it was a nice hotel. You could tell it was classy: they supplied the little shampoos. Call ahead on this place - I was darn lucky.