A few months ago, when I first visited the University of Arizona's Racetrack Industry Program web page, I was a bit startled by the term "animal racing". Certainly, it's an accurate description when you think about it, and it shouldn't have made such an impression on me, but it did. I just couldn't stop thinking about ... animal racing.
The 1998 McChump ??/365 Racing Tour
And some adventures across the pond
Sunday morning after Animal Day arrived just a tad too early for my tastes. Still, I managed to rouse myself out of my luxury accommodations - the Marge V. Memorial Air Mattress on McChump #2's living room floor next to McChump #2's cat's litter box - and score myself a cup of that fine McChump #2 coffee, to start handicapping Sunday's card in preparation for the big events of the day.
The first thing I spotted in the DRF was ... ANOTHER MULE RACE!
Some sort of Spring Break action had been discussed in the McChump circles for the past couple of years, but of course, in accordance with the principles of The Procrastinator's Oath, since we thought the idea up, no further work was required on our part. But after just a few years of this mode of thinking, we finally realized that this particular course of inaction had little realistic chance of landing us anywhere near Florida in the foreseeable future. Drastic measures were called for, like making some actual plane and hotel reservations. So we did.
-- Thursday, May 21, 6:30 am, McChump Industries HQ Midwest
Last minute check to be sure we've forgotten enough stuff to make this trip a huge success: Cheesy foreign built travelalarm left on table? Check. Toothbrush still in medicine cabinet? Check. Big handful of socks blindly grabbed from the sock drawer in the dark hoping at least some of them match but as it later turns out hardly any do? Check. Camera with no film? Check. Grand total of $10 cash money in wallet? Check. We're off!
--- Friday, May 22, 11:23 am, somewhere on I-44
Woo hoo!! My first ever dead armadillo by the side of the road spotted!
-- 11:55 am, Will Rogers Downs, Claremore, Oklahoma
-- 9:45 am, Saturday, May 23, Muskogee, Oklahoma, USA
Okay I have to admit my timing wasn't perfect and I had to stop the tape for like five minutes before I rolled into town in order to have the perfect song playing at the perfect time. So sittin' at a stoplight in Muskogee, we had Jerry Jeff singing "O is for the oal I put on ma haar". Except I wasn't blasting it real loud or anything, because there was a 3/4 ton Jimmy with a gunrack at the light in the lane next to me.
Pretty much nothing exciting happened between Sallisaw and Oklahoma City, except that me and the Chumpmobile had to execute a quick path change in order to avoid running over a small turtle that was crossing an off ramp. Turtles should probably put more thought into this business of crossing busy highways is what I think.
Winner! The McChump Tour's 1998 "Podunk Track of the Year"!
Even nearly an hour before first post, the unimproved parking lot on the west side of the track is mighty full. Fuller than most tracks. And the parking is free. First impression from this lot is of an old and very industrial or school looking complex, with lots of old red bricks, and large expanses of window made up of narrow panes of green glass with lots of metal frames. Clubhouse end has a tall clocktower with a non-functioning clock, the letters of Atlantic City marking the hours instead of numbers.
After a wonderful weekend in Atlantic City, and a brutal week of conference in old DC, and a Friday crab cake dinner fit for a king followed by a night out at beautiful Camden Yards watching the heroic, gentlemanly American League team spank the evil, cowardly National League team, it was time to get back to the business of horse racing. But first, a Saturday breakfast stop was in order at Baltimore's Cafe Hon, which was this a.m. the nerve Center of the big Baltimore Hon Fest (in Baltimore, it seems everyone is "Hon"), featuring later in the day the Baltimore Big Hair Contest as well as many other Hon-oriented activities. Unfortunately, the Big Hair Contest was scheduled for later in the day, so that wasn't a possibility, but the Hon Fest Singers (a lady and two little kids) revved it up on the sidewalk outside the Cafe Hon while we consumed a full breakfast, and it got the beautiful day off to a rousing start.
I think I musta ticked off the tornado gods when I teased them with that trip to Oklahoma over Memorial Day. After I got back to DC from Atlantic City, there was a big old tornado that ripped up part of Maryland just north of DC. Then a few days after getting home from Pimlico, I'm sitting in my living room on a stormy night when suddenly the Civil Defense sirens go off and there's water spouts dancing down the shoreline of Lake Michigan. And driving out to Montana in late June, I elect to spend the night in Mitchell, South Dakota (home of the Corn Palace), and there's tornado warnings in counties to the north and west! Hey! that's about enough of that stuff!
Well I missed Opening Weekend at HAW as I was spending my betting cash at Charlie Russell Downs right then, and then last weekend I only got one short day in at the local digs, but this past weekend I got to spend both Saturday and Sunday at the renovated Hawthorne. I'm here to tell ya, I'm impressed by what I saw. Amazing what several millions of dollars will do to perk up a race track.
-- Saturday afternoon --
I'd been planning on visiting County Fair Racing in Illinois for some time now. For some years now, actually, ever since I learned it existed. But I never quite got around to it, because all the fairs where they do this are way downstate, where the old ChumpMobile couldn't go, and because all the race days seem to be weekdays for some reason, and then on the few weekend dates I was always busy doing something else.
Just some pictures so far, and tragically NOT of the Labeeb Sisters.
Just pictures so far, but some of them are of the final year of DRC.
Three things not to like about New Jersey:
1) Newark Airport - undoubtedly one of the most user-unfriendly in the US of A.
2) Rental car prices in the NY metro area - Ye Gods!
3) New Jersey Turnpike, aka I-95 - No road should have this many cars on it.
One thing to like a lot about Delaware:
1) The Delaware Memorial Bridge - A huge steel monster spanning the Delaware River at the head of Chesapeake Bay that whisks travellers right the heck out of New Jersey. Toll: $3.00. Every penny well spent.
Leaving the trusty Rand-McNally on the back seat of the Chumpmobile at O'Hare and setting off on a long driving trip through totally unfamiliar country with only text Mapquest directions to lead the way is an exercise in faith. Sure, the Mapquest directions are pretty correct, but when they say things like "take I-95 south 49 miles to I-695 east to etc etc" there's one little question: Where the heck is I-695? Baltimore? Washington, D.C.? Way more road sign watching required than would normally be desirable on a McChump outing. Bring the map next time, chump.
Now lessee ... How the heck to get out of Hampton ...
1:Go West on I-64 WEST to I-295 (Exit 200). 64.6 miles (103.9 km)
2:Go Northwest on I-295 towards Richmond, VA to I-95 NORTH (Exit 43). 15.7 miles (25.3 km)
No, no, NO! That stupid computer says to go back to Baltimore. AGAIN! Apparently Baltimore is the center of the Mapquest universe in the mid-Atlantic. Phooey on that!
So PhC M was prevailed upon to dig her trusty Rand-McNally out of the back seat of her car from under all the junk that hadn't yet quite made it into the house after the recent move, and there was soon a replacement set of written directions on a small scrap of paper. Not nearly so precise, but good enough.
Final nail in the MapQuest coffin: A 95 mile drive takes 2-1/2 hours following this chump program's directions. Never cheat on old faithful Rand-McNally!
There's nothing so satisfying in the McChump universe as not thinking up an idea PLUS not having to do any of the work to make it happen. And such was just the case with the 1998 "Mudders and Turfers" tour, where Lee Tomlinson and Mark Cramer did all the thinkin' up and a lot of the work, and Horseracing Abroad did the rest, for a luxury guided tour of a couple racetracks in England and a trip to the Arc at Longchamp. All that was expected of the rest of us participants was a bit of cash and showing up at predetermined spots more or less on time, the first being that old favorite, the Newark Airport. The second being the proper terminal.
Today's lesson about British racing for the back of the bus gang, delivered by our Horse Racing Abroad guide, Chris, is that gambling debts are not considered legal debts in Britain, but rather debts of hono(u)r. Thus no legal action can be taken against punters who default on their debts. However, in these cases the British stewards can become personally involved in affairs, and toss the punter off the premises for good, which is known as being "warned off the Newmarket Heath". In response to a question regarding whether the punter who so defaulted might also expect to have his legs broken by unsavory characters, the answer came "That only happens in America." (nudge nudge, wink wink). Seemed like a bad idea to the back of the bus gang to test that theory.
As the sun set, more or less, behind the clouds, on the Mudders and Turfers' last day of racing in England, the realization and anticipation set in that tomorrow we'd finally be off for the ultimate destination of the tour: Paris, France, a fer real furrin' country with a furrin' language and everthang, and Longchamp and the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe. First, however, the Back of the Bus Gang had one final task to accomplish, so Beer, good English Beer, and plenty of it, was in order for the last evening in London, and several favorite establishments in the vicinity of the St. James Court Hotel were visited to say goodbye, including finally the hotel bar itself, a beacon of civility in Westminster night life, mainly because it is one of the few places that keeps serving after 10:30 pm. Thanks for a good time, London!
Saturday, October 3, Day before Arc Day
After our excursion to Chantilly, those of us who had opted for the "optional" day at Longchamp soon found ourselves deposited in a grassy parking lot out behind Longchamp Racecourse and then escorted in to yet another set of luxury accommodations at the track for the day, another private room with fancy tables and a lunch, plus that most decadent of all perks, our own private mutuel clerk, a somewhat shady-looking, smallish, weasely French character who spoke very poor English yet was assigned to all us English speakers, and who, for some reason, always kept the little display of how much your ticket actually won pointed toward himself, as opposed to visible by the customers.
Like most of the rest of the Fortune 40,000,000 corporations, each year McChump Industries puts a line item into its budget called "Training and Development", and management feels real good about itself and pats itself on the back for "doing something for the development of its employees". And, like the employees of the rest of the Fortune 40,000,000 corporations, the employees of McChump Industries know that it is the thing to do to get that training and development done in the early part of the year, for management will surely cut that item right out of the budget about the middle of the year when the unrealistic sales targets for the year reveal themselves for the total dreams they were in the first place.
I was reminded of something I neglected to mention in Part 1. When Gov. Edgar was speaking of mainstreaming racing via TV and movies and such, emphasizing the sport and tradition, he mentioned that "Phar Lap" was the greatest horse racing movie ever made, and he was doing his part to mainstream racing to his children by forcing them to watch the movie once a year, whether they wanted to or not. The crowd in attendance got quite a chuckle out of this one.