What a gorgeous, gorgeous weekend to enjoy the last weekend of live racing for the summer!
--- Hawthorne Racecourse, Stickney, IL, Saturday, September 5 ---
Arrived at the track just a tad late, in fact 5 races late, due to the always onerous "domestic chores", bought a DRF, and set in for a short afternoon of InstantCappin(tm).
6th race - InstantCapped(tm) this baby, keyed a horse based on one of the three universal angles identified by the old same gang at Hawthorne, and scored a $15.80/$7.20 WP horse plus a $208.40 exacta. Not bad for InstantCappin(tm)! Won two more of the remaining four including a $63 exacta, and was set for beer and food and whatever money for the weekend. Triple cash voucher. Never say die!
Meanwhile, jockey Mark Guidry put on a riding clinic, winning five of the ten races on the day. Even though there were no stakes on the card, one of the allowances might as well have been, as G.III Cornhusker winner, IL bred Beboppin' Baby, took the feature of the day over some of the best horses on the circuit.
Kind of a cheesy infield concert after the races, lightly attended, but did it anyhow, on the time tested "use it or lose it" principle, and the beer was cold. Much to look forward to in the next couple of days.
--- Sunday, September 6 ---
Early afternoon -- Walworth County Fair, Elkhorn, WI
Didn't want to develop a sour taste for 'cappin by having to do it three days in a row, so elected to check out the racing scene elsewhere, namely the great state of Wisconsin. Thus a trip to the Walworth County Fair, in Elkhorn, WI.
Now I hadn't been up to the Lake Geneva area in five or six years, and back then the trip up US 12 was a breeze. But not no more. The entire length of US 12 is being Schaumburgized at an amazing rate, with choking development at every major intersection and farmer's fields being transformed into strip malls. 2-1/2 hours from the north suburbs to this spot just over the Wisconsin border. How can you NW suburbs types stand this kind of miserable traffic?
Got there just in time for the harness races, and watched a couple from the outside fence while walking in. Fair admission: $6.00.
I'd got great reviews on the Walworth County Fair from a coworker and was looking forward to it with the greatest anticipation. But one thing bit right away: no beer in evidence by the races. Wisconsin. Didn't seem quite right. There's usually beer at every intersection in Wisconsin. Must be there somewhere, but gotta watch the races.
The card on the early afternoon was four harness races, two of which were split up into divisions because of the staggering number of entrants, with the first, a pace, being contested in two divisions of 5 for a purse of $2100, nw4000 and clm4000. The 2nd was $1400 for nw10000 life, 4 hosses, and the 3rd $1700, a free-for-all trot with 4 entrants. The "Great Race" of the day was a $4,365 pace for nwlife $2500, also split up into two divisions of 5 due to the overwhelming action at the entry box. So that's six races total to get warmed up, and then the hosses in the "Great Race" sqaring off in the feature of the day, positions determined by finish postion in the heats, for the really big bucks.
Meanwhile, Cokes were $1.00, and a little kid in a jaycees outfit tried to peddle popcorn and licorice whips for "dirt cheap". No official betting, but the group of grandmas and granddaughters down front offered to let folks get in on the betting at a quarter a horse, for a possible $1.50/race payoff. I wasn't having none of it, and preferred to go with the "imaginary horse", picked from post parade inspection. And these were some sad harness nags, with many obvious limps and short strides, so I was going with the reasonably healthy lookin' horse.
A mistake, it turns out, as healthy harness horses appear to want to break stride at the beginning of every race, and every race I was down 47 lengths before the 1st turn of the half mile bull ring. Dang!
Finally, both heats of "The Great Race" had been run, and it was time for a brief respite as the harness horses caught their breath, so out came the big parade of draft horses, in quite an impressive display of carts and harnesses and reins. I'm pleased to say I can now differentiate between Belgians and Percherons and Clydesdales, and it was quite the learning experience.
Needed beer. Bad. Time to leave the races and check out the rest of the Fair, particularly the beer tent. Never did find that bugger, though, as it was non-existent. Did find a very tasty $3.00 corn dog, a quite interesting Chickens and Rabbits barn (this place put Fulton County to shame), a display of farm equipment 2nd to none, and Porker Downs, where the pig races were to be run at 3:00 pm.
This was kind of a cheesy set of pig races compared to the Galt's Racing Pigs display earlier this year at TuP, and much worse pig jokes from the proprietors. But still, pig racing is pig racing. And a 4 day it was at the pig races, as the #4 pig (males) took the 1st, the #4 pig (females) took the 2nd, the #4 pig (intl. div.) took the 3rd, despite 3 pigs breaking through the starting gate and a pig eating the Oreo cookie ahead of time and the race having to be totally restarted. And it has to be mentioned that the #4 pig in the 3rd race (restart) made a really impressive late move on the rail to win despite getting dwelt in the gate because it happened to be climbing up the back wall of its gate slot when the gate opened. On a day when early speed was really holding with the pigs. This is a pig to watch. And then in the 4th, boys vs. girls, the #4 pig won again. 4's rule!
One last fruitless circuit through the fairgrounds in search of the beer tent led inevitably back to the horse racing stands, where approx. 500 people were still in attandance for the final heat of The Great Race. And the Trotting Assoc. had named the Walworth County Fair "Fair of the Year", replete with presentations from a bunch of harness mucky mucks from Maywood and elsewhere, and some horse won that race, and then it was time to move on.
Late afternoon -- CountryFest, at Arlington International Racecourse.
Hey. When Dick D. gives you something for free that's worth $18, you have to take advantage, right?
This wasn't much of a Fest at all, more of a show with reserved seats, and it turned out that when you arrived at 5:00 pm you got pretty crummy seats. Free VIP tix or no. And even though there were less cars in the parking lot than on a weekday afternoon for racing.
They had a stage set up on the main track inside rail just up from the old finish line, and some seats on the track and some others on the apron, and then most of the rest of us were up in the stands. Not real close, but not totally bad, as they did have a very good sound system. Cheeseola as far as concessions - not "fest" at all but just the usual AP concessions, and even worse up on the 2nd level, where there was just one crummy beer stand with long lines. Can 'o beer: $3.00. A decent show, though, with performers whose songs I actually recognized from downstate IL and Arkansas radio stations.
Flash! Guest appearance by the Labeeb Sisters, or maybe their twins! Although I don't think the Original Labeeb Sisters would have been seen with Cheez Whiz nachos in hand.
Pam Tillis put on quite a excellent show, and Billy Ray Cyrus was forgettable, and Martina McBride I didn't stay for since I'd already seen her down to the Cubs and she was way too perky even then. But I gotta ask you ... this "modern" country, can it compare to what this podunk boy grew up on out in KMON Country out in Montana, or the KDKB "outlaw" stuff down in AZ in the early '70's, songs like "Giddy Up Go" and "Phantom 409" and "Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain", and lines like "C'mon truckers!", and "I was drunk the day my mom got out of prison"?
I think not.
--- America's Day at the Races at Hawthorne, Monday, September 7 ---
I'm tellin' ya, I handicapped the crap out of this card. Speed via the Rag numbers, pace, trainer angles and pedigree info, the whole schmear. And I sucked. Ended up giving back nearly half of what I'd won Saturday InstantCappin'.
Still, an excellent afternoon.
America's Day, it was, with all the attendant hoopla. A horse shoeing and farrier's display down behind the toteboard, where then guys were giving away race plates to little kids all day long, a nice jockey autograph session down by the Winner's Circle, met a friend coming out with a signed edition of the Jock's Guild yearbook (?) that he'd got for free (nice book!), t-shirt tosses after nearly every race that the crowd was quite enthusiastic about, and a killer bbq in the infield with giant bbq pork sandwich $3.00. The Name the Yearling contest kind of faltered when the Yearling didn't want to leave the barn area to come up to the stands, but they still did it anyhow.
Beautiful, beautiful Fall weekend, Fall having arrived Saturday night on the heels of a smoking thunderstorm, including the DmR Pick 6 that a couple of the gang were playing, with a nice $100k Summertime Promise Stakes for 3yo fillies on the turf, and then a post race Toby Keith show in the infield that was packed, packed, packed.
Can't ask for a better racing weekend than that!
Live racing rules!