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.
-- 11:40 am, Remington Park, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
The Oklahoma Horse Racing Commission home page calls Remington Park Oklahoma's $96 million racing palace, so I was expecting quite a bit from Remington Park. I wasn't disappointed.
The park is set in a very nice neighborhood on the northeast side of OKC, in close company to a lot of other attractions like museums and stuff, down at the bottom of a small ridge that surrounds it on the south and west sides. From the top of the ridge, where the access streets run, enough neat, well-kept, and landscaped parking lots to host a Breeder's Cup sized crowd descend in terraced levels down to the track. And parking was the right price: free.
First view of the track from up on one these terraced levels is of a very impressive multilevel structure, the back of it, kind of curved around what would turn out to be the paddock area. Light in color, with lots of balconies for people to look out over the paddock, the general style of construction in the back sort of reminded me of "hospital", except of course hospitals don't usually have a lot of balconies.
Finally down at entrance level, the wall of the place by the grandstand entrance was sporting a large NTRA "Go Baby Go!" sign. No "no guns" signs evident.
Admission: $3.50. Track program: $1.75.
The ground floor here is a big open space, with a bank of tellers windows in the middle, and lots of free seating set all over the place, in what seemed to be a semi-random arrangement, to view the simulcast TV's which were hung all over the place. Ample mutuel machines also scattered hither and yon, generally in groups of 3 or 4. Several concession stands here and there around this side as well.
As I hadn't had any big Country Boy breakfast this particular day, I went looking for some food. And as I'd been mostly subsisting on racetrack food and McDonald's for a couple of days, I was being picky. Crossing over the path from the paddock out back to "Trackside North", I found a little restaurant tucked away on the very north end of the place, with a nice view out over the track, that looked to have some real food, name of "The Trackside Cafe", so as I had plenty of time on my hands, I decided to dine there. A little bit pricy, ringing in at $7.26 for a nice sandwich w/fruit and chips and coffee, but a welcome change of pace from what I'd been eating the past several days. Plus there were some TV's in there at one end so people could bet simul's while they ate, and at one point in everyone's nice quiet meal a guy was yelling "Come on 4! Come on 4! come on 4!", and I knew right then I'd probably find some kindred souls at this track. One rather odd thing: When the hostess checked me in she insisted on seeing my driver's license, and wrote down my name and DL number, and when I asked what the heck that was all about she explained that some people had a tendency to skip out without paying their tab. Damn Okie criminals!
Had I wanted to eat cheaper, there were plenty of alternatives, including a couple of stands that served the basic hotdogs and stuff, a stand that served bakery items like rolls, a full feature Mexican food stand that had beef burritos for $2.75 and what was probably the true value play of RP dining, $.95 beef tacos, a pizza stand, a stand that served up BBQ rib sandwiches for $4.50, chopped beef sandwiches for $3.75, and smoked sausage for some price I neglected to record, and probably a couple of other stands that I missed because it is indeed a big place, so there's ample chowin' opportunities for pretty much everyone, at fairly reasonable prices.
Big beers, choice of Bud, Coors, and Coors Light, were $3.00 (Shiner Bock also available), and I scored me up a brewski after lunch and headed out front to put the finishing touches on the InstantCappin(tm) that I'd started over lunch. BTW - This time I actually bought a DRF. When you're faced with an entire day of quarter horses, you need to have all the info you can get.
Out front there's a big asphalt apron with lots of free aluminum benches, and of course the Winner's Circle sort of down close to where the horse path comes out from out back. The plant itself is a huge glass enclosed thing, maybe 500-550 feet long, with the ground level, a 2nd "reserved seating" level (which btw had approximately zero people in it all day long), and then the big 3rd level, which I assume is clubhouse, and this level seemed to have plenty of patrons who didn't want to associate with us schlubs on the ground floor.
The infield is neatly kept and landscaped, inside a one mile track, with a pristine turf course tucked inside that. There's a pond in the clubhouse turn end, and a family picnic area in behind the toteboard accessible via a tunnel. No one was out there this particular day, and it looks to be sort of a "do it yourself" affair, without any concession stands and so on like the3 infields at Santa Anita and Del Mar.
Out back is the saddling area and walking ring , in a very attractive and nicely landscaped park area, that includes a small bronze statue of some horses up close to the building, and a much larger bronze statue of jockey Pat Steinberg in a nice quiet little area on the north end of the park. I got from the inscription on the statue that Pat Steinberg had been the leading TB jockey at RP in the early 90's, but there the story ended, with his "life cut tragically short". If anyone can fill me in on the whole story, I'd appreciate it.
Finally it was racing time, and what we had on the card was 8 QH races and two Appaloosa events, with the MdSpWt going for $6300, maiden claimers for $5500, $5k claimers $5200, allowance animals $9650, on up to the featurs of the day, the two Appaloosa races, $15k added for the 2yo futurity and the Appaloosa Derby for 3yo. Field sizes were pretty big, with one 8 horse race being the smallest of the bunch.
Bettingwise, I was pretty proud of myself, considering I am the world's worst QH handicapper, and despite betting between $6 and $18 per race, no passes, only managed to lose $13.60 on the day. A moral victory, for sure.
Weather was HOT!, with the temperature announced at 90 at 2:37 pm. I spent a lot of time in those free (air conditioned) seats inside on the ground floor between races.
The crowd was a most excellent one, with lots of young people and lots of women, and I'd estimate the crowd as somewhere in the medium size range. And I don't usually report on this, as it is usually a non-issue, but there's something I noticed at Brd and it carried over to RP, which is that Oklahoma seems to have some mighty fine representatives of the female species. Now there's a way to get guys to come out to the races.
One thing I thought was very odd was that no one was yelling for the horses during the races. It was like total silence. Until finally I realized I was the one with the problem, as I wasn't really listening. I'm used to the TB races, where people start yelling as soon as the horses round the final turn, but these were QH races, and the period for yelling is much shorter. So it was like: break from the gate, run for 300 yards, and then, for the last 50 yards, people would yell as hard as they do for a thrilling TB stretch run, and then suddenly it is over. Compress your usual 1:40 TB race into an 18 second dash, and that's what you've got. This is unique to Oklahoma, though. At Prescott Downs and Rillito in Arizona, they're yelling the whole way.
The day was absolutely perfect, until marred in the 10th and final race, as the #9, High Flyin Lady, snapped off a leg just after the finish line, dumped her jock, and then stumbled down to the club turn where she finally went down and was eventually shielded from view by the horse ambulance. The first time I ever saw a horse die on the track I thought I'd eventually get used to it, but it seems like it's a bigger shock each and every time. The whole place came to a standstill, and even the track announcer had a tough time getting out all the final results and payouts. And God, to be that owner. Farewell, High Flyin Lady.
Scored me up some mementos from the very decent gift shop on "Trackside North" on the way out.
Remington Park: Big thumbs up. It's absolutely beautiful, and friendly, and comfortable. I bet it is a great place to watch the thoroughbreds when it their season.
-- 6:50 pm, I-35, heading north
Countryside drying out quite a bit as we head more into Great Plains country. Looking at the big map, it occurs to me that from here I could just as easily drive up to Montana and visit the folks as get back to Chicago!
-- 7:20 pm, Blackwell, Oklahoma, just south of the Kansas border
Is this a great country, or what? Just drive until you don't feel like driving anymore, and then pull into any old motel you find that's handy! And, well, the facts that there had been a noticeable and sudden drop in temperature, a distinct smell of rain had come into the air, and the sky ahead didn't look so inviting, had all helped to convince me that I didn't feel like driving anymore.
Waiting at the checkin desk I looked at the TV that was on in the lobby, and noticed that there was a little graphic of the state of Oklahoma in one corner, all split up into its various counties, and the county just to the west of the one I was currently in was lit up in red.
"Tornado warning", the young desk help remarked very casually. "There's one on the ground about 30 miles from here". It seemed to me that the young desk help was as nonchalant about tornados as most Californians are about earthquakes, so if she wasn't worried, then neither was I.
The next hour or so was spent watching the TV station from Wichita doing "Storm Watch", and it was fascinating to see all the radar images as more than a dozen separate thunderstorms blossomed up in red all across southern Kansas and northern Oklahoma, and the different counties in both states were illuminated variously in green for tornado watch, yellow for severe thunderstorm warning, and red for tornado warning. Unfortunately, more and more counties were being lit up in red, and the red was coming our way. On the station from Oklahoma City, someone silly enough to chase tornados was out in the field with breathless live coverage of the tornado that was just 30 miles away. The paths of all the tornadic thunderstorms were projected, and a couple of them projected damn close to Blackwell, Oklahoma.
About 8:45 came a loud knock on my room door, and there was the young desk help, looking not nearly so nonchalant anymore, and advising me to take my pillows and blankets into the bathroom and cover up and hide in there. So I did.
Unfortunately the bathroom had no electrical outlet, and I couldn't put the time to good use typing up the Blue Ribbon story, so I was miffed and vexed that the tornado would put me behind deadline. As thunderstorm after thunderstorm marched east across the northern counties of Oklahoma, all there was to do was lie there in the dark, listening to the wind howling and the rain and hail pounding, and worrying about what the heck that might be doing to the poor Chumpmobile parked just outside, and waiting for that sound like a freight train coming while trying to picture the quietest and most peaceful scene I could conjure up from the storehouse of Montana Rockies engrams, and trying to remember just why it was I hadn't wanted to stay overnight in Oklahoma City instead of out here in the middle of nowhere in a flimsy motel, and wondering if there might be a trailer park in the next town over that would magically draw the tornados away from this particular motel, and contemplating whether or not there would be horse racing in The Land of Oz when I finally got there.
You knew the job was dangerous when you took it, chump.