Winner! The McChump Tour's 1998 "Podunk Track of the Year"!
--- Memorial Day, Monday, May 25, 1998 ---
-- 11:50 am, US Highway 54, north and mostly east of Wichita, tornado capital of the U.S.
Well, that answers one of the great questions of the previous evening: The sign by the side of this road proclaims it as "The Yellow Brick Road".
-- 12:30 am, Eureka Downs, Eureka, KS
Never a doubt on how to get to this track. The signs by the roadside had it all under control. Good thing, that, as what passes for the Eureka Downs web page had no directions, and the track was not included in my "Making Tracks" book. This had been strictly a "drive to Eureka and see what you can find" sort of affair.
And very early indications that it would be A-OK, starting with the free parking in a grassy lot on the west side of the track. And the many cowpoke looking characters entering the track at about the same time as me.
Admission: $2.00. Track program: $3.00, which included the Eureka pp's, plus Churchill (and there may have been a RP supplement, but if so then I have totally misplaced it.) DRF's being sold had no Eureka pp's, so needless to say, that day I did not patronize the DRF.
Just inside the main door we have a nice little gift stand, and then a big open space which is essentially under the stands proper where there are folding tables and folding chairs out in the middle for the slimulcast crowd to do their slimulcast wagering, and some mutuel windows at the back of the facility, and then concession windows up at the front (note to Brd: bar and food concessions separate; no need to stand in line behind 15 schlubs buying Snickers bars if all you wanted was a giant beer). And the food concession stand offers quite an array of goodies, including $2.25 hot dogs, $2.75 hamburgers, ham and roast beef sandwiches $2.50, BBQ sandwiches $3.50, sausage $3.25, chicken $2.50, and chili pie $3.50. Even though the chili pie price was a buck higher than at WRD, I have to rate the Eur food way above and beyond. Excellent work, Eureka Downs! I followed the lead of the locals, who all seemed to be ordering the $2.75 hamburgers, and these were indeed a value play, big and juicy, with ample (but not great like for instance Rillito Downs) condiments available.
Following that up, I scored up a smallish beer for $1.50 and headed down to the left out through the open doors to the apron to get all 'capped up for the 1:30 post. Feelin' much better.
Outside we find ourselves between the grandstand and the saddling/walking area, which is a pretty decent area outside the building that serves as the jocks' quarters and has no real walking ring but just some grass, but it is easy to see, and who the heck cares. The Winner's Enclosure, as it cannot properly be called a Circle, is also down at this end instead of up in front of the stands.
Out front on the comfy asphalt apron there are tons of free benches available, all down the front of the stands, which are a small set of stands, which I'm thinking would be lucky to be 200 feet long, and might be about the same in depth, but only 2 stories, with a press box perched out front. Above the apron seats there is a level of maybe 10 rows of open air/covered grandstand seats with a couple boxes down front, and then behind that an enclosed clubhouse level which included maybe another 10 rows of seats and then probably some table area behind that which constituted, AFAIK, the "Flint Hills Turf Room". The big apron area between the stands and the paddock soon became the site of an outdoor beer stand that featured two coolers on wheels, big giant beer can shaped and painted coolers on wheels, that iced down beer like those big barrel pop coolers at the 7-11, and which I would visit at least a couple of times throughout the day for canned beer at $1.75, and which I want one of my for very own to bring along to The Big Co.'s coed softball games real real bad.
The structure itself is a standard corrugated metal affair, but painted a very decent shade of tan, and surprisingly attractive. Well maybe not so much attractive as, "way more decent than many I have seen". Barns are located out to the back and left.
Track out front is a 5f bullring, with a minimum function toteboard set in a natural grass infield with a reedy pond down w/small fountain in the club end which went almost up to the inside rail on the steeply banked first turn. No big giant signs proclaiming the track name here, just a small sign like a street sign set on a pole that let us know we were at "Eureka Downs". In the background there were lots of big trees and down to the left a large cemetery with many colorful American flags set out for Memorial Day. Starters ladder is up on a wooden platform on wheels that is dragged around the course by a tractor.
The weather: beautiful, if a bit hot in the sun. The crowd: big, filling most of the free seats, and fun, and friendly, and relatively young by normal racetrack standards but in real life pretty much just a good cross section of what was probably the general population of that part of Kansas at large, and relatively good looking, and not interested so much in whether or not their lifetime ROI was 1.00000444 vs 1.00000400, as having a blast with all their neighbors, and the horsemen, and the jockeys, and having a brew, and betting a horse or two. Which they proceeded to do.
The card on the day consisted of 7 live races, of which 4 were quarterhorse events, and 3 for Tbreds. The feature was the 6th, a $22,271 330 yd dash for 2yo QH, and the co-feature was the $12,583 350 event for 3yo QH. Much down from there, offering just $1300 for the 3^ MSW filly TB's running 5-1/2f. Field sizes were on the smallish side, ranging from just 4 horses in one QH race, 5 and 6 in the TB events, 8 in the 3yo QH stake, and then on up to 10 in the QH 2yo Futurity. Some scratches and coupled entries further depleted the betting interests. Most of the horses were from around those parts, sporting pp's from tracks all over Kansas, and Nebraska, and Oklahoma, and Texas, and even one I didn't recognize, Anf, which I assume is a fair somewhere. The pp's themselves were (I think) Equibase, but with only final times, and whoever put them together had a sense of humor, as in one race a winner by the name of A Full Count had had his name abbreviated to fit in the pp comments by leaving out a critical vowel in Count, which led to a humorous 1-2-3 finish of [new name]/I Love You Man/Cash At High Noon.
Didn't recognize any of the trainers or jockeys. Leading trainer was Joe Thomas, who picked up a couple more on the day. Leading jocks were Gary Patton and Steve Randle, battling it out with but one win separating them going into the day. Altough the jock of the day was Jason Olmstead, who rode a very lucrative early double. Most of the jocks seemed to ride a bit heavy, with Dustin Williams in particular getting on at 127. The jocks all did their own valet work in a small area out front of the jocks room by the paddock. Saddlecloths are a uniform black, and the jocks wear color coded silks to identify the horse by number.
What else ... tote problems after the 1st, which led to a very long time before prices were posted, and then an announcement that post time for the 2nd would be moved up by 6 minutes, which of course it never was as the riders milled around on the club turn well past zero minutes to post as people got their bets in, and a 10 or 11 yr. old young man yelled down at the outriders, "C'mon you guys! It's post time!". Also had some bets on RP refunded later on, but do not know if this was associated with the earlier tote problems.
Flash! A trainer objection in the absence of a stewards inquiry or jock's objection was actually upheld, for the first time in my experience. Unfortunately, the horse that came down was one I had bet on. Fortunately, I thought the takedown was fair, as I'd been watching the horse closely and he did indeed interfere. Just part of racing. Score me two for two now, guessing correctly what the stewards would do. It ain't that hard.
Bettingwise, I was not the king, and left $10.80 with the bettors of Eureka. But every single cent of it was extremely well spent.
This track was what live racing is all about. Fun crowd out on a nice day interacting with their neighbors, and the the jocks and outriders, outriders funning with the crowd and pointing to "their" horse as the probable winner, friendly people who weren't too shy or idiotic to talk bs with a stranger from Chicago, and tons of little kids out enjoying themselves and going wild and hopefully turning into the next generation of horse racing lovers. Which I expect they will, as opposed to the big city kids in the town where I live.
Excellent job, Eureka Downs! It's on the same high fun level as Prescott and Rillito! Highly recommended if you should be in the Wichita area, and the track program lists Wallet Day, mule racing, ostrich racing, and camel racing as upcoming events you might want to shoot for.
-- 7:25 pm, Kansas City, KS
Can't do much here but wave in the general direction of The Woodlands, and hope they might be racing in the future.
-- 10:55 am, Altoona, Iowa
Sorry, PrM: Can't stop today. Only up this far north to get away from that damn pesky stationary weather front that's been dogging me this entire trip, anyhow. Don't look like you need my help though. 11:00 am. Work day. Des Moines. Parking lot 1/3 full. Slot machines. Cha-Ching!
-- 3:55 pm, I-88 junction w/355 tollway (far west Chicago suburbs)
I have no idea if the Chumpmobile even remembers that if we we were going to go to Arlington this is where we'd turn if we were ever to take such a roundabout way of getting there. I doubt it - it has been so long. He keeps running a straight line.
And the morals of this story are:
1) There's no such a thing as too far to drive for live racing, and b) Live racing: use it or lose it, chump, or you too may be driving 1853 miles just to get to an intersection where you USED to be able to turn off to see the live races. Like for instance us in Chicago.