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.
Admission today is free, as well, as the ticket booths are totally unmanned. Walk right in. Last gasp, program not free: $1.50.
Inside's kind of old and tired, low ceilings painted a pale green, peeling; painted concrete floors, scuffed off; circa WWII architecture, looking tired; and banks of teller windows in the middle, lots of old wood with many coats of paint.
No gift shop today. Just some folding tables set up in the lower concourse selling anything and everything that is left of Atlantic City merchandise, much of it many years old. The table is crowded with patrons. Not much in the line of concessions today, either. One food stand on either side of the tunnel which splits the ground floor in two, and one beer stand on the grandstand end, with long lines at all. Medium sized beers are $3.50. A few makeshift simulcasting areas scattered about, just banks of TV's with a few chairs. Nice pictures from the 50's on the walls of the interior dividers that break the main expanse up, done in that style your uncle used to do when you were a kid, B&W pictures retouched in color, of horses like Assagai, and Round Table, and Flit To, and Dr. Fager - and all the other former winners of the United Nations Handicap.
Out front there's a big concrete apron sloping down to the track with lots and lots of free benches. The plant itself has a big, covered, open, grandstand seating area and some enclosed areas way up top. Perched up on the roof, and hanging from it, there's a corrugated metal press box and announcer's booth. All of it decaying, noticeably.
The track itself is immaculate, a 1-1/8 dirt oval surrounding a 1 mi. turf course, with a nice manicured infield, what used to be a full function tote but is half dead today, and a big pond that spans the infield from end to end. The backdrop is trees and upscale housing developments. And off to the right a big ugly shopping mall. Out back there's a good sized park for the saddling and such, with the saddling stalls tucked in under the grand stand, and then a nice open walking ring with immaculate and tasteful bush arrangements set in the middle of this park area, with lots of trees and benches and tables and a couple more concession stands. Very pretty. Walking path out to the track through a tunnel under the stands.
Today's card, the last card ever at AC, consists of 8 races, all turf races, mostly low budget, and mostly featuring horses that had run in that region, from Garden State, and Philadelphia Park, and Maryland. The feature race of the day, the last feature ever, has N1X fillies running for a purse of $10,200.
There's a big crowd out on this warm and wonderful day, very big, announced at 20,000 at one point but doubtful, probably more like 10,000. Old people and young people and scads of kids, kids putting on quite a nice show of being kids on a nice summer day, and not a one of this crowd had a clue how to run an autotote, and the lines at the live teller windows were long, and meanwhile, throughout the day, between the races, each and every long term employee or trainer of AC Race Course is saluted and mentioned by name. And there are many of them.
Finally a little before 5pm, the bugler calls the field for the last ever race at Atlantic City to post, and the crowd breaks out in applause. The track announcer makes an event of it, even people who have never been to AC before in their life get misty eyed, and the crowd applauds even more. The horses are loaded, and the last race ever at AC is off, won ultimately by Search and Burn, ridden by O M Pereira. The crowd applauds long and loud. To the right, an older couple is sharing a long, passionate kiss, and one wonders what this track meant to them over the years.
A brief but moving eulogy for the track delivered by the announcer, and a trumpet version of Thanks for the Memories delivered by the bugler.
And then the crowd, the last crowd which would ever witness live racing at Atlantic City, cleared the parking lot quickly.
Use it or lose it, chumps.