Sunday, July 25. ~5:00 pm. I-35 heading south. Blackwell, Oklahoma.
The scene of last year's near tornado crime is right over there, just to the east of the Interstate. The motel with the very uncomfortable bathtub.
Now I know I promised the tornado gods I would never darken their doorstep again, promised it in writing, in fact. But there was two tracks in their domain I'd never visited, and the rumor mill had it they slept a lot in the summer so it was mebbe possible to sneak a few things past the gods from time to time. So I was drivin', drivin' fast, a little preoccupied, but still keeping a wary eye on the sky, heading down the homestretch of a fantastic weekend spent visiting two interesting heartland tracks.
Saturday, July 24 ~6:00 pm. Fair Meadows, Tulsa Fairgounds, Tulsa, OK.
Not hard finding the Tulsa Fairgrounds at all. Just a few miles east of downtown. Finding the racetrack in the fairgrounds, well, that's a bit of a different story, mostly involving entering at the wrong gate off the wrong street, but leading to an interesting tour of the stock barns, and the fair pavilions, and the discovery of a little carnival midway cranking away, until finally the track appeared on the very eastern edge of the grounds, and a mighty fine free parking spot was secured.
Admission: $2, program $1.50, DRF whatever, ambient temperature ~150 F, the first race (maiden QH - yikes!) going off, and the familiar excitement of a new track to explore coursing through the veins as Fair Meadows, Tulsa, presented itself for exploration. Right after all guns were returned to the car.
Immediately it was discovered that beers are $2.50, for cans of Crud, Crud light, Coors, and Coors light. It was also almost immediately discovered that very little of Fair Meadows is air conditioned.
The Fair Meadows grandstand is, in fact, a very large fair grandstand, of the metal construction variety, with a large covered outdoor open air seating area (de rigeur metal bench seating) and a standard concrete concourse underneath with steel I-beams supporting the entire structure, and the whole enchilada. But it's big, very big.
A little more exploring down on the concourse level revealed a small enclosed, and air-conditioned, bar area called the Winning Colors Lounge, but this thing was kind of noisy and dark, so the decision was made to brave the heat. Also down on the concourse was found a small gift stand, many concession booths, and most all of the betting windows, live tellers all, except for a couple of machines way way down on the end close to the paddock, seemingly mostly used only by the most degenerate of all the customers, the horsemen. Nice little stand selling margaritas and other foo foo drinks down there, as well, and a stand roasting and selling very very fresh peanuts.
However, by then it was about time to head out front for the 2nd race of the night, 350 yds for maiden appy's and paints running for a purse of $7,000. I picked the prettiest paint horse, but sadly for me, this was not the winning appy or paint.
Out on the front side where, amazingly, it was also really really hot, ~150 F, was discovered a 5/8 (I think) mile dirt track surrounding a well-groomed, and nicely lined, flat asphalt parking lot, with a full function toteboard set up close to the track with just a teaser little patch of grass in front of it. Down on the clubhouse turn a water slide dominated the horizon; off the backstretch a Sears and a Target across the street; and on the far turn a baseball stadium with a huge net, which, it was later learned, was erected to keep foul balls from entering the racecourse and hitting jockeys on the head.
The third race was a TB race, 6-1/2f out of the QH chute and around two turns, a $7,000 affair for maidens, and sadly, I selected the wrong horse.
About this time, or maybe it after the next race I really don't remember but it fits well here, it was time to scout out some chow, and the choice was a small stand off the left end of the grandstand by the paddock, where a very tasty pork sandwich (w/cole slaw side) was scored for a mere $3.50. The eating of same was made a bit irritating by hungry little black flies that had a hankerin' for bare legs, but it went down fast and it went down good. Other food items noted at this time, or maybe later, included hot dog, $2.00, chili pie $2.75 (a decent price for chili pie in my experience), pizza $3.00, and cheeseburger $3.00.
Thus staving off famishment, it being well known that temperatures in the vicinity of ~150 F can cause same, it was time to take a bit more of a look around the surroundings, which astonishingly turned out to be the apron. And a nice asphalt apron it was, with several more beer stands, and some small mutuel windows. The covered, open air paddock and the small building that served as the jocks quarters were located down to the left end, while a small private party tent area occupied the right end. Also noted was a feature every track should have - roving beer vendors, carrying around small coolers so as to better serve the crowd. Bravo, Fair Meadows! Take note, NTRA!
An Internet correspondent I had hoped to meet was out of town for the weekend, so a meetup with him proved problematic, but McChump site reader and assistant starter Rollen Spencer, Jr., was on hand, so we made our introductions, and he referred me to the nice air conditioned simulcast center down off the clubhouse turn, as well as inviting me to share a brew or two after the races. The crowd on the night was fairly big by fair meet standards, but not nearly big enough to fill the place up. However everyone was friendly and seemed to be having a good time - quite an aberration in the world of racetrack crowds. Again, crowd or folks you're meeting there, Oklahoma has the nicest people in the world. As well as, it was again noted, and seconded, many of the best-looking women.
The card on the night consisted of 12 races, 6 for thoroughbreds, and 6 for the QH and appy/paint variety. My betting wasn't too bad, but I'm ashamed to say, by the end of the night, most of my big winners had come from the QH races. Except for when I pounded one of Rollen's dad's horses in the 11th.
The big race of the night was the 4f Oklahoma TB Tulsa Sprint Stake, for a purse of $24,000 added, won by Kenny Smith's "Mesquite Cowboy" ridden by Tim Doocy in Tim's 1st ever appearance at Fair Meadows. History! I saw History!
Each and every race was full (10 horses) and very competitive, and quite a joy to try and bet. Chad reports that the purses are so good this year that each race is way oversubscribed, and it sure was nice to see all these races with lots of horses.
Didn't recognize too many of the trainers, although Rodney Reed was leading the meet by a runaway going into the night. On the jocks' side, old friend Benny Landeros was right in the hunt, and other familiar names included Kelly Bridges from AZ, as well as Cindy Darnell and Fernando Camacho who I think are familiar from seeing them last time I was in this country.
Towards the end of the card, the now ~148 F heat was definitely taking its toll, so the decision was made to travel down to the simulcast center and catch a little air conditioning.
This is a nice little simulcast center they've got at Fair Meadows, with all the big screens, and carrels, and smoking/non-smoking, and so on that one could ever ask from a simulcast center if one was into that type of thing on a serious basis. Very much like the one at Lone Star, except a lot smaller. I was given to understand this is quite new. Very nice. And very, very cool. Ahhhhhh.
When the races were over, and Rollen had turned in the gate card, he graciously backed his truck up in front of the picnic tables by the jocks' quarters and unloaded a cooler full of cool frosties, and several were consumed there in the dark as the County heavy equipment groomed the track out front, and the temperature dropped off to a brisk ~137 F. And McChump learned there's a hell of a lot about horses he doesn't know as he listened to Rollen talk.
Thanks, Rollen, and thanks Fair Meadows. It was definitely a two thumbs up night out at the live races.