Co-Winner! The McChump Tour's 1999 "Podunk Track of the Year"!
Sunday, July 25. ~1:45 pm. KS Rt. 44, heading west. Anthony, Kansas.
The place where it is going to be necessary to ask directions to the track is right over there, just to the north of the road. The biggest grocery store on main street, with a sign out front reading "Welcome Race Fans".
It has been a relatively quiet and uneventful 3-1/2 hour drive from Tulsa, once one subtracts out the one dead armadillo spotted, turned pink by the sun, the unplanned stop in the one gas station town of Hallett, OK, because someone mistook some other gauge for the gas, and the light truck with boat trailer and boat overturned in the median of the Cimarron Turnpike, with all sorts of emergency vehicles and paramedics attending to the injured by the side of the road. The answer from the grocery store? "Just turn up any street and go to [some street with a president's name] and turn right again and you can't miss it".
Sunday, July 25 ~2:00 pm. Anthony Downs, Anthony, KS.
Not too hard finding Anthony Downs from those fine directions, located on the NE side of the big city of Anthony, a community of about 3500 out in the middle of farmland and two lane roads maybe 40-50 miles southwest of Wichita. It was a big day at the track, with a crafts fair set up out front. Possibly 5 booths of crafts offered crafts of several sorts to the crafts fair goers, of which few were in evidence. The racing was the thing, however, and 2:00 was post time, so just a little cross country driving through a small ditch brought the car to an excellent free parking spot atop a small grassy knoll, amid a host of pickups, the motor was turned off, and the door opened with the intent of heading for the grandstand entrance. The ambient temperature in greeting: ~155 F.
Admission on the day was a cool $3, with program extra (unrecorded, but like $1.50 or $2). The entrance past the little admissions booth leads directly to the paddock (off the right end of the stands) which consists of a small open grassy area with some stalls, enclosed by an attractive (and tall, to keep out troublecausers) wire fence. Next to the paddock, between it and the main grandstand, is a covered concrete patio area with a few seats and some rather rickety benches, and just behind that, across a small asphalt concourse, the long low building housing the mutuel windows and the food concessions stand, outside of which several large barbecue grills smoked away giving off delicious barbecue type smells.
The real star of this show is the grandstand itself, an ancient, ancient open air wooden structure maybe 300 feet long, with spidery wooden cross beam supports underneath, a wooden slat roof covered over in more recent times by corrugated metal roofing, many many wooden support beams holding up the roof, the front row of which had been cut off about 2 feet below roof level (the stumps still hanging) and replaced by steel pipe supports, and 10 at the most rows of seating, constructed of long spans of 2" x 10" boards arranged in deep rows where the back of one person's seat consists of the feet of the person sitting on the row above. Each and every board of the place is weatherbeaten and ancient, like an old homesteader structure one would encounter on the prairie, and judging from the rafters, for the most of the year it serves as a roost for pigeons, although the seating area had obviously been cleaned up for the race meet. It is, in short, one of the coolest old grandstands one could ever hope to encounter in all of racing. According to the Anthony, KS, website regarding area tourist attractions, this structure has been around as long as Anthony has had racing, which dates back to the early 1900's, way way before parimutuel came to Kansas.
The total coverage of air conditioning in this facility, however, consists of 0%, unless one were to count the concessions area where the employees served up the chow. Which was somewhat disconcerting when the ambient temperature is ~155 F, but when in Anthony ...
The apron, as such, is unremarkable, primarily because there is no apron. The stands sit right up against the horse track, spearated from it only by a 4 foot walkway in front of the stands and some more tall wire fence. Great for seeing the action up close and personal, especially since the track itself is only about 30 feet across. There's a little announcer's booth set up on the inside of the track, housing the announcer, apparently a local celebrity of sorts as his picture is on the front of the program, and at times, other dignitaries of the Anthony Fair race meet, at one point including President Joe Bird, to whom the crowd sang happy birthday after announcer John Ridenhour solemnly implored us all to stand up and observe a moment of silence in observation of a very very sad event: Dan Bird's 60th birthday.
The track itself is set in a grassy field, facing north, with a subdivision of Anthony to the west, some farm fields to the north, and some ancient and apparently little used metal barns off to the NE, where there was also ample parking for the many horse trailers that had obviously brought in most of the contestants on the day. Little toteboard-on-wheels on the backstretch shows odds, and some ads, but little else.
The card on the day offered plenty of wagering opportunities for one and all, with 15 races in total, ranging from races for appys, paints, and quarterhorses, to various TB races at distances up to 7f, to a 550 yd mule allowance, to a series of 5/16 mile events for that most interesting of racing breeds, the greyhound. For you see, inside the 1/2 mile horse track, in the grassy infield inside the 4f horse track, there is a small greyhound track, and the card at Anthony Downs consists of alternating horse and dog races such that there is fast and furious betting action every 15 minutes, with the pups providing the entertainment while the next horse race is being set up. First rate racing action! For the horses, in the TB realm, $3,500 claimers ran for a purse of $1,800, the Anthony Fair Handicap at 6-1/2f paid $4,000, and the really big race of this final day of the 6 day meet, Anthony Downs' 95th running: the 5f Anthony TB Futurity for 2yo, for $10,000.
With the early double consisting of a 220 yd QH, paint, and appy race followed by the 2nd, a grade M dog race, not much actual wagering at this point was contemplated by the McChump party, so some food and beverage scores, as well as more exploring, was in order.
BBQ Cheeseburgers were a bargain at $2.25, and bottled beer, Crud or Coors products, were available for $1.50 the longneck. Big soft drink in collector's item cup was $2.00. Quite the deal. Small bathroom structures out back of the grandstand, as well as a a grassy area, a huge shade tree which appeared to be one of the few American elms still extant, but looking pretty raggedy, and down at the left end of the grandstand, the greyhound paddock, which oddly enough attracted the opposite quantity of onlookers from the usually jammed horse paddock. Guess you can't tell much from watching the greyhounds in the walking ring. A small table near the entrance served as the Anthony Downs gift shop, selling hats and t-shirts for $10 each.
As far as the horse racing went, I didn't recognize any of the trainers and jockeys except for trainer Joe Thomas who was busy kicking butt at Eureka when I was there last year. This lack of vital jock and trainer knowledge is undoubtedly why I only cashed a couple of bets all day, and those - sad to say again - on quarterhorses. It's getting pretty bad.
I'm proud to say I bet $0 on any greyhound race during the day, but these things were quite the diversion, as the very young dog gate crew would load the dogs into the starting boxes, and for some reason there is never a #3 dog at Anthony even though the #3 box seems to work just fine. Then they (the gate crew boys) would literally run on down to the turn to be ready for the end of the race, while "the rabbit" was limbering up and starting around the backstretch. And this was the classic Bugs Bunny cartoon type of greyhound rabbit setup, with the whirring cables around pulleys, and the little 4 wheeled cable car being pulled along, with a rag rabbit attached on an arm, with floppy rag ears and a long floppy rag tail, and when it passed by the dog boxes the hounds (all the but the #3) would be loosed and chased the rag rabbit like bats out of hell down the straight and around two turns past the finish. When the rag rabbit passed the center point of the far turn the young gate crew turned dog catchers would quickly stretch a long fabric fence across the track in front of the stampeding dogs, and the latter would come to a screeching halt in the dust, and it was some fine, fine entertainment, yes indeed. Exhausted, the very young dog gate crew would then seek shelter up in the corner of the covered grandstand and proceed to amuse themselves and those around them with teenage boy type antics and jokes through the following horse race, and it was all quite the highbrow entertainment type event.
The crowd on the day, a big one despite the heat, with lots of families and kids filling the stands and the patio and the betting concourse, seemed to enjoy these events, too. Dunno about the dogs, running in that heat for who knows what but the big dog race of the day was the Anthony Downs Challenge for $4000.
Sadly, as the day went on, that ~155 F ambient heat with no air conditioning started to take its toll, so the decision was made to leave early, passing up a dog race, a QH race, the mule allowance, and the rare and special 3f race for QH and TB, in favor of heading back to Tulsa in an air conditioned car. All in all, a most excellent and fun day at Anthony Downs, with a big, fun, friendly crowd having a great time despite the searing temperature. Events like this are few and far between. Big big thumbs up.
Not a whole lot exciting transpired on the way back to Tulsa once you discount the events at the top of Part 1 and the van fire by the side of the Cimarron Turnpike where the van was roaring with flames in the engine and driver compartment. And a dead raccoon.
Monday morning, July 26, about 1000 feet above Tulsa.
Ha HA! The tornado gods slept right through the whole thing, and I had a great time, and now I'm outta there, home free! I beat you, you losers!
[Tornado god Elvin yawns and stirs. He turns to heat god Aloyshius]:
"Droll. How very droll. Another cocky one. Do me a favor - take this ~155 F on up to Chicago, why don't you - I need to do my hair tonight. And oh - while you're at it, take 99% humidity, too. I'll give you 5 bucks and a hot tip in the 7th at Prescott."
Aloyshius is off in a flash.