Laurel Park, Laurel, MD, Mar 25

Philadelphia Park, Bensalem, PA, Mar 25

When we left the McChump Tour on Lake Shore Drive coming home from Sportsman's at the Speedway in our last installment, the question of the day that lingered from a racetrack acquaintance was "Have you ever seen anything worse than this?", followed by a vow to spend the Spring finding out. What better place to start looking, I reasoned, than among the mid-Atlantic tracks: the tired, the poor, the hungry, the huddled masses yearning to have slots. Or at least yearning to cut out live racing altogether and just offer simulcasts.

Saturday, March 25, 2000

[Somewhere over Ohio. Toledo, maybe. Early AM]

This bag of animal crackers that passes for breakfast on Southwest seems a bit heavy on the elephants and rhinos. Not a single tiger. And the large contingent of middle-schoolers from Crown Point, IN, out for a visit to Washington, is yelling, screaming, singing, and running up and down the aisles. No tigers. That really chaps me.

[Arrive BWI, 11:15, Southwest Air]

Right on time, if not a bit early. Good job, Southwest!

[Jump in the rent-a-chumpmobile and run down to Laurel to see the DWC.]

A fine white rent-a-chumpmobile it was, at that, from National Rent-a-Car official rent-a-car of the NTRA, something in a generic Oldsmobile variety that was kind of a gas hog, but it got me down to Laurel Park before noon. No gettin' lost incidents recorded, as this is an extremely easy-to-find track, and well marked by road signs.

Parking: free, admission: $3, with track program included. A bit steep to watch one race, but what are ya gonna do?

I certainly have to agree with the assessment of others: Dubai Millenium was simply awesome. I think the Sheikh has himself a horse, here. But of course I couldn't bet no stinkin' 2-1 horse, and lost $9 on the race.

A very nice food court on the first floor at Laurel offered up an extensive choice of food items, and the McChump Tour went with a slice of pepperoni/sausage pizza that was quite tasty and rang in fairly cheap at about $3.30 or so, for a quick lunch before continuing with the day's agenda.

[When that's done drive to Philadelphia Park, checking the motel on the way.]

You know maybe you've been travelling too much when a section of interstate 800 miles from home is familiar. Maryland House; Chesapeake House; Delaware Turnpike; turnoff to Delaware Park; Memorial Bridge; New Jersey Turnpike. And just a bit of intrigue, as the guy at the toll booth entering the Delaware Turnpike gave me back change for a $20 all in ones and I'm wondering if maybe this is one of those change scams like some sleazy mutuel tellers do, but no, he's doing me a favor: There's about 800 toll booths to come, all nicking the motorist for $2. Thanks much, toll booth guy!

Did not check the motel. No need to. Obviously a decent area.

[Afternoon at Pha, seeing what the hell they are doing with all that Phonebet money. Heard they've upgraded the place since I was there last. Hope so - it was a prison before.]

Well, not much of an afternoon. The rain started up just north of Baltimore and continued all the way to Philadelphia, so the going was a bit slower than the agenda called for. Arrived just in time to watch the Spiral Stakes from Turfway, and see the final live race of the afternoon at Philly.

When I was last at Philly Park, it was indeed a depressing place, with the exterior resembling a prison and the parking lot full of broken out auto side glass. The parking lot is still full of broken out auto side glass - perhaps it is the same glass from three years ago, I don't know - but the exterior has gotten a paint job or something, and doesn't look nearly so prison-like.

The really big changes are when you enter the place. For one there isn't admission anymore. And for two, the ground floor, which formerly reminded me visually and olfactory-ily of one of those really sleazy bars where they have a concrete floor and you can smell the industrial strength Mr. Clean floor cleaner such bars use to clean up the vomit and blood and so on, has been totally and completely done over. It's actually very attractive now, in a simulcast center sort of way. Doesn't stink, either.

But first, I wanted a program. "A program for the Philly live card?", the program guy asked me rather increduously. "Yes", said I. "Okay wait a minute", said he, proceeding to rummage around somewhere on the floor behind the counter. "Here you are, one dollah." It was the advance edition, kind of a rumpled up advance edition, no fancy cover or anything, just the bare facts in a plain paper cover, and when I opened it up I discovered it was a USED program! LOL! Chicken scratchings and notations all over it. And when I compared the notations to the day's results, it turns out the former owner was a pretty lousy handicapper. One can only hope it was the program guy's personal copy.

Anyhow, on to the improvements. The entryway to the plant is quite attractive. Nice "marble" panelling, and a big bronze horse sculpture. The whole effect is one of walking into a well-done casino, with a horse racing motif. And then once on the floor, you're in a huge, nice simulcast center, with the central bar re-done, tables and kiosks everywhere, nice wooden ones, and TV's TV's TV's coming out the wazoo. Everywhere you look a TV. The main complaint here would that so many TV's are dedicated to exacta pools and Pick-3 will pays and so on that it was an effort to find a TV showing the track signal for whatever track you were looking for. The Spiral Stakes was off before I could find a TV showing it, and I didn't get to make a bet. Good thing, as I wouldn't have bet on Globalize.

It was obvious that a ton of that Phonebet money has been spent to upgrade this ground floor. Like millions and millions of dollars. It's very, very pleasant indeed, and 1st class. As simulcast centers go. There's a real decent looking food stand down on the right end which wasn't there before selling some tasty looking carvery sammiches for $5.95, but of course they closed down immediately following the 10th, as if the huge crowd was going to go home then, which of course they didn't, as they were playing simulcasts and didn't give a rat's ass or even know when the 10th at Pha had gone off. Beers: $3.25. Some interesting local brand named Pfneuflpfneugen, or something like that, on tap along with the usual Crud crapola.

The 2nd floor of the stands is closed and dark, and the 3rd floor, which used to be the best of the bunch, is now kind of dingy and rundown compared to that 1st. Out front on the apron, unchanged since my last visit, maybe 50 people were paying attention to the live races, as opposed to the 100's and 100's inside yelling at TV's like their voices could really be heard all the way to Florence, Kentucky.

And the quality of live racing, hey, that's way up too. When I was there before, the feature race of the [week] day was a N1X allowance. And now, on a weekend day, it was a N1X allowance. Purses are up bigtime, too. Just comparing the races from 1997 to now, we see that a clm5000n3l has rocketed from $6000 to $7000; a clm5000n2l is the envy of the mid-Atlantic having increased from $5500 to $6000; the big horses, the $25k claimers, are now commanding a princely $15000 instead of their paltry former $13500; the 3yo MSW races are drawing horses from near and far by offering $16000 instead of $14000; and the feature horses, the N1X, getting their owners rich with a $17000 pot instead of the former $15000. Yes indeed, that PhoneBet money is also being used to dramatically increase the quality of live racing at Philadelphia Park.

This is no simple track out front as an excuse for a beautiful simulcasting center (and invisible but omnipresent phonebet operation) inside. No sirree Bob (Green)! Both horsemen AND track management are getting their share. Why, if this keeps up and the rest of the racing world stands still, maybe in 40 years there will be world class racing at Philadelphia Park!

Back inside after the 10th, and waiting for the Rebel Stakes to go at Oaklawn, I decide to watch the signal from the track on the circuit from which I have temporarily exiled myself. The horses are in the paddock, I think, and there's an interminable shot of some horse getting a new shoe, followed by a long lingering shot of another horse's ass, and all of sudden the jocks are up and the horses are leaving the paddock. That was informative. Switch to the outside view. This track has apparently decided to share the live racing experience with its simulcast patrons, as well, as the camera is about 1/2 mile from the actual horses so they look like ants, and as it a windy day in the Windy City, the image bounces and weaves as though this is the Blair Witch Project. When the race is done a Philly Park patron turns to me and asks if I can tell who won the race. Not I, says I. The camera angle at that track sucks, says he.

Meanwhile, I've despaired of the Rebel at Oaklawn ever going off while it is still Saturday in the Eastern time zone. Time to hit the road. What's the next possible race coming up on the slimuls ... the remainder of my voucher is on the #4, whatever. Well, that would be a race at Santa Anita, and the #4 looks really fat and flabby in the post parade, and is the longest shot on the board in a small field at 17-1. But you done said it, chump, you got to follow through.

The #4 gets up for place, paying a huge place and show price, and I can proudly leave Philadelphia Park with just a $9 loss on the day. Nice handicapping. Nice simulcasting.

The McChump Tour rating: Shoulder shrug (live racing).

The Exile verdict: Not worse. Next case.