Arlington International, Arlington Hts., IL, Aug 11, 2000

Bay Meadows Fair, San Mateo, CA, Aug 12 (Track #95)

Humboldt County Fair, Ferndale, CA, Aug 13 (Track #96)

Humboldt County Fair racing grandstand

-- Thursday afternoon, August 10, a drone cube at The Big Co.

De-dee-de! De-dee-de! De-dee-de!

"Good afternoon, The Big Company, Building F2-N, Floor II-12, Workspace 127-C. 'We collaboratively value the intellectual capital of the human resources comprising our proactive synergistic teams'. Can I help you?"

"Uhhhhh ... Hello? Mr. McChump? This is Madge? With United Airlines?"

Uh oh. "Ye-e-sss?"

"Mr. McChump -- am I pronouncing that right? -- we have you booked on a flight out of San Francisco next Monday morning at 7:00am, but that flight is overbooked by 50 people, and we're calling to see if you'd be willing to take a later flight in exchange for $300 in travel vouchers."

"Umm ... how do you overbook a flight by 50 people?"

"I don't know sir, but we did. Can you travel later? 10:30am?"

And as it turned out I could, and would, as I was taking the whole day off anyhow for I had learned my lesson about not keeping an entire day open to fly anywhere on United. Easiest $300 I ever made. But 50 people? Man that's a mystery.

-- Friday, August 11, afternoon, Arlington International Racecourse

Ah what the hey, it's a nice summer afternoon, so I think I'll run on out to the local track and see if I can do an emergency makeup track for the lost Marias County Fair (aka "The Great NorthWest Airlines Screw-over") at the beginning of this affair. What's more, there's supposed to be a bunch of ownership partners out there for the annual get-together, and maybe they'll have some keen insights for additional UPF bets.

Well ... my own UPF bet was a total bust, and I couldn't get a one of these chicken-heart partners to make a UPF selection (before a race, that is - several good ones after the fact), so it was pretty much a lost afternoon from the UPF standpoint. However, the weather was beautiful, the beer was cold, the company was good, and I hadn't been to a racetrack in over four days. Time well spent.

-- Saturday, August 12, late morning, San Francisco airport

Ladies and gentlemen, a miracle has occurred. A United flight has both departed and arrived on time. How or why is unknown.

-- Saturday, August 12, early afternoon, Bay Meadows Race Course

Correspondent J. Dave had provided excellent directions for getting from the airport to Bay Meadows, and since these were only ignored just a little bit, only a small gettin' lost incident was recorded. The McChump Party arrived at Bay Meadows with mucho time to spare before first post. Mucho time for exploring, eating, and possibly handicapping that day's card for the San Mateo County Fair meet.

Parking: $6 (fair price); admission (clubhouse): $6; program: $2.

You know, every time I visit a California track I can almost sympathize with those who complain about the high cost of even getting into a track. Almost.

Since there was hardly anyone on hand yet, and it looked like there was something going on in the infield (the part of the infield that isn't filled with horse barns, that is), the McChump Party, totally oblivious to prominent signage that said "Infield Reserved For Private Parties Only" strolled down through the tunnel and out to the infield. What was going on out there, as it turned out, was some sort of Volkswagen convention, The Loyal Order of the Friends of the Volkswagen or the Lower Peninsula Chapter of Hell's Volkswagens, or something like that, and what they were doing was painting up a bunch of Volkswagen beetles with water paints in all sorts of semi-creative and semi-interesting color schemes. The McChump Party lasted about two minutes in the midst of all that excitement and headed back, noticing the signs that had said "Private" on the way out. Oh well. The Secret of the Volkswagens is out now!

Action Item #2 on the day was food. There was plenty of this to be found on the lower floor of the grandstand, all sorts of tasty stuff from hot dogs to sandwiches, and I went with a big beef burrito, that was $4.75, and okay, but I would recommend in the future springing a bit extra for the "super" that has all sorts of additional fillings like for instance vegetable matter, and ask them to leave out the rice. IF you are in a burrito mood, that is. They also had a very good selection of beers for sale, MGD (yes! and hardly any crud to be seen), Fosters, Anchor Steam, some other Anchor brew, and several others. A big Anchor Steam rang in at $4.25.

No races had yet been run, nor bets laid, and $23 had been expended, for those of you scoring along at home.

A little exploring generated the impression that this is a pretty nice racetrack, one that will definitely be a loss when it is gone.

Grandstand side, the ground floor is an interesting maze of concessions stands, mutuel windows, a little gift shop toward the back by the indoor paddock, and some high-ceilinged, black-curtained, secret dark rooms in the back that serve as simulcast areas. These have some carrel seating. On this day a lot of the ground floor doors up front were open to the spacious asphalt apron, creating an impression of this being an open air area.

Above, there's a mezzanine area of open box seating, and above that a large open grandstand seating area under a roof supported by spidery yellow metal trusses and steel I-beam stanchions. There's also a large enclosed area of seating which isn't really clubhouse proper, just more like the ritzy part of the grandstand. I never did get off floor one of this plant, so can't really tell you anything about what's going on in the upper levels.

The indoor paddock separates grandstand from the real clubhouse, and leads out to an outdoor walking ring set in the apron area. The view beyond is the crowded and fairly unattractive infield, with big new office-looking buildings in the backdrop where the backstretch used to be before it got moved into the infield.

On the clubhouse end, where the McChump Party was to spend the day, was a nice bar/restaurant area (with more tasty beers) inside, a small apron with tables, a sort of private party area behind the apron (and behind a fence), and then a deck of outdoor seating. I'm sure there was much more, but I didn't do much further exploring, as it was time to meet up with Internet correspondents. 

Today's group of Internet correspondents included J. Dave and Walt A. from the Bay Area, Soren B. and friend, up from Los Angeles for the weekend, Jan W. in from Texas, and in addition, J. Dave's family, and some local friends of his. As always with groups of Internet racing fans, these turned out to be great people with whom to spend a nice day at the track, compare notes with, and just share a beer or two. Thanks to all of them for coming out. And of course, thanks for the beers.

Once the group had met up, more or less, and claimed a prominent spot on the clubhouse apron it was finally time to settle down to making some money on the day.

What we had, here, to make the big bucks on, was a card of 12 live races here at Bay Meadows, all interlaced with a bunch of simulcasts from down south and out-of-state in the true California simulcast style, and whatever simulcast they was carryin' that you wanted to toss your cookies at. In short, if you were a bettin' guy or gal and intended to bet the whole enchilada this particular Saturday, your card, as spelled out in the program, consisted of 25 races spread out from hell to gone, east coast to west. And in addition, if you were inclined, you could take a chance at the real class races up in Humboldt County, and so on.

My immediate thinking here was "probably not". But I didn't say nothin' to no one around me, because, you know, they're all adults, after all.

The live program was a bit more comprehensible to me personably: 12 of 'em, racewise, kind of spread out on a laid-back basis all afternoon, the way us backwater slugs in Chicago are used to, and it pretty much looked like this:

A race, and then a race, and what do you know - a RACE!

Fields weren't real big all day, mostly on the small side, but a few big money-makin' opportunities. First race was for Arabians, and 2nd for"mixed", but all the rest thoroughbreds. (A point here: The BRIS Premium pp's didn't have any for these two races. What's up with that?)

$6500 starter allowance paid $11,000. $3200 claimers paid $5500. $6250 claimers, n2l, $7000. $25,000 claimers, $26,000. Cal-bred MSW $28,000. The big race of the day, the Floral Fiesta Stakes for 3yo fillies, $40,000. Kinda cheap on the low end, but very nice prices for the better horses, and especially for a fair meet. It struck me here's a fair meet in a state with no phonebet or casino support of racing paying better purses than some regular tracks in the mid-Atlantic that take in lots of phone bet dollars. No telling what those places are doing with their money, I guess.

On the betting front, I did okay, despite the small fields. Unfortunately the payoffs are small on small fields, so by the end of the day, even though I'd been winning money on a lot of races, the grand total ahead was a mere $12.80. I did do good for UPF, though, picking the #5 horse in the 6th, Induction Day, to win a 6f clm6250n2l, based on quite a dropdown in class coupled with a poor last "wide" race which I always like as the "license to steal" angle. Induction Day paid $10.00 to win in an 8 horse field. Not too bad. The only other Internet correspondent who ventured a UPF bet on the day was J. Dave, selecting a long-priced maiden horse based on a trainer angle, but that didn't work out. My bottom line here is that I made $$$ on the day, had a great time, and whupped J. Dave. :) What could be better?

As it turns out, however, a twelve race card, spaced 1/2 hour between races, consumes a considerable portion of an afternoon, and even works its way into the early evening. When the 11th came up, an unbettable five horse affair, and it was close to 6:00pm, the McChump Party, with far to go yet that evening, bid adieu and headed north, winding through the streets of San Francisco dodging beggars at every intersection, across the Golden Gate Bridge and north through the Wine Country.

-- Saturday, August 12, just about 10:00pm --

The Rent-a-Chumpmobile has just pulled into the lot of the night's scheduled luxury lodgings in Ukiah, heart of the dope-growing county of Mendocino.

"Hi. I've got a reservation. McChump?"

"Oh. We're so glad you're here. We were just about to give your room away. I even called your house and asked if you were coming tonight."

"What? That room was guaranteed!" (Thinking, at the same time, geez that's nice they'd call Illinois to find out if I was going to be there in Ukiah, California, within the next hour or so.)

"Ah well ... you see ... every room all the way up to the Oregon line is booked tonight, and there's a lot of people out looking for rooms. Sometimes the owner will release the rooms after 10:00."

About this time a very pushy Oriental man entered the lobby and interrupted the conversation, demanding a room because it was now after 10:00pm and he'd been told that they might free up some rooms after 10:00 but oh! said the registration lady this man just came in to take a room and he had a reservation so there's only one room left and that's reserved too so I don't know if we can give that away I'm going to have to talk to the owner but it's after 10:00pm said the pushy man they said I could get a room after 10:00pm and

"Excuse me", said I. "I'm tired and I'd like to get checked in here".

The Pushy Oriental Man seemed genuinely taken aback that I would interrupt his interruption. The registration lady seemed a little embarrassed. She really was a nice registration lady. She completed the registration, gave me my key, and off I went, really glad I was not the party with the remaining reservation now that it was 10:07, as the Pushy Oriental Man resumed his harangue, trying to pressure the nice registration lady into screwing over someone who had made a reservation in favor of a brainless schlub like himself who hadn't bothered to make one for one of the most popular of summer California destinations. I mean, if it was me there at that desk I'd just have said "ShuuuUUUUUT UP!!!" to the Pushy Oriental Man, but that's why I'm not in the service industry, I guess, and besides which, at The Big Co. we'd find a spectacularly more syllabic way to say it, which is one of the things that makes working at The Big Co. so great.

So consider this your warning about doing business with the Super 8 Motel in Ukiah, CA. Get there by 10:00, or call them from the road, because apparently in the heart of dope-growing country (as in small towns in Ontario), the definition of "guaranteed" is just a bit different than we expect in the Midwest, and you might end up sleeping in your car in the parking lot.

-- Sunday, August 13, early morning, northern California

What started out as a nice four lane freeway kind of petered out last night south of Ukiah, and now there's just a terribly twisty, turny, mountain type of road heading north toward Eureka. Challenging driving, and maybe a bit slower than I'd planned, but pretty country all the way.

The turnoff to the Avenue of The Giants was right there where the handy map said it was going to be, and now the going is slow, slow, slow as the narrow road twists through the redwood groves, but it's just as pretty as can be. I hadn't been in these parts since but a wee chump, when the entire family and an old Forester travel trailer had been hauled all the way from Montana in/by a most groovy '60 Chevy wagon, the long way, across Washington and down the coast through Oregon, to this very spot. To my surprise, I remembered it all, or most all. The General Sherman tree and I resumed an old friendship. Right there was where we stopped and paid money to tromp around in some hollow fallen trees. There's the rest stop we visited. Right there I don't quite remember this particular cheesy attraction. Perhaps they have cheesed the redwood forest up a bit in the past 35 years for the benefit of more recent visitors.

-- Sunday, August 13, 1:30pm or so, Humboldt County Fairgrounds, Ferndale, CA

The map was a little unclear on the concept of just exactly where it was one wanted to turn off the highway to Eureka in order to get to Ferndale, or perhaps it was the interpretation of the map that was a bit unclear, but this turned out to be one of those rare occasions when the random exit chosen turned out to be the right one. Soon Ferndale loomed boldly in the windshield, and even better, a sign announcing the turnoff to the Humboldt County Fair. I mean, how lucky can you get in one day?

*** Winner! The 2000 McChump Podunk Track of the Year! ***

Parking, in a nice green cow pasture out behind the fair: $1. Admission to the fair: $6 (and don't think this wasn't worth it, as right there by the admission gate you could see that they had Tilt-A-Whirl, The Zipper, Gravitron, and all the other really cool rides which makes $6 seem like a real pittance when you think about it). Additional admission to the horse racing: $2. Program: $1 (no pp's). $10 total, finally.

What we've got here is a medium-sized older all-wood grandstand structure, open to the elements, with seating above a small wooden-floored concourse down below that featured the "Turf Club" bar, lots of mutuel windows, a sandwich stand, and a beer stand. Interesting "wood panel" graphics on the front of the GS, and an asphalt apron out front that a good portion of the very laid-back crowd had brought folding chairs to occupy.

Down off the left end there's a fairly good-sized lawn area that features a big tent with lots of TV's and mutuel windows, as well as a few more food stands, and way down at the left, a nice little open paddock area featuring a walking path of groovy wood chips. Lots of wood in this part of California.

Out front, the track is a 4f one of very dark dirt with a substantial rock population, wrapped around a mostly grass infield featuring a minimum function toteboard with some nice landscaping around it, two softball diamonds, and a running track. The backdrop is barns, and in the distance the roofs and steeples of the "Victorian Town" of Ferndale, and then some very picturesque hills beyond that. Add some big trees down on the right, and some more trees and town to the left, and what you've got here can only be described as an A-1 little track set out in a A-1 pretty location in a A-1 pretty part of California. Well worth the price of admission.

I don't recall buying any track food on the day, but track beers I did: For $4.50 you could get some interesting microbrews such as "Great White" and "Organic Amber Ale" in the large size, and they were very tasty. I tried them all at least once, and had no complaints.

The card on the day was an interesting one, a true fair card, featuring, in order, a "mixed race" at 660 yds, a mule allowance, an Arabian maiden, another mule allowance, an Appaloosa starter allowance, an Arabian stakes for the princely sum of $6000 added, and then two thoroughbred events. Field sizes were generally small, and so were the purses. That Arabian stakes purse was the biggest of the day.

Luckily I was prepared to bet this card, having picked up a DRF insert for Ferndale from the nice DRF lady at the BMF the day before. Unluckily, that didn't do me any good, as I was sure I could make big money on the mules, mixed, and Arabians early, and that turned out to be seriously wrong-headed thinking. In no time I was down big - big by my standards, anyhow.

It was time to take a break from the races. The McChump party headed out back of the grandstand to see what was happening at the fair. Animal barns were happening, and crafts barns, and most of your usual fair type of activities which were quite interesting, and I think some fair food might have been consumed at this point which I don't remember exactly but probably something on a stick because stick food is the best food.

And there was a nice little stage back there, for special fair type of presentations, and on this particular day at this particular time the presentation was a bird show. Birds were doing amazing tricks. They were doing loop-de-loops on a big swing, racing other birds up smooth stainless steel poles, cheating other birds out of the bird snack, and talking up a storm on various and sundry intellectual subjects. These were some smart birds. The McChump party, or at least the half writing this, was enthralled.

However, the birds must have got tired after awhile, because eventually the bird show ended. After that was a quick trip down to a small souvenir stand on the midway where various mule racing souvenir items, like for instance a Black Ruby hat, were on sale at reasonable prices, and then back to the races, where the announcer could still be seen up in his booth watching a TV and announcing the races off the TV instead of the classic "binoculars" method, and another "Great White Organic Amber Ale" or some such could be purchased.

No UPF horse had stood out on the day, so when the 8th and final race came around the pressure was on. The #4, Mosconi, was selected, for reasons which are as lost to posterity as the DRF insert which might have provided a clue, but he came 2nd. No dough. Story of my entire day - $30.50 down the tubes at the windows.

But, overall, not a wasted experience, not a bit. In fact, a high point of the year.

-- Monday, August 14, mid-morning, San Francisco airport

How or why is unknown, but once again a United flight departed on time. The pilot even expressed his surprise - "Ladies and gentlemen, we're going to be early into Chicago. Usually we don't get out of SFO that quick!" Perhaps the bad days are past. Perhaps the rest of the United flights this summer will go smoothly. Perhaps I will never again spend endless hours in some airport somewhere between "there" and Chicago. I promptly fell asleep, and dreamed nice dreams of United's on-time departure and arrival record.