-- Sunday, July 30, around noon, the 401 highway through Toronto
Well now, I'm impressed, Toronto. This is about the busiest and most miserable highway I've seen in North America except for maybe I-80 around the tip of Lake Michigan. And it's only a Sunday morning! Bravo!
-- Sunday, July 30, about noon-thirty, Woodbine parking lot (free)
As one of my personal heroes would say, "SuPRIZE suPRIZE suPRIZE!!" No airlines were involved today, and I am right on time to make the 12:55pm post time.
This Woodbine is a pretty impressive place from out front, much bigger than what I thought it was going to be based on all the Internet whining I'd read after the BC there, and five floors at least. A nice walkway from the parking lot leads past a huge walking ring with big trees in it, past a nice little flower garden in front of the valet parking area, which garden contains a big, well done, statue of Northern Dancer, and up to the main entrance, which, if I didn't know better, I'd think was the entrance to a Cineplex Odeon 100-screen mega-theatre. Big monster marquee awning over the doorway says RACING - SLOTS, and the underside of it is lit up like the entryway to some Hollywood theatre. Above the awning there's a huge metal grillwork with a whopping green WOODBINE sign at the top that I personally think would be way cooler if it was neon, and then smack dab in the middle of all this there's a big jumbotron flashing out messages and ads and come-ons for all the delicious gambling opportunities inside. Someone told me later there's one sequence where slot machines run around a racetrack, but tragically I missed that.
Just inside the door (free admission) there's a gift shop and a well-guarded entrance to the big casino area, which I am given to understand occupies the entirety of what was once the first floor of the grandstand, but I didn't visit the casino on this day (or maybe I did at the end of the day, come to think of it, but nothing sticks in my mind. There's so many casinos at racetracks these days they all run together unless they have some really cool attraction like for instance the Whirlwind Of Cash at Sunland Park). So anyhow that's all about the casino.
Where you want to go for the racing is up the escalator past the shellacked jockey silks hung from the walls, to the 2nd floor, where you can buy your program ($2.50), and there's a beer stand right handy there at the top of the elevator (big LaBatt's Blue, $3.75).
Now then, I have a confession to make here. This was obviously a huge place, and much exploring was going to be necessary for me to properly document the whole thing, only I didn't. And the reason I didn't is because I was running around searching out Internet corerspondents, and then chatting with them for most of the day, and didn't get time for any notes at all about this floor. But take my word it's huge and very nice and clean and pleasant, apparently having been recently remodeled along with the slots floor. I learned later that the remodelling came after the Woodbine BC, so anyone who hasn't visited since then, hasn't seen it. I also learned that if I wanted to see the "old Woodbine" all I had to do was go upstairs to the 3rd floor. But I didn't.
What I DID do was hustle to put down a bet on the 6 horse in the first race, and then walked out front and plopped in a seat in the balcony overlooking the apron and watched him come in 4th of 7. After that bit of expert handicapping, I recalled I'd left something in the car so took a little stroll back out to the parking lot.
As long as I was re-entering the park anyhow, I decided to go around the walking ring the other way and try a different entrance, and as it turned out this different entrance was right by the saddling area, which is a nice indoor one located on the basement floor (well, sort of - the place is more like a split level), back of the stands, but in front of the big walking ring. And if you can understand that, two points for you. I didn't find the Internet correspondent I was supposed to be looking for here, so went back upstairs to craft another fine bet.
In the 2nd race I managed to select the 3rd place horse with my WP bet. I could feel my selecting powers gathering steam within me. By the 4th race I would surely select a winner.
I'd also managed to do a bit more exploring, visiting the apron on this whirl through the plant. This isn't much of an apron at all, and you can't see too much, as it is smack up against the turf course which is outside the dirt course which is outside the harness track which itself surrounds a really big infield which has plenty of toteboard and (very nice) landscaping action to block the sightlines. Oddly, even though there is a jumbotron at the front door advertising slots, there's no jumbotron in the infield showing races. Not surprisingly, there was no one on the apron but me and a few grooms. The regular folks who wanted a view were either up in the outdoor seats just above the apron or in the indoor seats just behind those, or up in the higher levels.
It was now time to get serious about finding Internet correspondents, however. In the paddock area I found Terence D., a friend of Cindy the lady who runs one of the Internet racing correspondence lists. Near the gift shop the growing entourage picked up Ron G., a member of that same correspondence list for even longer than me. And at the top of the escalator none other than John V., who, it turned out, is the King of Schmooze at Woodbine, apparently knowing everyone. We had to stop about 6 times for Johnny V. to say hi to this one or that on our way upstairs, where correspondent Bill W. had secured a nice table on the 3rd floor balcony directly overlooking the track, and that's where this group's Canadian bash spent the afternoon, picking up also lurker Norm P. and long-timer Doug K. on. Here I must also offer a public apology to Internet correspondent David E., who'd written me saying he'd like to meet up at Woodbine. Somehow in compiling the rather fat file folder that went along with me on this trip, I didn't include his email, so inadvertently blew him off. Sorry about that, David.
In the 3rd race, like an accelerating locomotive of handicapping, I managed to pick the 2nd place horse. A groovy $4.20 to place. Race 4 only had 5 horses, so I made the rare decision to pass a race, and instead concentrated on the beer that appeared in front of me, pestered the Internet correspondents for their UPF horses, and in general had a great time conversing about Woodbine and who is who's enemy on the Internet, and who on the Internet is hiding behind nom de plumes, (and I'll assure you this is a pretty knowledgeable bunch you ain't foolin'), and getting to know this big, enjoyable bunch of Canadian correspondents. Nothing like hanging out for a day with a big passel o' fellow racing fans.
All the socializing, though, makes it a bit difficult to handicap, and somehow, in the 5th, my train was derailed, as instead of first, my horse finished out of the money! How could that have happened? Ron selected his UPF horse in this race, however, and it managed a close 2nd.
John V. had by this time introduced me to a tasty beer I'd never tried before, Schliemann's, or something like that, and thus fortified, I snuck down a ways from the group and handicapped like a madman for a minute or so. For the 6th I selected a horse named Arctic Squall, and boldly bet him, even though I was going against both John's and Terence's UPF picks. Normally I wouldn't do that to jinx a UPF horse, but if I was to lay off this day I wouldn't get any bets at all in. My train got back on track with a nice $9.40/$4.40 winner.
I can't kid myself - the 7th race was the real reason many of these people were at Woodbine today. One of Bill W.'s homebreds, Proudly Loudly, partly owned by Doug K., was running in a 1-1/6 mi. N1X allowance, for a purse of $56,000 Canadian. Wow! That was the first time all day I'd really looked at a purse. I took a look at a few more. $50k claimers running for $56,000. MSW for $50,400. Oclm80000 for $60,000. And the feature of the day, an Ontario sire stakes, for $125,000. I can remember just a couple of years ago when Woodbine purses stunk and stunk bad. Now they're running for some real cash up there. I hate slot machines with a passion, but ...
Bill's horse, unfortunately, acted up in the gate and was a late scratch. I got a refund on that race. As well as a bit wet - it was starting to rain.
Another sneaky handicapping getaway revealed the horse I would choose as my UPF (and personal) bet in that featured 8th. The number 4, Trailthefox, had just been claimed out of a $50k race at Hollywood Park, and shipped right up to Woodbine for this race. Bill confirmed that his sire Foxtrail was indeed an eligible Ontario sire. And his trainer ... none other than Pierre L. Bellocq - Peb! - with no starts at this track. This horse had obviously been bought just for this race (and maybe other Ontario races down the line). It was all too suspicious, and I've seen this sort of thing before, in the form of an Illinois-bred horse named Beboppin' Baby, claimed for $32k out of a So. Cal. race and brought back to Illinois where he went on to become a graded stakes winner. Okay, maybe there were a few differences, like the latter making his first Illinois start in a N1X, and as I recall never being any sort of price like 12-1 Trailthefox was today, but still ... fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me. "I am gonna make sooooo much money for UPF on this race!", I announced to the group as I revealed my choice. And for me too, although I didn't say that.
Trailthefox backed up my bravado, thankfully, by winning and paying $25.90/$8.20. I am the King! Better yet, the King with witnesses.
I also won on the short-priced Undue Influence in the 9th. The price was so impressive I failed to write it down.
I'd been pressuring Doug to come up with a UPF horse, and he finally did, with Later Years in the 10th. Later Years won and paid a nice $14.40. Meanwhile, I personally lost a good deal of money on this last race of the day, as I was thinkin' I was the King and was going to hit a real big exacta to end the day on a giant note. Didn't happen. The racing imps demoted me from The King to Used To Be The King in less than 1-1/2 minutes. Those little jerks! It was a good day for UPF though, as we had the two winners, plus a contribution from Johnny V. of 10% of his days winners. And a reasonable day for me despite that final diss - a whopping $48.55 to the good.
After the races, Bill W. was nice enough to take John V. and me to the Woodbine backside to meet his horses and his trainer, and then later the three of us went to dinner, with John V. kindly picking up my tab. My debt to various Internet correspondents is surely growing large.
This was great day with great folks, and a very nice track which is surely on the list of tracks to visit again at some future date. (That'd be the opposite list from the one Rockingham is on.) Thanks much to everyone I met at Woodbine. As I told Johnny V., I've decided Canada is my new favorite furrin' country. And these Canadians - they're not so different from you and me after all. :)
About three miles out of town on the QEW headed around the tip of Lake Ontario it began to rain, and I mean rain like heck. I really hate driving in the rain. Actually, I can usually do without any rain at all. Stupid rain.