If there ever was a day to make it to a track on time, this is it. Only 4 hours or so from Des Moines to Minneapolis. George will be paying up on this one!
I-35 north of Des Moines and south of Minneapolis is thick with Harleys, all headed to the junction with I-90 at Albert Lea (tornado capital of Minnesota), where they'll all head west to ... Sturgis. I assume. Oddly this interstate is also littered with dead deer. Hope the two are not related.
Today we are headed for a date with destiny and fine Leinenkugel's beer ... the McChump Tour's 3rd consecutive Claiming Crown.
Arrival at Canterbury with plenty of time to spare. Free parking, and $4 admission (program included). That's the normal price, I think. Nothing special about today, Claiming Crown day, except that everyone else seems to have a free pass.
It is hotter than heck, and the parking lot doesn't look nearly as full as for previous Claiming Crowns. I really can't say I blame folks for staying home in the face of this.
Purchasing a DRF, I settle down to a table to do some pre-race handicapping (an oddity, for sure, but plenty of time to kill). As I'm there poring over the pp's, I note someone approaching my table out of the corner of my eye. Suddenly, "McChump?".
Yes indeed, a friend in every port. Turns out it's a former ownership partner by name of Gary L., who just happens to have a nice table in the upstairs air-conditioned 3rd floor (I've spent time there before - it is indeed nice). He invites me to stop by later in the day, if I so desire. Thank you, I just think I might.
But first, there is the big handicapping forum to attend, just out back in the Paddock, featuring track announcer Paul Allen and handicappers Mark Cramer and Steve Davidowitz. Oddly, in the face of the heat and sun, all three have chosen to wear black shirts for their appearance on TV. By the time it's done, all three are sticking to their seats. We all have gleaned keen insights. Mine are written down, but quickly forgotten. I have to catch up with Mark.
"Terry! Let me buy you a beer!"
Okay. I let him. Some people just know how to welcome the McChump Tour to town.
What's your best bet of the day for the UPF fundraiser?
Mark allows that if he had to pick one, it would be Lady Di Huntley in the Claiming Crown Glass Slipper. A bold man. The Claiming Crown is the toughest Card in all of racing, IMHO.
But Mark has met up with an old Cby acquaintance, and I feel a bit like like a 3rd wheel, so after a bit of chit-chat say thanks for the brewski and the pick, and head for the apron.
TVG is doing a remote from the Claiming Crown today, and their guys are also dressed in black. Yikes! I'm hiding in the shade on the apron in white, and still roasting.
In the first and 2nd, both "normal" Cby races, I manage to do nothing but get very warm, and piddle away $20. Same in the 3rd. I believe it is time to take advantage of Gary's hospitality and head up to the air conditioned boxes. There's Gary, and his friend Todd. Ahhhhh ... nice.
From then on, the handicapping is much better than previously. No more heat stroke to deal with, and a nice flat table, right on the window. Good view from up here, and nice amenities. Nice track. Cby Fan Education director Jeff Maday stops by to chat. And hand out some beer chits. There's some perks on the McChump Tour.
Some of the conversation concerns next year's Claiming Crown. Jeff feels Philly Park will have the inside track. My opinion is they have some big shoes to fill, but maybe with all the improvements they've been making there, they'll put on a good show.
The Claiming Crown is an excellent card, but tough tough to handicap. Too many of the "unknown" horses. I diddle along, cashing some and losing some. I do manage to nail my UPF horse, betting Al's Dearly Bred in The Emerald, on the theory that there were no Scott Lake horses in this race so it might be fairly bettable. But Mark's horse doesn't do it, nor Gary's. And overall, the spare change bankroll takes it in the shorts. I have managed to reduce it by $8.40. Well, look on the bright side: That's lots better than last year.
And of course the big giant Leinenkugel's beers were awesome.
I'll tell you this - a day at the Claiming Crown at Canterbury is a deluxe day of racing. Lots of competitive races, plenty of pomp and circumstance, and a big enthusiastic crowd. The employees of that track really make a day there a pleasant event, and the track itself is a gem. Hopefully next year at Philly or wherever will be as good.
Total miles traveled to get to this track: 230