-- Friday morning, Aug. 31, I-8 in California, heading east:
Rough, hot, bare mountains east of San Diego. And pretty bare airwaves, too. The only thing the ChumpMobile radio can pick up are Mexican stations. My Spanish is a bit rusty, so it's an interesting experience. One rather spicy song has a lot of words that I probably wouldn't have known anyhow, as there is liberal bleeping. Corazon is a big word in these songs. Lotsa corazones. I can make out some words here and there, but have to make up the rest. The experience is a lot like listening to Martin Mull's "Humming Song".
"My heart" "your heart" "our hearts" hmm hmm "I want you" hmm hmm "my number one" hmm hmm "Why not?" "I'm sad" hmm hmm "your eyes" "our hearts" hmm hmm "my hands" hmm hmm "and from the chandelier, the two of us" hmm hmm
Well, at least it's not country, and you can't go wrong with songs featuring lots of accordion.
A bit later, just south of the Imperial Sand Dunes, Mexico is just over there. Maybe a couple of miles? Something I can see out there is surely in A Foreign Land. Cool!
There's a rest stop here, too. The State of California has spared no expense. Two porta potties.
Yuma. I recently read where this town was voted the #1 place in America to live, or maybe it was to retire. Either way, I can't see it. Surprisingly, there's actually still water in the Colorado River at this point. Perhaps that is the attraction.
And it is really, really hot. Probably 1000 degrees. Poor struggling ChumpMobile.
Just west of Phoenix, an interesting sight appears on the horizon - the ancient ghost racetrack, Phoenix Trotting Park, that just sits and sits in the dry Arizona desert. This place has some sort of interesting history, but I don't recall it just now. A testament to the enduring popularity of harness racing in Arizona, I think. Maybe.
-- early Friday afternoon, Aug. 31, Phoenix:
Stop in at McChump #2's place of business. He's not quite ready to call it a day. Fine. Time for oil change #2 of this trip. But then he is, and it's off to the OTB for some late afternoon horse playing. Arizona OTB's are great. Set in existing bars, lotsa TV's tuned to racing, a few betting windows, and cold beer and good bar food. Good crowd, too. This should be the model for all OTB's. I don't do so well, but this doesn't count against the spare change bankroll. McChump #2 scores bigtime, on some turf race from Arlington. He is The King.
After an afternoon of racing and an evening of additional carousing in the East Phoenix and Scottsdale circuit, I check my itinerary for Saturday.
"Okay chump, you need to get me to the airport by about 7:30. Plane leaves at 8:30". And then to dreamland on the Marge Memorial Air Mattress, which promply deflates, leaving me on the hard floor. Oh well, at least at this new cardboard box that McChump #2 inhabits, there's no catbox next to me. I should count my blessings.
-- very early Saturday morning, Sept. 1, Phoenix:
I'm up. I'm showered. I'm packed. I'm ready to go. I check the intinerary again.
"Uhhh ... chump? That 8:30 was when the plane was supposed to arrive in Salt Lake City. I was supposed to be on it an hour ago."
And this is the true story of how I missed visiting the races at Elko, NV, which I feel bad about, as I was supposed to meet Internet correspondent Steve F. there. Oops. And this is also the true story of how it was all McChump #2's fault.
Oh well. Another afternoon in the OTB's of Phoenix, and another night on the town. McChump #2 wins big again. I win, but not nearly so much. McChump #2 is surely a True American Hero.
-- Sunday afternoon, Sept. 2, Yavapai Downs:
McChump #2 has been kind enough to do the driving today (thank you, thank you) and also found us a really good Taqueria in Prescott Valley for lunch. You know it's good when you are the only gringos in the joint.
He's also found Yavapai Downs, which I could never have done alone. Maybe. The new track is located about as far away from the old Prescott Downs as you could be and still be in the same valley. North of Prescott Valley, up against the east mountains, off the road to Jerome. Way out there in the middle of almost nowhere, though the retirement sprawl of Prescott Valley is creeping out that way. The true tragedy of this new location is that you no longer pass the giant statue of Big Johnson on the way to the track. That was always a thrill for me.
The new track is part of an entirely new fair grounds that they're building out there. So there's other stuff. Like for instance a motocross track, right out front of the track, where whiny little dirt bikes assaulted the auditory senses all day long.
Parking: Free. Admission: Also free, though this turned out to be due to "free admission day". Program: $1.75, with mini-pp's that immediately sent one to the stand for a DRF. Would have, except we'd brought some from Phoenix. And no sooner than we'd purchased the programs, we were greeted by old friend from Chicago Stuart S., who'd driven over from Los Angeles for the weekend.
This is definitely a nice little track, and a big step up from old Prescott Downs.
The paddock is located behind the facility, so you pass right by it on the way in. Covered saddling stalls arranged in a semi-circle face the building, for easy viewing from the several balconies that overlook the paddock. Big concrete patio area surrounding the paddock, with some picnic tables, should you choose to spend the day out there. Terraced steps for viewing. Nice dirt walking ring, surrounding a grass center with a small flowerbed. Very attractive overall, but they could use an odds board out here. The horses exit and walk around the left end of the building to get to the track.
The building itself is a medium facility, finished on the outside with stucco-like material, and painted up in desert pastels. The 1st floor is all concourse, kind of plain, with the betting windows, and concessions, some simulcast TV's hanging about, a nice little gift shop by the entrance, and lots of space, where today there was a crafts show set up. All the wares on the various tables added quite a splash of color to the interior.
Main seating is up above, open air, three rows of boxes in front, and 8-9 rows of benches behind, covered by a sheet metal roof held up by large columns which were probably I-beams, but they were tastefully covered over. There's also a 2nd floor concourse, also very plain, which had a large open space at the left end where a number of plain tables were set up for simulcasting, and the 3rd floor concourse is pretty much the same, except at the right end there's an enclosed bar/restaurant area that looks pretty snazzy, and this was well peopled. So it's not some little fair track we're talking about here.
The track out front is a dirt mile, quite a change from the old Prescott Downs bullring. Kinda rocky dirt, though, and I guess they've been having problems with that, as well as some problems with the torrential summer rains settling the new surface. Nice safety rail on the inside. The infield is nothing to shout about, just a bare field with a toteboard, and a small runoff puddle inside the first turn. Rumor has a turf course in the offing, but it looks like a lot of work would be required to get that puppy in, especially the fill required inside the first turn. I'll believe that when I see it. Breathtaking backdrop of high desert mountains. Absolutely or nearly absolutely nothing of human origin to break the view from track to mountains. Hope it stays that way. The world famous Marge, who'd joined us by then, says that's BLM land, so maybe the creeping development will stay at bay. At least until the BLM people get their payola from the aggressive Arizona developers, anyhow.
Big asphalt apron, from where there was excellent viewing due to the nothingness of the infield, and some aluminum benches out there for seating. Barns off to the left of the 2nd turn.
On the concessions front, I didn't look too hard, being full of huevos rancheros and corn tortillas, but I did note some carvery sandwiches on sale on the 2nd floor for $5.50. Local reports pegged these as "not so good", which I believe, as the carvery sandwiches at the old Prescott Downs were also "not so good". Lots of other stuff, but I failed to pay it much mind. Of course the beer we DID pay attention to. Mostly the usual generic brands, with the addition of something local named "Big Daddy's", which was okay, but not great. $2.50 for a 16 oz beer was a good deal, however, especially considering my last two stops.
Beautiful day, and far cooler than the oppressive heat of Phoenix, as Prescott is up around the 5,000 foot level. Of course the locals were complaining about the heat, but not me. Great day to hang with Stu and McChump #2, and of course the world famous Marge, too, source of many stories and much gossip, some of it probably even true.
The live card consisted of ten races, six thoroughbred and four QH. Fields from six to ten, averaging about 7-1/2, I'd guess. Gone is the old "points" system for purses of the old Prescott Downs - now there's real, published purses! Ah, progress. $2500 claimers competed for $3700, $5k claimers $5300, on up to the day's feature, $7100 for N3L allowance horses. QH purses were generally a bit lower.
I concentrated on the live card, Stuart split his money between the live and simulcast offerings, and McChump #2 spent his day looking at TV monitors from faraway tracks. (Simulcast offerings on the day were Saratoga, Arlington, Del Mar, and Sacramento.) I have nothing good to report about my own efforts, other than it was "only" $28.70 that went down the tubes. Stuart I think had a mixed afternoon. McChump #2, however, that True American Hero, walked away with a huge pocketload of cash, for the 3rd day in a row. Gosh I want to be like him. Stuart was the only one to pick a winner for UPF, Blushing God in the mile 7th, paying $8.00. Good work, Stu. My own choice, Soaring Regalia in the 6th, could do no better than 3rd of 8. Nice pickin', chump. We won't mention McChump #2's results. Mainly because his was not in the top 4 that I recorded. Loser.
Despite my abject failure as a bettor, it was still a good day at a very nice track. Nothing really stupid happened, and you have no idea how hard it is to write these stories when there isn't a good stupidity episode to recount. Still, you can't hold a stupidity shortage against a track, so thumbs up for Yavapai.
Miles travelled to get to this track: 477
But wait! There's one additional thing you MUST do whenever you visit Prescott, and that is steak dinner at the Cattlemen's. So off we trooped, to revisit the scene of the greatest dinner in the history of the McChump Tour. Nobody passed out in their salad this time, nobody went inside to get sick, no one sang at the top of their lungs, and no bikers were offended. But we had a great time talking about the old days when people we knew did things like that. That's what happens when you get older - all talk, no action.
Dinner for all paid by that True American Hero and big winner, McChump #2. Thanks, schlub!