-- Monday just before 1:00 pm, Sept. 3, Ruidoso, NM:
That schlubazoid McChump #2 didn't make me miss this one. I read the itinerary good this time. Uneventful flight to Albuquerque, and uneventful drive. But this pokey traffic through Ruidoso is surely going to make me miss first post. Quaint little mountain town, Ruidoso. Touristy. Little bit foo foo. But pretty. And according to everyone on the airwaves, it is pronounced Ree-uh-doso. Wouldn't have figured that.
-- Just after 1:00 pm, Ruidoso Downs
Man. This place is packed. All the parking lots are full, and the parking attendants direct me to park on the entry drive, just barely off the street, clear on the opposite side of the track. Oh well - long walk, but maybe quick getaway. Parking: Free. Long walk: Invigorating. Admission: Free. Man. This place is a zoo. Jam packed. Program: $1.50. And wouldn't you know it, that program says first post was noon anyhow. Never would have made it. Missed races one thru three.
The reason the place is jammed, of course, is that today is one of Quarter Horse racing's biggest days, the All American Futurity, when 10 of the fastest 2yo QH in the land come together to contest the richest purse in quarter horse racing. 440 yards, ~21-1/2 seconds, and the winner walks away with a cool One Million American Dollars. Not shabby prizes for the also rans, either, as the total purse is $1,996,368.54.
Now then, here's an interesting little tidbit for those who still believe that pigs live in trees, and that bettors "pay all the bills". This is a $50,000 added race, which means all the rest of the prize money came from somewhere OTHER than the racetrack and the betting (and in this case, casino) handle. Where do you think that might be? That's right. The breeders. The owners. Nominating fees. Sustaining fees. People who pay ALL the bills on a daily basis, not just what they might get back in purse money, and who also put up a lot of their own prize money in just this fashion. Like the BC. So put that in your pipe and smoke it.
But that race is a ways off. Still six races to bet, and a track to explore. Assuming I can move in this jam-packed place, that is.
But hey. I was already on the apron, as that's the only place I'd been able to find where I wasn't bumping up against 16 neighbors, so we'll start there.
Not much of an apron. Very little space between the front row of seats running down from the grandstand and the inside fence. Bit of room where I was, down at the left end, and there was also the only good concession stands I found all day here, a big smoky bbq vending these monster plates of bbq ribs with several sides (no way I had room for 42 lbs. of grub at that point, so price unknown), and the one beer stand without a 73 person line, one of those "cooler over two kegs" affairs. Unfortunately this stand had sucky beer, Coors Light, possibly the only beer in the world inferior to Crud, but when the choice was no beer or stand in a 77 person line, I opted for the easily accessible beer. $3.25 for a big glass. This might have been further expedited had the young lady doing the vending had some help, but she didn't. Before and after every customer, she had to dig deep in her apron to extract and arrange her money. Two minutes arranging money; 20 seconds serving customer; rinse; repeat. I definitely saw an opportunity for the newly formed McChump Industries Industrial Engineering & Hair Care division.
The track out front is definitely unique, to say the least. Actually, it's two, Two, TWO tracks in one! For you see, there are two home stretches running past the stands. The first, closest to the apron, is the quarterhorse track. Nice track, reddish dirt, well-groomed, wide. Then on the inside of that, there's this double safety rail thing, and then inside that, below that a foot or two, there's the home stretch for the thoroughbred track. The result is that from the apron you cannot see the finish of thoroughbred races, because they are blocked by the double safety rail thing. The double safety rail thing also blocks the view of the paddock, which is in the infield, and the toteboard. Oh! Did I mention that the infield is in kind of a bowl, lower than track level? Well, it is. So you can't see nothin' of these from the apron, except maybe the top three rows of the tote. And the viewing from the 1st level of the stands isn't much better, because I went up there to look. Maybe from the 2nd level ...
But man, if you're on the apron you can get a great view of the quarter horses as they speed on by. Assuming of course there aren't six levels of people in front of you, as this apron isn't sloped.
So the bottom line is it's kind of a miserable place to actually view races on a packed house day. Fine. I accept that I was there on a monster day, and I've complained about places like Belmont and Arlington on their packed days, too, so it's my personal problem.
On the plus side, this track is smack dab in the middle of a beautiful setting, up in the mountains, with tree covered hills surrounding on all sides. Beautiful day, too.
It's a good sized grandstand, but not a giant one. Kind of a long, low affair, older style construction, with two distinct levels of seating, open air, with plenty of I-beams holding up the roof and obstructing the view. Extra bleacher type seating out front, cascading down from the regular grandstand seats onto the apron, further compressing that already too narrow feature. Getting up and down this apron on this day was a chore. Finally, however, I mapped out a plan of attack that involved some apron, some trotting through the stands, some concourse, some more apron, some more concourse, and finally to the least used betting windows, the ones that only had 30 people in line. I was pretty proud of myself. I could place a bet with only 10 minutes worth of effort.
I might add this big crowd did some pretty meagre betting, judging by the pools. Can't blame them. What an ordeal just to place a bet.
Inside concourse is kind of a mess, too. Not just one big long nice concourse, but compartmentalized, with narrow connecting halls. Yikes to get through those on this day. Betting windows on the back, with long lines, and concessions on the front, also with long lines, backing into the betting lines. If you were trying to traverse, forget it.
And somewhere around here is the Billy The Kid casino, too. But it probably would have taken me 45 minutes to shoulder my way to that, so the amount of thought I gave it fleeted by in about 0.0025 ns.
The concessions inside pretty much sucked, too. Slow, slow, slow. Later in the day I got hungry and tried one out. 15 minutes waiting for the concession boy to serve the couple in front of me, who, granted, ordered 43 separate items for them and all their friends who happened to wander up while they were standing there, and then argued the pricing, and were drunk to boot. But hey. Finally it was my turn. I wanted a hot dog. "We're out of hot dogs." How about Polish? "We're out of those, too." What do you have? "Ham and cheese sandwich." Needless to say, but will anyhow, $4.25, and horrible.
On the bright side, it was a wonderful crowd. Friendly people from all over, including a large number who'd driven over from Texas for the day. I had a good time talking with a bunch of people I will never see again. Lotsa cowboy hats, lotsa those real tight jeans that cowgirls wear, you know, the ones without any rear pockets and the "yoke", and since it was a warm day, lotsa very skimpy tops. Sadly, there are a number of women in this world who should reconsider the bare midriff look. But of course, tattoos cancel out spare flesh. Hot hot hot.
Racing on the day: Why yes, there was some.
The card consisted of 11 races, and while I was there, 4th thru 10th, we had three thoroughbred races and four QH races. The big purse was obviously the aformentioned All American Futurity, but the All American Quarter Horse Derby, purse of $204k+, was also on the card. Tbred $5k claimers ran for $5900. $6500 claimers for $6500. $7500 clm went for $9800. Purses of all sorts for the QH, generally nice, as it was a QH sort of day.
I am not sure what happened in any of the thoroughbred races, as I could not see them, but I think the horses I bet lost. Oddly, despite my prowess at QH betting and the fact that I could actually see these, a number of those I bet lost as well. Somehow, at the end of the day, the spare change bankroll was $23.90 lighter. This is getting to be a bad habit.
The Derby was won by a horse named Stoli, leased by Jackie Spencer from lessor R.D. Hubbard, owner of Ruidoso Downs. Dee got on the TV. And so did trophy presenter ... Bob Baffert! Noooooo! I cannot get away from this guy! He's everywhere! First Saratoga, and now this.
The Futurity went to Ausual Suspect, the longest priced horse of a 3 horse uncoupled entry trained by power QH trainer John Bassett. Naturally. My UPF horse was in this race, also a Bassett trainee, Tres Seis. Finished 2nd. Naturally.
I escaped. Enough of that crowd. And they'd bought the gift shop out of anything good before they left, too.
I'm tempted to diss Ruidoso based on this experience, but I suspect it might be a decent enough place to visit on a non-monster crowd day. We'll just give it the shoulder shrug, pending another visit.
Miles travelled to get to this track: 664 (325 air, 339 ground)
-- Later that night, a motel in Albuquerque
Here's something scary, looking back at it from the vantage point of this writing. Right now I was thinking "I could do this". Live on the road. Live in motels and the car. Own no worldly possessions other than a bag of clothes and a laptop. Visit racetracks every day. Bet horses. Drink beer and get a sunburn. Check out those cowgirls in tight jeans. Be a productive citizen.
Yeah. Good thinking.