-- Friday, 9/14, New Mexico State Fairgrounds, Albuquerque:
KTNN, Voice of the Navajo Nation, chose some odd music this morning, on the Day of National Rememberance: Johnny Cash's "Drunken Ira Hayes". Haven't heard that one in awhile.
Arrival at the fairgrounds with plenty of time to spare. Parking: $4 (primo spot in the racetrack infield). Fair admission: Another $4. And there's something I haven't seen all week: Jetliners in the sky, descending into the Albuquerque airport. Life's back to sort of normal.
Last time I was at this track, it was for the Spring meet, and it was kind of a dead venue. But this time, the fair is in full swing, and as I'm several hours early (unexpected 3:00 pm post time on Fridays), some exploration of the fair action is in order.
I like this fair. Plenty big, but not too big, and not too crowded, like the ones at Cal Expo and Fairplex were. It's got a groovy and imaginative theme, too: "2001, An Odyssey of Fun". Where DO these fairs come up with things like this?
Nice big rides midway kind of out back of the racetrack, with all the good rides, including The Zipper, Tilt-A-Whirl, Gravitron, the giant flying boat, and The Octopus. There's also a ride I haven't seen before, a kiddies ride named The Bear Affair, which is kind of like Tilt-A-Whirl, except instead of the familiar little red cars, the kiddies ride inside these giant purple hollow bears. Tres cool!
Lots of good stuff in the food and exhibits midway too, except the model train exhibit was kind of cheesy with only one model railroad. I passed up Big Bubba's Bad BBQ in favor of a stand that sold green chile corn dogs, which were much like your regular corn dogs except they had the signature New Mexico green chile mixed in with the batter, and these were pretty good, and spicy.
There was also a big crowd watching some goofballs playing around on some diving boards above an elevated swimming pool, and a "hempmobile" exhibit, which I didn't quite understand, and didn't want to judging by the woman out front hawking it, but it seemed to have something to do with some hemp extract powering vehicles. That hemp is surely God's gift to the human race, if only people would put away their petty prejudices. One thing I missed that I wished I hadn't was a performance of Valentine's Performing Pigs, which, if you could believe the program, included pig golf, pig bowling, ham dunking (?), and pig spelling. You be sure to go to this when you visit the NM State Fair, and get back to me.
The best parts of the fair, IMHO, were some semi-permanent display areas, one for Mexican culture, and one for Native American culture. Lots of good food, good stuff for sale (especially silver/turquoise jewelry), and lots of good dancing displays. The Pesky Peruvians were also spotted just inside the entrance of the Native American area, and they automatically make any event good. They are, in fact, the only people in the world more omnipresent at public events than Bob Baffert.
But sooner or later, post time did roll around, more or less, so I walked up to the main entrance and entered (free), purchased a program ($1.50), and got down to handicapping.
As this is yet another track I didn't quite bother to document the last time I visited, you get it now. (An excuse in this case, though - I lost all the notes from the Sunland/Albuquerque trip of a couple years ago.)
One thing that was a huge difference from the Spring meet visit of a couple years ago was the crowd. Little then; big now. Also they were carding everyone. This seemed hardly an issue last time. But today, even the most grizzled old coot had to check in and get an "over 21" wristband to wear around all afternoon. Cool!
That resolved, and the immediate consequence thereof taken care of ($3.75 for a bottle of Dos Equis, other fine brands like Carta Blanca and Negra Modelo also for sale if you didn't want to deal the with the Crud on tap), I went looking for a place to handicap the day's card, and these were plentiful.
This is a big, older, not especially fancy grandstand, of generic steel and concrete construction, with a low, dark 1st floor concourse. Concession stands along the front (not much special on sale, and standard hot dog rang in at $2.75), and betting windows at the back. The betting windows have the names of The Racetracks of Our Nation painted above, including many tracks long departed. The steel I-beams holding the place up all have different horse names painted on them. I must admit, these add a touch of class to the joint. Available seating consisted of an odd assortment of picnic tables, folding tables, and a few sets of carrels set up around some thrown-together banks of simulcast TV's, one of which in each bank would be dedicated to CNN and "America's New War". Lots of tracks being shown. I counted eleven different ones, and that was before NY had resumed racing, so something for everyone.
I went picnic table to do my cappin', but this proved the wrong choice, as a steady stream of people came and went feeling no compunction about just joining me there at "my" table, to eat, or chat, or yell at their pack of rowdy kids. Kind of interrupted great cappin', if you know what I mean. Those little kids should have been in the unpopulated kiddieland down at the right end of the 1st floor, in my opinion, but of course they weren't and graced my picnic table.
The card on the day consisted of nine races for thoroughbreds and quarter horses, with at least seven horses in each race, and purses ranging from $4400 for cheap tbred maiden claimers, up to the day's feature, $27,000 for "The Fair Queen Handicap" for 3yo tbred fillies. Most purses were in the under $10k range. The horses themselves were mostly of the regional variety, having been bred and last raced in New Mexico, or Colorado, or Arizona, or Texas. They weren't all that bad a bunch, all things considered. The jockey colony was mostly unfamiliar, except for OA Martinez who normally rides TuP, and the trainers I'd never heard of. At least my usual prejudices of who trains and rides would not affect me on this day.
After a period of gleaning keen insights between many interruptions there at the picnic table, the announcement came that it was time for the National Anthem, and the place came to an absolute standstill as everyone stood and removed their hats. This was the first anthem for me since the events of Tuesday, so I wasn't expecting anything special. But the big, loud, extended cheer that followed the conclusion of the music was enough to raise the hair on the back of your neck. I for one was proud to be in New Mexico that day.
Sadly that was the last real thrill I had on the day, as my interruption-plagued handicapping proved inadequate, and I managed to lose $18.30 of the spare change bankroll on the afternoon and my UPF horse managed to finish 3rd. That, however, did not prevent me from exploring the rest of this track, and trying a few additional flavors of those $3.75 beers.
The apron out front is an asphalt one, slightly sloped down toward the track, and has a nice selection of picnic tables to plop on, as well as some bleachers up against the grandstand (and some stairs leading into the grandstand from the apron which people were not supposed to sit or stand on but of course they did so if you wanted to actually use them as stairs you got all sorts of dirty looks as if to say, "What the hell do you think these are - stairs or something?". The people at Ellis are bad about about blocking their stairs, but at least they acknowledge and tolerate the primary function of the things.).
Set into the apron down at the right by the finish line is a small Winner's Circle, and the paddock is down to the left, kind of a small, sunken thing with covered saddling stalls and a small dirt walking ring with a very small strip of grass in the center. The Billy The Kid casino, which powers this facility, is down past that, but I never visited there.
The track is a mile dirt affair, and the infield is a parking lot with two tunnels to the apron area, so just about enough about that. The only green showing is some grass around the toteboard. Residential and commercial neighborhood in the background, and then tall mountains behind that, quite pretty. Barns down to the left and rear, in the fair.
The grandstand itself has two main seating levels above the first floor, mostly glass enclosed, but with some open air auxiliary seating down at the right under a big steel canopy. The benches there are what one would term weather-beaten, and feature lots of slivers, so watch yourself! The third floor didn't seem to be open to the general public, at least for free, but the 2nd was, and this had wood bench seating, also old, on the left side, and wood stadium seats to the right. The 2nd floor concourse is also long, dark, and low, with kind of an uphill slope to it up to the aisle at the top of the seats, and doesn't seem to be geared toward simulcast bettors at all, as the number of TV's there was what one might term miniscule, and not a whole lot of seating to enjoy what there were. Big concession islands in the middle, and betting windows at the back. Kind of a groovy desert pastel motif to the entire place, and a 1st class concrete floor. This whole floor, being enclosed, was quite smoky, so probably not a destination for non-smokers.
Anyhow, as I said, I wasn't doing so great on this card, and post time had been two hours later than I'd expected, and there was a nasty-looking storm sweeping down the valley from the north, and I'd been here before, and I still had to drive that evening, and blah-de-blah any number of excuses, so I split early. But I'd had a great time at the fair beforehand, and had an okay time at the track, so the place still gets a thumbs up, even if not a particularly enthusiastic one. "It'll do."
Miles travelled to get to this track (from Los Al): 868
(538 ground, 330 air, and no I didn't count all that sightseeing)