Churchill Downs, Louisville, KY, November 29-30, 2002

I had mentioned on the Internet that I'd decided I needed to play CD and see how that "0 mtp" betting cutoff business (which had been implemented to "ensure integrity" in the wake of the BC "Fix 6" Scandal) was working out. So many questions on all the Internet forums and in the press about what it might accomplish, pro and con. What better place to play CD than in Louisville, was my thinking. Of course, the fact that I'd long ago planned this trip to see the Clark Stakes, and the Jockey Club race for the 2yo's, didn't figure into the decision to make the drive down to Louisville at all. Nope. Not a bit.

But before making the day-after-Thanksgiving drive, there was Thanksgiving Day itself to get through. That featured a visit to a friend's house, where they have a different cable system than mine, one that carries Fox Sports West, and also where they have a YouBet account, which I'd never seen in person.

So there we sat on Thanksgiving afternoon, with YouBet up on the computer screen, and the TVG feed from FSW going, playing the Horses of Our Nation from the comfort of the friend's living room couch. It was okay, I guess, but I managed to lose $29 in very short order, on various tracks, while seeing or hearing no colorful racetrack characters at all. If I am going to lose money at horse racing, I want a show going on around me to make my investment worthwhile. I think I have seen enough of YouBet and in-home TV wagering for quite some time. But for someone who might be into such things, it seemed perfectly acceptable as a wagering setup.

After a huge turkey dinner that couldn't be beat, the McChump Party retired to temporary nighttime quarters near the freeway and awaited a very early morning departure time. Kind of a long drive to Louisville, when CD is starting with first post at 11:30, and you're losing an hour due to time zone shifts anyhow.

As for the wagering at Churchill, under the new "0 mtp" wagering close rules ...

The very first race on Friday, things seemed a bit rushed, as I watched the horses in the paddock, and then consulted my form, and then had to run in from the paddock to get my bet down in time. The second race was sort of the same, but after that I got things figured out. I think it could have been a little better, except for some reason Churchill doesn't have very many self serve machines on its ground floor.

After those first two races, there was no problem whatsoever, as all it took was a little adjustment by me. No one else in the live crowd seemed to be having any problems either.

There were many announcements from Luke (who always referred to the measures as "interim"), as well as lots of graphics on the TV monitors, to remind patrons when the close of wagering was approaching. In fact, by the time 0 mtp rolled around, there were usually at least 2/3 of the tellers sitting in front of an open window. I didn't hear any complaining from the CD patrons all weekend, and saw exactly one guy get shut out, who approached the window only AFTER the cute little tone they play to tell you "that's it". So the live fans at CD have this all figured out, and since there was a pretty hefty crowd on hand on Friday, Clark Day, there would have been plenty of opportunity for people to get shut out if they were going to. But they didn't, at least in the four wagering areas I observed, the two back of the paddock, and the two on 2nd level clubhouse side.

In the meantime I watched the toteboard, and wonder of wonders, the amounts in the pools, and the odds on the board, remained the same from the beginning of the race right through to the end. Amazing.

As for whether or not the early close of wagering affected the amount that I personally bet, well, yes and no. That last missing minute or two prevented me from making the usual last minute "I like the way that horse looks on the track" and "Hey that 12-1 m/l horse is 40-1" kind of bets. You know, the type that are usually losers. On the other hand, because I knew these wouldn't be available, I played only the horses I'd handicapped in the morning (plus two impulse wagers on Hawthorne races), and ended up doing very well indeed for the entire weekend, so that by the end of Saturday I was still betting exactas and tris with gusto instead of being reduced to the loser's "end of a bad weekend" plan of $2WP wagers on one horse. All I can say is "go figure".

In the end, it all didn't seem to make much difference. After the 12th race on Saturday, the final race of CD's Fall meet, when they had to make a mandatory payout on the Pick 6, we all stood there in the mutuel lines with our mouths hangin' out, for like 10 or 15 minutes, as the official prices were delayed while they tried to figure out - you guessed it - the price on the Pick 6.

In other CD news:

- The grandstand work is coming right along. It will tower over the Twin Spires. Should be ready just about the time they get slots to put in it.

- I have seen dirty bathrooms at racetracks before, and I saw some prime examples this weekend.

- Crafty Shaw (longshot 2nd in the Clark: That's one tryin' horse. Too bad I only bet him WP and didn't do an exacta w/Lido Palace.

- I'm stunned that CD can get away with selling the same size beer as AP charges $4.75 for, for $1 less. Not to mention only charging $2 admission. How can this corp. stay in business?

- I don't believe I've ever seen so many pairs of overhauls worn to a racetrack.

- Nick Zito: He was walking around the place like a regular guy! Not at all like a certain "name" trainer from Southern California I've seen at other tracks who is always walking around with a groupie entourage.

- My Boston Gal (impressive winner of Golden Rod for 2yo fillies): That is one happenin' filly. She just took control down the lane and ran away.

- Soto (winner, Jockey Club) is quite an awesome looking horse, according to my partner. (I didn't see, as I was out front somewhere.) "The Look of Eagles", was how he was described, from an eye-to-eye railside looksee. I just saw him win impressively. I came to Churchill looking for Derby contenders for next year, and this guy surely looks the part.