Tampa Bay Downs, Oldsmar, FL, Dec 10, 2005 (Track #132)

Calder Race Course, Miami Gardens, FL, Dec 11, 2005 (Track #133)

So it's cold in Chicago. Real cold. And snowy, too. And I have not been on a racetrack adventure in like three months.

But what's this, Chump! $59 to fly to the Tampa area, and another $59 to fly back from Ft. Lauderdale! I'm on it.

And so it came to pass that I was at Midway airport Saturday morning and pulling in at Tampa Bay Downs Saturday afternoon. Ain't technology grand.

Tampa Bay Downs: Not a giant place, by any means, but comfortable. Poker room on the 2nd floor, and racing out front.

But all too soon that racing day was over, and off I headed south, determined to take the Gulf Coast route down to the Ft. Lauderdale area, exploring the little coastal tourist towns as I went.

This was the strangest racetrack. When I walked in there was approximately zero activity on the ground floor. Ancient, ancient gray old men sat quietly on the benches in the hallways, barely moving. I wondered what the hell was going on.

Out front, there wasn't much more activity, with the exception of a small group of guys from various Caribbean nations who hung around sort of out by the paddock and the little shop/stand plaza there between the grandstand and the paddock. They were having a hell of a time, arguing about horses and ranking on each other, all day long. It was a pleasure to hang out by them and share in the energy. The paddock was definitely the place to be all day along. About every 25 minutes or so, a bunch of horsemen and horses were forced to show up there, and so there was activity. But elsewhere in the plant ... crickets.

There was some doin's out back of the stands, with a stage with a crooner, and a stand with horsemen or friends of horsemen wanting you to sign this petition or that in favor of slots or something to "Save Our Sport!", and a whirlwind of cash, and a pettin' zoo, and all sorts of groovy stuff. It was a brave little show. But lightly attended.