Rocky Mountain Turf Club, Lethbridge, Alberta, June 1, 2019

I had researched this Alberta racing weekend fairly well, I had thought, including checking in at the Horse Racing Alberta website to see what was Saturday post time at the Rocky Mountain Turf Club in Lethbridge, aka Whoop-up Downs. 12:00 it said. What the heck? That's awful early. But I was determined to make it, so there I was early Saturday morning bombing north toward the border on I-15 at 80 mph in a howling Montana wind with very limited visibility due to forest fire smoke coming south from way northern Alberta, in a crappy little Nissan Versa rent-a-Chumpmobile that refused to maintain a straight line under any circumstances. Thankfully the Canadian border guard gave me zero problems. "What are you doing in Canada?" "Going to the horse races." "Which horse races?" "Lethbridge, and then Edmonton." "Okay, have a good time." Whew. No delay there. I was going to make it in time.   

Which I did, because there seemed to be some confusion as to what was actually first post. The HRA website had said noon. The BRIS pps I had downloaded said 1:20 or something. The $2.50 Cdn program I bought when I came in said 1:00. And adding to my suspicion there might be some issue, there was nobody there when I got there but me. Well me, a couple slots players in the Bully's casino, and several tables worth of older folks eating breakfast. But nobody important besides me.

Since it was only about 11:00 and that noon post was obviously a scam HRA was pulling on me, I decided I would have breakfast too. $5.75 Cdn for eggs and sausage with the works plus a pot of coffee. Score! No wonder all those old people were there. The casino did pretty good trade in breakfast from more old people as I sat there and ate and handicapped.

There's not a whole lot that's changed about this facility since last time I was here lo those many years ago, except the casino is maybe a little more casino-y. But it's still decorated like an ancient barn. It's got that rustic New Evangeline Downs kind of ancient barn wood chic, with weathered barn boards and old wood wagons scattered strategically about including hanging from the ceiling, except at this track it's real barn wood. And they had this chic way before New Evangeline. But tragedy of tragedies, the ancient, whirring, ultra-cool electric horse racing machine under the glass bubble they used to have is missing.

When it finally got closer to the real post time whatever it was I wandered on over to horse racing side, where I was pleased to find there was some kind of craft show set up on the day, with a few tables of crafts staffed by the usual craft-show ladies, an Indian taco stand which seemed to me to be asking a tad too much $9 for an Indiana taco come on, some tables with horse racing pictures and trophies, a little Wall of Fame with pictures of Alberta horse racing greats, and a wagering counter in back with two mutuel tellers behind it, one of whom needed a little help to issue me a cash voucher. Plus there was a concessions stand with unappealing concessions, and yes, another wooden wagon.

I got through the Wall of Fame pretty quick, and didn't see much in the line of crafts that interested me, so wandered back over to the casino side where the bar was, purchased a small draft of some eminently forgettable Canadian red-something for what I thought was a dear price, and headed out front to get down with the racin'. Which started at 1:15.

The best thing about horse wagering in Canada is you're betting Canadian dollars, so when you lose a dollar you're really only losing 75 cents. And I did that on these inscrutable races. It was hard enough to figure out what might happen with these low-level hosses running for purses of about $4,000 that had spent their careers running here or Evergreen Park or in Montana or maybe North Dakota, and the pp's did the bettor no favor at all by not bothering to include any recent workouts to give one a clue since their last race, which was generally fall of 2018. If a horse had its most recent work showing as 2018, that was a miracle. Some had most recent program works from 2017 and 2016. It was frustrating. Get on their case, Horse Racing Alberta! That program's a travesty! Probably I should have just bet the program selections. Or the top 3 jocks, who dominated all day. But I didn't. Because I'm much smarter than that. Ask anyone.

In other news, they still have a groovy band of old guys on the apron under umbrellas playing snappy tunes between the races, but I'm thinkin' it's probably different old guys from when I was there before. This band's trombone guy seemed to take most of the solos, but the clarinet guy had it going on, too. And there's a first rate pettin' zoo down by the paddock end, which on this day had fancy chickens and a white kitten and a friendly goat and a fat pig and oh so much more. Plus yes, another wooden wagon down around the end of the stands out by the casino entrance.

But upon surveying the scene on the apron I noticed something I never noticed before, which is that they have the most mismatched set of apron furniture you ever did see. Old wooden barrels with a hole in their top whose function, I guess, was to hold umbrellas which weren't to be seen today, blue metal (and maybe plastic) plastic barrels for garbage, some little green-painted concrete toadstool tables just kind of scattered around for effect but to no particular end, some old wooden picnic tables and benches and chairs painted red (and peeling), some wooden or faux-wood benches of a newer but different design also painted red, a couple of metal mesh picnic tables with attached benches, and probably some other stuff. It was like a home for forgotten and orphaned patio furniture. I was glad someone still cared about the little guys.

One thing I had not done on any previous visit was go upstairs to see what's up there, so I hopped on an elevator with a friendly local and rode up to the 3rd floor, where there's some long tables with white table cloths behind a window, and it looks fairly pleasant. The local said him and his friends always sit there. So that was nice, but what looked to be officialdom up there looked at me kind of funny. So I left. On the way back down I stopped on 2nd floor and took a peek behind a closed door that looked like it might lead to a 2nd floor concourse if there was one, but it opened upon what looked like a banquet room, unused on this day. So back downstairs I went, where people like me belong, and spent most of the day enjoying whatever selection I wanted of grandstand seats in the mostly empty stands (and meanwhile not particularly enjoying a 2nd but different small draft of another brand of eminently forgettable Canadian something-or-other beer for what I thought was a dear price), while hiking downstairs to the self-serve tote machine by the two mutuel tellers at the back of the ground floor concourse whenever I wanted to bet.

But lo and behold, I soon deduced there were a couple old guys older than me not hiking all the way downstairs every race but instead mysteriously coming and going into an unassuming 2nd level door just behind my grandstand seat down on the left end, and began to suspect there might be a secret 2nd floor concourse of some sort after all, separate from that empty banquet room. And upon investigation of the walkin' up there checkin' variety, there was! There was a nice wood-paneled simulcast room/bar up there, with real TVs on which you could make out actual numbers, and more tellers, and more self-serve terminals, and wow it sure was nice. So that became my new wagering base camp. Unfortunately, however, it did not change my fortunes. I lost $40 Cdn all day, contributing in no small part to the monster $22,955 handle (according to Equibase) this tiny yet non-vocal Lethbridge crowd put up on the day to support those 8 races at roughly $4k each.

Finally the race card sort of petered out and was over, I salvaged what was left of my poor abused cash voucher, had no trouble at all getting out of the parking lot through the three cars traffic, and headed out of Lethbridge on my way north to even more exciting Canadian adventures.

As the old saying goes, any day at the race track is better than any day working. And a day at the track it was.