02 August 2005

Almost heaven, sort of

My adventures at the track began with a wild jaunt to Belmont for the Belmont Stakes in June.

It was a grand day; the sun beamed down on a flock of fairly well-heeled folk as they milled about the grand old establishment. A fine field of horses, a busload of likeminded souls, and a few winning bets were all it took to hook me. I won a quinella in the 2nd race, and voila, I'm a horseplayer! I little appreciated the quality of the horses I was watching. Lost in the Fog, Limehouse -- I'd never heard of them, so couldn't truly appreciate their quality. And still, I had a great time.

After returning to my work-a-day life in Pennsylvania, I could think of no better way to spend the long, hot summer evenings than by visiting a racetrack. The closest location is in the Wild and Wonderful State of West Virginia at Mountaineer Race Track and Gaming Resort.
Though "Race Track" comes first in the name, in reality, "Gaming" in the form of the slots casino is what you actually see first. The track is tucked away behind the "resort" where the bing-bing-bing of slot machines can be heard everywhere. And likewise, the level of the racing you see is a step (or two, or three) down from the grand names that take the field each year at Belmont. The crowd is different, too; it includes more children, for one thing, and folks are drinking IC Light instead of $10 Belmont Breezes. There are no $60 seats in the grandstands, and you can see the finish line from all of the picnic tables. Horses run in $5000 claiming races, and the highest purse on a given night might be $20K. And yet... it's still a great way to spend an evening, especially after perusing The Right Horse: Winning More, Losing Less, and Having Great Time at the Racetrack by William Murray.

The Right Horse is a fine introduction to the track for those who have no experience playing the ponies. He explains the Daily Racing Form in detail and describes the various bets one can place without emphasizing the exotic bets that can be painful to a novice's pocketbook and ego. It's a gentle introduction to the game that aims to make the occasional visit to the track enjoyable. And it succeeds.