30 October 2006

Two tracks in two days

At last, I'm back from another work-related conference that interrupted the regularly scheduled programming here at Turf Luck. Weary from jet-lag and a pat-down search at the airport (don't ask), I returned to discover that the King had not only remembered my birthday but actually made plans to whisk me away for the weekend. I scarcely had time to note the unwashed dishes, piles of laundry, and leaf-covered lawn before we were off to the Grande Hotel at Mountaineer. (You'll recall it's a "Race Track and Gaming Resort.) The King had even made reservations for dinner at the Clubhouse Dining Room. It's lovely to be a pampered royal.

So we spent Friday evening at a cloth-covered table, nibbling Mountaineer's wonderful sherry button mushrooms and sipping shiraz while we wagered with abandon. And though it was nice to see Pearls for Dixie break her maiden after 22 tries (and she really did seem exited about getting to stand in the winner's circle), we had the 1-2-4 horses in not one, not two, but four trifectas. As the wisdom of sticking with a bet we obviously haven't mastered is questionable, we tried an exacta. Of course, our picks ran 1-3. Perhaps it was the wine that made this all rather amusing. Hmm...perhaps the wine had something to do with the selections, too.

The next morning, after a breakfast buffet that is apparently quite popular with the seniors, the Quinella Carriage set off for the village of North Randall, Ohio, home of Thistledown. While Ohio's libraries have long topped the national rankings, I suspect that the state scores poorly on highway signage. How else to explain the fact that I have never visited the state without getting lost? Nonetheless, we arrived before post-time for the first race. Despite the cold, we stood out on the apron and listened to the call being piped in from Beulah Park, since the two tracks were alternating the races on the card: odd numbers from Beulah via simulcast, even numbers live at Thistledown. It was an odd sensation to look out over the empty track while listening to the call of Schoolmeister's 23-1 victory in a maiden special weight.

We spent much of our time at Thistledown casing the joint, as it looks like we'll be spending the Breeders' Cup there. We don't have ESPN at the Castle, so we can't watch from home, and really, we'll want to be near a window on Saturday. Unfortunately, the OTB in our neck of the woods is populated by 'serious' players who seem bothered by my enthusiasm, or my small wagers, or perhaps, my gender. The desperation hangs heavy, and the layout is just bad feng-shui all around. Which is too bad, because all of the employees are gems -- and it's only 3 minutes from my house. Nonetheless, I just can't imagine spending racing's big day with a bunch of scowling old men who wouldn't be caught dead cheering a horse by name. Since all of the OTBs in Southwestern Pennsylvania are owned by the same company, I don't expect much better elsewhere within a 60-mile radius.

We considered going to Mountaineer, of course, but there's nothing special planned for Breeders' Cup Day. Sure, we could still go there to wager, but I'd like a little bit of excitement in the air. An acknowledgment that these BC races are kind of special. A shared experience with other members of the racing tribe. But even at Mountaineer, the hushed tones of the simulcast rooms seem to quelch that sort of thing.

Thistledown, however, is having a party. Or rather, a brunch buffet. I know this, because they actually put it on their website. I've written before about how nice it is to see something about racing on a race track's website, so I won't go into it here again, except to say that I don't see how a track can expect to gain new visitors and fans if its website doesn't seem very interested in horses and races. (Yes, Mountaineer, I'm talking to you.)

And our experience at Thistledown was delightful. The employees were especially welcoming; when we mentioned that this was our first trip to Thistledown, we got a guided tour through the whole facility by one of the security guards. The manager of the dining room made a fuss over us. Everyone was just as helpful as could be. They treated us like royalty.

So, unless the King is on call this weekend, we'll be spending our Breeders' Cup at a track outside of Cleveland. Not quite Churchill Downs, but still, an outpost of the racing world, peopled by members of the racing fan fraternity.

I can't wait.


Tote Board Brad said...

Horse racing tourism is alive an well! Sounds like you had loads of fun with your two jaunts.

Yeah, it doesn't take much to make a facility appealing to race fans like me and you, but still it seems many fail miserably. Glad to hear Thistle is doing it right, at least.

Last year during the BC I went to Bay Meadows, even though Golden Gate had live racing b/c the facility is so much nicer. This year BM has live racing, so it's a double win for me. The only down side is you have to get there at about dawn to get a seat on Michelle's bar in the clubhouse on BC day, and I don't think the little lady will be up for that. At least they have a decent owner's lounge.