Last week, a few readers e-mailed me, asking "QQ - What's up? Where's the WV Derby coverage we've come to know and love? Where are those helpful links to past performances for the undercard? Where is that delightful, if rather uninformative, patter that makes us yearn to travel to, of all places, Chester WV, to partake of spiked lemonade and blistering heat for a glimpse of some Kentucky Derby also-ran? Where, oh where, is our muse of Mountaineer?"
OK, I may have rephrased these e-mails a bit, but I'm sure I captured the essence of the inquiries. And now, I'll try to explain my long, long silence here at Turf Luck. But it's difficult for me to talk about, so I'm going to have to try to channel my inner Ohio Valley Girl. Here goes:
So, it's like this: all my friends are dating these real impressive tracks, you know? And they're always, like, "Saratoga this" and "Del Mar that", but me, I, like, I don't really have that option, you know? Out here in the boonies, there's really only one game in town if you like your racing live. So, yeah, I start going steady with Mountaineer. Yeah, I know, Mountaineer's not Mr. Popularity, but you know, all the parts are there: barns, track, windows, and, of course, horses. And you know, he's got a pretty nice simulcast show going, and a really great announcer, and even a turf track, so yeah, what the hey, I'm dating Mountaineer.Yes. I've been scorned. It hurts a bit, but as the recent rise of the Self Appointed Fan Committee and the Horseplayers Association of North America attests, I'm not the only one. What hurt the most, I think, is that Mountaineer doesn't seem to have a handle on this whole Internet tubes thing, and could benefit from a little positive, unsolicited PR.
We get off to a little rocky start, cause like, I'm used to prettier paddocks, and, like, awnings, and maybe a few more superfectas. But I guess I can't complain, cause, like, admission and parking are always free -- and the sunset is always so beautiful, and I like the way the fog rolls in, and well, it's kinda romantic and all.
And you know, after a while, I forget that Mountaineer's not the big time, 'cause you know, it's like my track. My lil Mountie. Like, I mean, Saratoga is so old and well, Del Mar, that's like so West Coast, you know?
So, anyways, things are going ok, I'm like always blogging about Mountaineer's stake races, and like pointing out when big time jockeys come to call, and you know, like putting a pretty nice spin on everything, 'cause you know, Mountie may be a country bumpkin, but he's got a good heart, right? Every once in a while, I tell him how he could have a better website, but you know, I do it real gentle and all, so as not to offend him.
But get this! Like, every time I e-mail him, you know, there's no reply. And it's not like I'm ranting or anything, I'm just asking simple things, you know. Like, I asked if I could have a media guide. I was real polite and all, cause you know he's like a little bit paranoid, cause he knows he's not really in the same league with the popular tracks. But he never responds.
So I think, like, maybe I should ask something where he doesn't have to give me anything, cause I've noticed, he's kind of cheap with the gifts and all. I mean, I don't even get comp drinks! I kinda learned to accept it, cause really, where am I gonna go if I want the horses?
So anyways, I e-mail him a question about one of the races, like how'd it get that funny name? I thought he'd like that, cause he could look all smart and everything answering it. But --- no response! It's like he can't even send me a note saying "Sorry, don't know that one, but did you know Bernie Blue won it last year?" Nope. Nothing! Like, basically, he's telling me to talk to the hand.
Then, back in May, these tv folks started talking about Mountie. It's even on YouTube. (And there's, like, a second part there too!) And like, everyone's talking about how the horses from Mountaineer end up going to slaughter. And yeah, I'm pretty sure he can't deny it, what with stuff being on film and all. I hear a rumor that maybe behind the scenes, Mountie's working on making things better, so I figure, well, maybe I'll just wait and see what happens.
But you know, it's around this time, I start spending a little more time with the OTB -- and it's never to look at Mountie's races. But it's not really cheating, cause like, there's no rail, you know?
But anyway, we start going downhill. Like, I bring these friends who've been married to Churchill Downs for, like, ever, and they want to bring a cooler in to Mountaineer. On a non-stakes night. And Mountie's all like, no way. Can't do that. He says that there's food for sale at the track. Don't need no stinkin' coolers. Like the food is something to travel from Kentucky for? Get real. I'm beginning to think Mountie's ego's getting a little big.
And of course, you know, there's that whole camera thing -- like my camera will be confiscated if I take pictures of the horses? What's up with that?
Then, Mountie goes and puts in all these poker tables -- and now kids aren't allowed on the ground floor (and of course, with slots upstairs, they can't go there either!) To make up for it, he added a nice new simulcast area, but it's kinda like walled in, so the traffic patterns are all, like, discombobulated and it's harder to get to the windows. And like, I'm thinking, am I really with this guy?
And then, I find out the truth. I send him a little e-mail and I don't mention the track. I kind of imply that I'm interested in those 2-penny slots. And can you believe it -- Mountie replies! Apparently my e-mails aren't going directly to spam, because in less than a day, I've got mail. Oh, yeah, now he's willing to talk. Now that he thinks I'm some slot-feeding granny with Social Security checks to burn. Two-timing scum!
And like, the worst thing is, I should have known! I kept cutting him some slack, always making excuses for him, and it's like, get a clue, girl: He's just not that into you!
But hey, Mountie scorned me and my little labor of love, so in return: No pre-race cheerleading before WV Derby Day, no linking to those hidden past performances for the undercard, no mention of those lovely articles Bill Mooney wrote leading up to the Big Day, no highlighting the visits from big name trainers and jockeys as a reason to maybe visit the track or place a wager.
For a librarian, it was hard to see all of the web visitors that arrived here looking for "West Virginia Derby past performances" only to find my Derby post from last year, which as of this writing, is still comes up first in a Google search. Mountaineer may not be looking for a girlfriend, but golly, I think they could learn a few things about customer service from a librarian. Think I'm wrong? Send an e-mail to your library tomorrow, and see how long it takes them to reply.
What's sad is the impact that tracks like Mountaineer may have on racing in general. While longtime fans may see differences between NYRA, MEC, CDI, etc., for those new to the sport, the brand of "horse racing" generally equates to "the track I visit" and (of course) the Kentucky Derby. If I had visited Mountaineer before going to Belmont, well, it's quite possible I wouldn't have gone on to visit Keeneland, Saratoga, Pimlico, Presque Isle, Penn National, Meadowlands, Philadelphia Park or even Belmont. It seems to me, that in many ways, the brand of "thoroughbred racing" is only as strong as the nearest track -- and sadly, I think I've been dating the weakest link.