Every Labor Day was the last chance of the summer to battle with River Downs. Mostly they were claiming races, but you could always expect some excellent turf races and the day would be capped off with the Miller Lite Cradle Stakes. These were simpler times and the days when 9 live races was all that a horse player could ever want…
When I was a youngster my mom would make a fried chicken lunch and our entire family would meet under the big oak tree in the picnic area. Kids ran around, and parents chased the ponies. The place was packed as there was no simulcast action, or any off-track betting. If you wanted to get a bet down you had to head on up to the River.
As I got older my dad and I took over the day as our pilgrimage. We would get up early and walk from the barn area. Back then it was a sin to pay for parking and we got a bunch of exercise over the years. Our place was in the bowels of the grandstand, and for every race I would head down to the paddock. These days were golden as I would ask how to read this or that in the PP’s, and he would guide me along with wisdom. As time wore on I became versed enough to formulate my own opinions. This is the first step in becoming a horse player.
Over the years I watched many very nice two-year-olds take the paddock. I can recall in 1983 when I ventured up alone. Long before cell phones or even pay phones were allowed at the track. I saw the gleaming Coax Me Chad leave the paddock as one of the best runners I had ever seen. I made one of my biggest bets with my winnings of the day, and smacked down $80 to win on him. I then ran out to the parking lot to drive very fast to Four Acres bar, and call my dad to see if he wanted a bet… He declined, and I hung up and got back just in time to watch Elmer Miller’s baby score nicely. For me it was a big day, and I made a handsome score. It was just another of the end of summer payouts.
I have long since stopped making the trek with my dad, and the signature races for two-year-olds have been cancelled due to troublesome times in racing. Oh they will be back bigger and better down the road. And who knows, maybe we’ll jump in the car and make our way over. This day is for fans of all walks. Every track used to focus all attention to the details and put on the best show possible. The long walk back to the car would not have the summer heat on my neck, but it may have been that cool fall-time breeze of the end of the season. If there is one day that you want to make your way out and enjoy the ponies make it this one… This is for everyone, and it never fails to entertain.