When my grandmother was old she would talk about things she saw during her life. At this time I was a young lad and didn’t appreciate the encyclopedia of history that was sitting before me. Her life was a living history book and only years later would I truly come to understand what a treasure she was.
She spoke of how she met my grandpa at the Old Latonia Race Course. It was located in Latonia, Kentucky, and they saw some of the greats of the day. It was a spring day in 1938 when she and gramps drove down to the see the Kentucky Derby. But they made a short stop in Carroll County, Kentucky and stood before the Justice of the Peace to become husband and wife. That year Lawrin wore the roses, and I still have the program from that special day.
I guess I look back fondly on the old days of racing wondering what would grandpa have to say now. He was a plumber by trade but a horse player in heart. He missed the explosion of simulcast racing and the great changes that took place over the years. He used to tell me about the tracks he visited and would go see eight live races at Keeneland with no gimmicks. There was no expressway, and the trek that would normally take about an hour. Could be timed with a calendar, as he never drove over 45 mph.
His stories were filled with packed race tracks and standing room only. He wouldn’t have understood why no one was coming anymore. Casino play was limited to the high-stakes players in Newport, Kentucky. You wouldn’t have caught him inside, except the few times he installed the plumbing for the mob owned clubs. He was a horse player of the regular guy variety. He would go to the local saloon and head into a blocked off backroom where he and many others would read the DRF. He wasn’t a drinker but he could be found in the bar many times during the day.
When Turfway Park was only able to card six races this past Sunday it took me back to when he told me tales of tracks that had passed away during his time of wagering. Miles Park, Bowie, Narragansett, and Harve de Grace are a few ghosts from our past. He told me many had financial troubles, and faced competition. The weight was just too heavy, and eventually these beautiful playgrounds for adults went the way of the horse and buggy. According to Jennie Rees from The Courier-Journal, “Turfway Park’s management has lamented for years, and the legislative leadership have not realized how serious a problem this has become.” This is happening, and during my time as a fan, I cannot remember anytime there were not enough horses to fill the races. Poor purses combined with the stranglehold of nearby casino competition has them on life support. September has always been the best month for Turfway. What will the chill of winter bring this year? They continue to limp along and try everything to draw fans back. It has never been for lack of effort or not paying attention to player requests. Plain and simple, if there is no help from the legislative body Turfway Park will join the ranks of fallen giants of the past. I sure hope they hear this S.O.S as the industry employs many good people. The salt-of-the-earth type who work seven days a week with no time off. They weather the heat and cold, and ship their horses around to keep the shedrow open. It won’t hurt the giants who make money from sales, casino revenue, or alternative gaming efforts. But the small and mid-size tracks are being put on notice. Enjoy each day of racing, as it may just be one of the last you see…