It was a Sunday evening, and it was the final card of a long week. The racing was conducted in brutal cold, and there was always that welcome time of having two days off. Sunday meetings were held at least once a month, and your attendance was mandatory. Well, at least mandatory if you wanted to kick back and enjoy a few libations. By my calculations, I never missed a meeting, and was never late…
The week was winding down with the remainder of the California cards, and a betting machine was right behind the conference table. There was an assorted array of bourbon, and beer so cold that it made the frigid Kentucky wind seem like summer. Role call began our meeting by turning on all of the TV screens so we could see Golden Gate and Santa Anita. At the end was Emerald Downs if you felt the need to get a bet down on some Washington-bred action. All were present, and the meeting was called to order.
Racing action faded from all screens, and football replaced the ponies. The evening sky had ushered in early, and gave the illusion it was late. The track lights burned bright as the tractors harrowed the oval for training the next morning. It was a perfect view from the conference room at Turfway Park. You could see the snow starting to pick up speed, and the wind would blow the white flakes into blustery swirls. It was the perfect way to end the week, sipping Woodford Reserve and enjoying the company of your cohorts.
As always, the conversation turned a sharp corner. It was at this time you could see the bottles accumulate in the waste can, and neck ties were strewn across the table top. It was time to relax… The beverages flowed, and the inner sanctum rules applied. There were no wrong answers, and nothing spoken would be mentioned again. It was time to let your hair down and talk as friends.
The “chief” of the meeting led the conversation in a new direction. One that was never mentioned before.It was the kind that made you question what you wanted from life. We sat up a bit, and swirled our drinks as the ice cubes clanked gently against the sides of the glass. The meeting of friends was at a new crossroad.
First was the “chief” who led our discussion. “I would like to see a grand Racino here. One that would generate big money to re-build the purse structure and allow racing to grow once again.” We tethered back and forth about the pro’s and con’s of the idea, and it seemed that obstacles were found at every turn. He assured us that it was closer than we thought, and the plans were in place. All that was needed was a kind gesture from the legislators, and it would grow beyond our wildest dreams… Three men poured another round, and the conversation was tossed to the next man.
“I would like to rise up and be recognized with a higher position in racing. One that would allow me to take the game to the people and pass on my love of Thoroughbred racing.” We all agreed that he had the moxy and looks for the job. His charisma and magic gift of gab would surely assure him the opportunity to make some needed changes. But it went right back to the first argument. Things would have to happen. And as rosy as it sounded, they were still far in the distance. The conversation took on serious tone as his ambitions seemed hindered.” Frustrating to say the least, he said. I wish the public could just hear what awaits them, and maybe there could be needed pressure applied to the legislators.” The silence was deafening as the men knew it was as close as the drink in their hand, but as far away as the moon…
The third and final man was asked what he would like to do in life. He hesitated and really didn’t want to speak his mind to be laughed out of the meeting. After a another round was poured, and the men settled in, he finally spoke up and told his two friends what was on his mind.” I listened to the first idea and realized something. If it were possible to have this grand Racino and great revitalization, don’t you think the past owners would have tried? They were savvy businessmen with the “Midas” touch. So what makes you think we can do what they didn’t?” The conversation was quiet and the attention from the first two were glued to the final member. “As far as the second, it is very possible for you to ascend the ladder and make your way to the grown-up table. You would be a fine leader, and your gift of gab could sweetly change the minds of many. But my only question to you, ‘are they ready to hear such sweeping changes?’ Don’t you think other silver-tongued devils have spewed golden images of what could be? But all we see is complacency and road blocks. Nothing has changed, and we are bleeding drops at a time.”
They nodded in agreement and quietly finished their drinks. “But you still have not told us what you wanted to do.” I swallowed my drink and sat back in my chair. “I would like to use one of the track’s two OTB licenses. Let’s have a location in an airport hub, or in a shopping mall area. A place where people have always been in great number. Create a bad-ass-bar, with a sports feel. Offer great food at a good price, a few betting windows, and some self bet machines. This would allow us to trim the costly plant at the track, and for our regular customers we could offer drive-through wagering here on location. The track would be open on weekends and for live racing. If the OTB idea worked, we could petition the Racing Commission for another license or two. They would agree to that, as it required no changes to existing state laws.” There was silence again. Then the group started talking, and the ideas swirled like the accumulating snow. After another drink or two, the men gathered themselves and made their way into the cold night air. It was brisk yet refreshing like the very conversations that had just taken place. We started our cars and made our way home. The three wise men who convened at that table are gone from the track. To this day, just like the rules of the inner sanctum, nothing was ever spoken about the ideas that snowy night and nothing has changed.