I bet dollars to donuts you can remember your first trip to the track. I remember every sight and sound, and how it pulled me in to the swirl of humanity. Here are a few stories from the travels of first time trips to the track. Some folks you may have heard on our Internet Show, and others have been first hand accounts of watching your guest’s eyes light up when they break from the gate.
John McDulin = You have heard from John on the Internet show for years. He is an excellent handicapper who writes for the Daily Racing Form and is a chart caller for Equibase. He loves the ponies, and is a devoted father, grandfather, and one helluva’ a friend. John is the kind of guy you can call in the middle of the night for a ride, or to help bury the body! They don’t come any better, and here is how he fell in love with racing. He was with his grandfather every Monday as he was a butcher and the shop was closed. They would hit a few bars, and off to the races. John was walking in and looked way up high and listened to the track announcer giving out the early scratches, and talking about the day ahead. He looked over at gramps and asked, “do they get paid to do that job?” He was told they are paid, and they call the racing action as they run. John said, ” you know, I want to do that job someday.” Well, wishes come true, and many of fans have heard the tones of Johnny Mac call them home. A pretty good race caller if I say so myself. If the track announcer gets caught in traffic, no sweat… Mac is just a call away.
The Chief = He was a painter by trade, and a horseplayer the other hours of the day. He was rolling in a sweet exacta one day, and he was talking up a storm. I came up for a “high-five,” and he began telling me this was the best day he had experienced since he was a child. He attended the Delhi races in India, and his father owner part of a cheap horse. It was the last race on the card, and this old nag went gate-to-wire, and paid handsomely. They celebrated and talked about the travel home to tell his family. His father gave him a small amount of money not to tell exactly how much he had won. He accepted, and the rest is history.
Date Night = I used to have a standing rule that one of my first dates with a gal would be at the track. My grandpa met my grandmother there, and my mom and dad spent many a night watching the ponies thunder home. You could say it is a family tradition of sorts, and I wanted to see if they could be interested in my first love. Looking back over the years, I have never had one complaint. But there is one gal who sticks in my mind. She was a cut-above my usual guest, and didn’t care much about the sport. She enjoyed the symphony, the art museum, and an occasional wine cooler. So why would I bother trying to show her my first love? Yep, she was dang gorgeous! I couldn’t pass up my opportunity to get her there. Every near by Thoroughbred track was closed, so we ventured up to Lebanon Raceway. There were harness horses on tap, and it is a small smoke-filled joint. When she found out there wasn’t any dining area and the only wine coolers were called Busch beer, I thought it was going to be an early night… It was then that I made my biggest wager of the night. I asked this dainty flower of a woman if she would like a sip of my beer? She hesitated and then agreed. “It wasn’t as bad as she thought it would be,” and she wanted to know if she could have one. Well, the bet paid off and three beers later she was kissing me in public and shouted “whip his fat ass” to one of the drivers as they rolled past. I have to say this was one of my most memorable dates. I showed her the blue-collar love of racing, and she loosened up to be a part of the crowd. It was a short run romance, and many years later I saw her with her family. She asked me if I still love going to the races. Then she shocked me by telling me that it was the most memorable date she had ever had. I told her, “too bad, post time is in a couple of hours and I was going to ask you to go with me!” We laughed and talked some more about her maiden break at the races.
It doesn’t matter how you got there, or who you went with. The feelings are usually the same. It is not hard to fall in love with the beauty and pageantry of the sport. It grabs you by the heart, and makes you remember some of the simpler times in life. Whether it was a day out with gramps, or a longshot date with a cutie. There is something about going to the track. If you have any doubts, just take a new friend. I think you will see that familiar gleam in their eyes.