Gamblers are creatures of habit. We bet the same tracks, get excited when they come down the lane, and find explanations if our horse runs out. I guess you could say that makes me “Master of the Obvious.” But on this particular Sunday, I found my visit to the races a little more than just watching horses run in circles.
I was started my day in the usual fashion. Read the paper, watch the sports shows, and brushed through the online racing sites. There’s a sense of comfort in doing things the same way each week. It gives us the feeling of being grounded, and allows us to come down from the high-wire act we display. But there was something different on this cold winter weekend. I had the “want” to be around the rush of humanity, and there is only one place for a racing fan.
I had races marked that I wanted to play, and pulled my coat tight as I made my way into the frosty air. I didn’t even turn on the radio for my short drive, as there was no hurry for live racing had cancelled at my local track. Simulcast racing was on the menu, and I was going early for some reason. My races wouldn’t start for two hours, and there was plenty of time to get there. But still I chose to go early. No reason, just taking my time.
When I arrived, I saw old faces I’ve been seeing for years. It felt good to know that somethings don’t change. I could hear the New York races running as I made my way around the corner, and then the large race-book came into focus. It was home away from home, and going to the races has always been there for me. It started long ago with my dad, and continues to this day. The majority of time I wager from the comfort of my man cave, and watch the races on computer and TV. That is the new way of racing, and it serves my purpose.
I found a seat that was close to the windows, and had a personal screen with every race track in the country at my finger tips. Just sitting back with my bottle of water, watching people, and keeping tabs on the races. But there was a different feel. Maybe it was the “non-smoking” in the race book, or the plush chairs that made the stay more comfortable.
Bettors behind me were talking loudly about how much they had lost last night at the casino. They continued about the losing, but the tone soon changed as they were making plans to leave and go have the free dinner buffet they were offered. The track couldn’t keep up anymore. Once upon a time the facility was packed with the swirl of cheap cigars and long lines at the windows. But the clerks looked like the “Maytag repairman” waiting for something to do.
Marvin was an older gent who never went anywhere without his wife Goldie. They have been spotted at the tracks for years, and you could throw a dart to where they would be sitting. He saw me and came up to shake my hand with his large open-mouthed smile. “Ed, it’s so good to see you! How are things going out here??” I had worked at the track for over 17-years, and I had moved on over ten years ago. “Fine, Marv. Just great, and how is Goldie?” I replied. “Well, she’s been gone for two years this March, and I stop out every once in awhile as we always did. I go to the casino now. I love the penny-slots, and Goldie would have loved the Dean Martin machine I play. She loved that man’s voice!” Things were starting to come into focus.
Times changed, and we didn’t keep an eye on the future. The mammoth building which had been a friend to me for years felt cold and empty. There was no whirl of humanity as players made their way to the area casinos and racinos. Kentucky was a day late and a dollar short. – I got up, made three bets and headed for the car. Going to the track had lost it’s meaning in the Bluegrass state, and I don’t see a rebound for the future. The tri-state prepared for change, and Kentucky rested on it’s rich Thoroughbred history. The new Belterra Park (formerly River Downs) opens in May, and Miami Valley Gaming ( the old Lebanon Raceway) has opened the doors with a glitzy casino. I would love to see a revival, but the odds are way too long. The game cannot survive in the Bluegrass state on Derby weekend alone. I guess we’re going to wait on the legislature to pull us out of the abyss. But the only advice they have given racing is to try something new. Spend money, advertise, or give away t-shirts. And after none of that works, the hard-working people in the Kentucky will leave racing and find something else to do. Maybe they’ll become tobacco farmers, or find work in the bourbon industry.