The Official End of Summer

by Ed Meyer

posted on October 4, 2023 in Blogroll, General Discussion, Handicapping, Horse Racing, | Comments Off on The Official End of Summer

May be an image of 7 people and horse



Many mark the day with a family BBQ or fireworks and sparklers for the kids. For horse racing fans in the Ohio / Northern Kentucky area, there was only one place to be. River Downs.

It sat near the shores of the muddy Ohio River as the breezes blew gently through the big maple trees near the 6 furlongs chute. A giant tent with tables, seating, a grand buffet, and an open bar all day greeted lucky ticket holders with the “Official End of Summer Blowout.” Oh, and did I mention the 20 clerks who were ready and waiting to take your wagers? – Oh, what better way to bid summer adieu.

John Engelhardt was the official “Mayor of River Downs,” and would enjoy a beer or ten as he greeted loyal patrons with a hearty handshake and the ladies would get a gentle hug. Pictures with the “Regular Guy” of racing were coveted items as he smoked his Strauss Tobacconist cigar and would give out a pick or two for the day. John made the party, and many moons ago that is how I landed the greatest job in the world working with him at River Downs. But I digress.

I would usually take my dad, and we would handicap under the trees with a covered table and TVs. Drinks flowed from the first to an hour after the last. After being treated to a lavish layout of Cincinnati’s finest fare, the grill pit would fire up to bed down your gambling appetite with dogs, brats, meats, and burgers. Not the millionaire’s ball, but damn close in my book.

You hoped for sunshine as there was a bevy of turf races with riders coming in from other tracks to end the summer on a high note. The day was centered around a stake race that made the little track glow. The $200,000 Miller Lite Cradle Stakes. Over the years I saw a Derby winner with Spend a Buck, and some who would go on to greatness like Harlan’s Holiday, Coax Me Chad, Bellamy Road, and a host of others. If you forget, no problem. Just pick up one of the many mugs that showed every past winner and a painted picture of last year’s victor on your table. Yeah, it would not do it justice to say they did a great job at putting on the party. They invented how to do it right. The new owners try and give away a pen and pencil set when you walk through the doors as the rest of us remember how it was supposed to be done.

As the sun sets, the “Regular Guy” is looking for his golf cart to head back to the office. – We had a wonderful day doing what we loved. Friends, family, and fun. You saw everyone from the track bum to some of Cincinnati’s celebrities. A day where we rubbed elbows and enjoyed the day together celebrating the equine. About now, I would hear the horn of my dad’s old truck and we would drive away for a day of incredible delight. But it is only a sound I cherish in my heart wishing to go back just one more time. Just like the little Scottish village Brigadoon which would appear from the mist once every hundred years, River Downs would create a party atmosphere that was second to none every Labor Day. It once was called “America’s Day at the Races.” Now, I’m not sure how many tracks are even open today. – I still have a big smile on my face just thinking of the official end-of-summer blowout.