The Turfway Park plant. Quite an imposing structure.
(This is part two of my spring break chronicle following my travels to Beulah Park and spots in central and northern Kentucky. To see the first installment, click here.)
After my profitable stopover at Beulah Park, I got back on the road and headed toward Florence, Kentucky; home of Turfway Park.
I could see the track from my hotel room, which is one of those things that sounds insignificant unless you have been in the situation yourself. Turfway or otherwise, being able to look out the window and say “I’m going there tomorrow” is a neat feeling. I would guess this is what being a rock star feels like.
The plan was to head to Turfway Park around noon, watch and wager on the day’s live races and head down to Lexington in time for dinner.
This plan survived up to the point where I was halfway between my vehicle and the front entrance of the track.
On my way toward the building, a frustrated-looking old man walking in the opposite direction told me the day’s live card had been canceled due to a water main break in the barn area. Had I not been to Beulah Park the day before, I might have wept a little. If driving six hours to see a live race is a sign of a gambling problem, driving eight hours for a canceled card could be considered grounds for a nervous breakdown.
With little else to do, I ordered a grilled cheesse sandwich. I don’t know what they do differently, but Turfway Park makes the best grilled cheese sandwiches I have ever had. It has the perfect proportions of butter, cheese and bread size. It’s hard to screw up grilled cheese, but it’s even harder to make eating one a priority at a destination, as they have at Turfway. I have been unable to duplicate it back home and the finest culinary scientists in the central Michigan area (see: family and local greasy spoons) have failed to reproduce the formula either. In case you were wondering, the sandwich was excellent, as always.
After a few stabs at the simulcasts from Florida and New York came up empty, I got back on I-75 due south for Lexington.
After settling into my hotel room, my first stop was Keeneland Race Course. I know what you’re thinking. “Holy crap, Joe. Didn’t you get enough action at Turfway Park? You have a problem, man.”
However, I had a legitimate reason. While reorganizing my room a few weeks ago, I came across an uncashed $4 voucher that was either for Churchill Downs or Keeneland. I figured while I was in town, I might as well run it through a machine and see what happens. I turned it into $9. Like I said before, it’s not a problem if you win.
The next couple days were spent catching up with my friends at the Thoroughbred Times and the apartment complex I stayed at during my internship last summer. Between seeing everyone and the record-high temperatures, it was hard to leave Lexington on Wednesday. It’s always hard to leave Lexington. In many ways, I feel more comfortable there than I do in Mount Pleasant. But I digress…
On the way back to mid-Michigan, I decided to give Turfway Park another shot. This time, the races were on.
My first visit to Turfway Park was last March following my interview with the Thoroughbred Times. In brief, I found it to be an enjoyable mid-level track that could benefit from a fresh coat of paint.
Not much had changed since then. Like many winter tracks, the ravages of the elements kept it from looking its best. However, the neat little touches, like the horse head statues placed along the fences and the big, open paddock were still intact. Though the level of racing is a step or two higher than on my native soil and the races are not being run on soil at all, I still felt comfortable at the track.
My first act was to grab the day’s program. My second act was to get a grilled cheese sandwich. Life was good. Life was very good.
After a day where Kentucky saw temperatures climb into the upper 70s to lower 80s, the mercury sunk like a rock. It was just cold enough that wearing a jacket was uncomfortable, but wearing a coat would probably be overkill. Because of this, the number of people out on the apron and on the rail rarely passed double digits. Outside of the horsemen, interested parties, and a few dedicated punters, most everyone stayed indoors.
Having so few people out on the rail can create something of a surreal experience. Things are so quiet. You can hear everything – each individual railbird’s desperate pleas to their chosen horse, the jockeys’ whip cracks and final urgings as they pass the finish line, the discussions between the gate crew members and the eerie silence just before the gates burst open. Watching a horse race is a completely different experience when all you can hear is the race itself.
After the race, you can hear each jockey’s explanation of his ride to the trainer (I don’t remember which one, but someone in the first five races will win if he goes long. Keep it in mind.) and the riders’ conversations between one another as they walk through the apron amongst the scattered racegoers. Then, if you stand under the right TV sets inside the plant, you can listen to the trainers give their spin on the race to the owners as they watch the replay. After only a few races, I felt more in the loop at a non-Michigan racetrack than I ever had before.
It felt like they were putting this all on just for me. With the access I had just from being in public areas, I became the producer and cameraman of my own reality show, and the people of Turfway Park were the stars. I didn’t need the Animal Planet reality show, this is as real as it gets.
People seemed quite talkative at the track as well. The old guys on the rail were more than willing to talk to me, a complete stranger and a newcomer to the track, about their picks and who they thought was due for a clunker. Maybe they were so thrilled to see somebody new on the rail who half looked like he knew what he was doing that they felt the need to be welcoming. Maybe they saw my Thoroughbred Times hat and thought I was somebody important. Maybe they just liked to B.S. with anybody within earshot. Either way, it added to the experience.
Perhaps you have noticed I have made very little mention of my betting fortunes so far. That’s because I laid a big goose egg for the day. Didn’t cash a single ticket. I played some daily doubles that only hit one leg and some exactas where only one horse hit the board and lost about 20 bucks while I was at it. It still left me about $65 or so ahead for the trip, but it was a big hit to my ego.
Because I had to cover a county road commission meeting back home at 8:30 a.m. the next day and my good vibes had apparently been used up elsewhere, I decided to cut my stay short after race five. As a horseplayer and someone who just likes to see a live horse race, leaving a live card early is a hard thing for me to do, but seven hours on the road laid ahead of me and I needed to get home early enough to get something resembling a good night’s sleep, because like the Beastie Boys mused in “Remote Control,” “things get hectic quick.”
If you can handle racing in the frigid climates, Turfway Park is worth a stop. Parking and admission are free every day except this Saturday’s Lane’s End Stakes day, so you ought to have plenty of money to spend on what I consider to be a member of the holy trinity of racetrack concession stand products (the others being Ellis Park hamburgers and Mt. Pleasant Meadows pretzels circa 2006). If the sandwich does not hook you, the behind-the-scenes tour you will get in front of the scenes ought to do the trick. Just dress warm.
Finally, I would just like to extend my gratitude to everyone who read and commented on my Beulah Park post (the link’s at the top of the page if you want to read it). With the help of sites like the Paulick Report, Equidaily and readers like you, I experienced the two highest-traffic days I have recorded.
I was pleasantly surprised to see such a passionate response to the track considering its size and the fact that Ohio is not considered among the top-tier racing states. Also, I found it ironic that as a Michigan-focused blogger, my most popular entry is about a racetrack in Ohio.
Anyway, I appreciate your visits and comments and hope you all continue to enjoy my posts as much as I enjoy writing them.
Oh, and have a look at how Equidaily labeled my story…
Diehard!… Blogger visits Beulah: “I drove six hours to watch $3,500 claimers lope around in the middle of Ohio just because I hadn’t seen a live race since last November.”
Here are a few pictures from my day at Turfway Park. Hope you like them…