The first step toward recovery is admitting one has a problem.
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.
Some psychologists may look at this and see a serious warning sign of a gambling problem.
Then again, there is no such thing as a gambling problem if you come out ahead for the day.
I am currently in Lexington, Kentucky catching up with friends and attending live races wherever they occur on my path. I have not been to Lexington since my spur-of-the-moment trip during the Keeneland fall meet last October, so it has been nice to see the people and places that made my last summer so memorable.
Aside from a few heavy storms in Michigan, the drive went smoothly. Few things will cleanse the soul like a long drive through the Ohio countryside with a Steve Earle song on the radio.
I took a detour from my usual route to Lexington in order to check another track off my list of tracks to visit – the primarily winter-based Beulah Park in Grove City, Ohio.
I had heard stories about Beulah Park. It was run down. The horses were junk. The betting prospects were below average at best. A recent photo essay on the track painted a somewhat dreary picture of Beulah as a track that was well past its glory days. None of them were entirely wrong.
What they failed to realize, though, was that tracks like these are where I feel the most at home. I have spent many years trying to find the cream of the four-digit claiming crop. These were my people. I was among friends.
When the facility was built in 1923, I am willing to bet Beulah Park was one of the finest tracks in the midwest. The paddock/walking ring area was fairly scenic and dotted with trees, though most of the plant life was still stripped from the winter. There was definitely an old-time feel to the track, with chalkboards dispensing information in the paddock and over the betting windows inside the plant. Not all of them were utilized, but it added to the atmosphere of the place.
Making some money at a new track usually does not hurt my first impression of it either. I missed out on the first race, but hit consecutive exactas in the next two races, paying about $100 altogether. The latter of the scores paid $84.80. I was feeling very good about life at the time. My good fortune ran out after the third race and I failed to cash another ticket for the rest of the day. However, my quick start left me over $80 ahead at the end of the day. Not a bad way to start off my year at the live races.
The problem with tracks with old-time vibes is they are often that way because no one has put any serious money into them since the Truman administration. A portion of the spectators’ walking ring area was taped off for construction, which forced me to find a detour on a few occasions. Also adding to the Point-A to Point-B issues were the clusters of picnic tables scattered in the lane next to the corridor used by the horses to get out to the track. Aside from the added difficulty of inspecting and photographing the horses, it created traffic problems amongst patrons getting to the apron. Perhaps the tables are evenly dispersed once the weather gets consistently warmer and people actually start going outside to watch the races (it was in the high-50s/low-60s the day I was there), but at the time, it was a nuisance.
Perhaps the track’s most unforgivable sin was its lack of a gift shop. As someone who likes to buy a shirt from every track he visits, this was a major letdown. After wandering the premises for any kind of souvenir vendor, I was informed by the lady in the information booth that Beulah’s gift shop had closed sometime last year. I know Beulah is a small track that’s struggling, but if Mount Pleasant Meadows, a track that draws half the crowd, if that, has a place to buy apparel, then Beulah has no excuse.
Of course, even with its warts, I did enjoy myself at Beulah Park. With a little elbow grease and some added purse money, it could probably become more of a destination. Obviously, asking it to become the next Keeneland would be stretching it, but there is no reason it could not become one of the nicer tracks in the state or the region. Like Linus Van Pelt said describing the ratty little tree in A Charlie Brown Christmas, “Maybe it just needs a little love.”
I head back to Michigan on Wednesday. When things calm down, I will continue with the tales of my voyage to Lexington, my stop (and possibly stops) at Turfway Park, and anything else that strikes my fancy about this trip.
Until then, enjoy some photos I took from my day at Beulah Park….
Under the paddock tote board is this chart informing the betting public of the shoes each horse will wear during the race. I am unsure if it was used for anything more than decoration, but it was still a neat touch and added to the atmosphere.