Leg 1 Low Hanging Fruit

It looks like we can get right to work and pick up some low hanging fruit. Taking advantage of some beautiful weather and a holiday weekend, we can take in seven tracks down the east coast.  

Turf ParadiseAqueduct

We'll leave home base early on a Friday morning February 17, for the four hour ride to Aqueduct in Ozone Park, New York. I was only there once, way back in December of 1990. Back then the inner track was still a turf course and there was no casino. For jockeys there was Angel, The Mig , Baily to name a few, today their replaced by the Ortiz brothers, Irad, Jose and their cousin Manny Franco. Got there early took a look around the casino before heading for the track. It was a nice day for racing,  Irad was the only Ortiz on hand, but that worked out well as he bailed me out with a nice $9.00 winner in the nightcap. Aqueduct like most tracks today does not track attendance, but of the five and a half million bet today, only six hundred thousand was in house. Now the hardest part of the trip the twenty mile drive to The Meadowlands through the Lincoln Tunnel on a Friday Afternoon.

Turf ParadiseThe Meadowlands

Survived the ride to Jersey, got checked in at the Red Roof, then headed for the Meadowlands. My first trip here was back in 1976 when favorite Foxboro drivers Ted Wing and Jim Doherty were driving here. I also made a few trips here in the late nineties, but for some reason today, things seemed backwards. Obviously they are, when The Meadowlands stopped making money for New Jersey it was abandoned, by the state. Love him or hate him, in steps Jeff Gural, he takes over and proceeds to build a new "bettor friendly" facility across from the old Meadowlands, thereby turning everything in a different direction.

It was a nice night to take in the sights and sounds of the horses. I'm not to good at betting mile harness tracks, they seem like they wait for the stretch fan out ten wide and have a quarter horse race. I noticed John Campbell was still around and some familiar last names but different first names, or Jr. on the end. The first race was an amateur affair, but after that I put my money on Yannick. He only had a $4 winner, not a good night, left early headed back to the motel. Tomorrow's an easy ride down the road to Freehold.

Turf ParadiseFreehold Raceway

 Another beautiful day Saturday, February 18, temperature in the sixties as I roll in to Freehold. First trip here was in 1974, back before the devastating fire in 1984. I also made a few trips to the new Freehold in the late nineties. Today it looks the same, but there is something missing, the people! Like most other non casino tracks Freehold, one of the oldest tracks in the country has fallen on hard times. Today there's no Jackie Lee, no all ya gotta say is Herve, no Rocken Ronnie, no all ya gotta know is Jackie Mo (he still drives in Canada).

At least it's back to a half miler, where the betting is easier. You usually have only two choices, bet the 1/2 shot that can't lose, but usually does, or stick the old hatpin in the program. I took option A, had five winners, still lost a few bucks. Races over, off to Maryland for some Sunday racing at Laurel, something Freehold has never done.

Turf ParadiseLaurel Park

We left Freehold and started out for Laurel, the races in Freehold end pretty early so I decided to make the three hour drive to Maryland. Talk about a nostalgia tour, last live race at Laurel Race Course, as it was known then, was 1966. I use to ride the bus from Norfolk, in those days, I'd get into D.C. about 4am and have to kill time till good old Luckys Bar opened at eight. You could get a booth, to spread out your Morning Telegraph, and a delicious ham and egg breakfast, with a shot and beer. In those days I thought Laurel and Bowie were across the street from each other and both were out in the sticks, probably too much time at Luckys.

Anyways it's Sunday, February 19, a great day for the track, sunny high of 70, not bad for February. I don't know how I thought Laurel was in the woods, plenty of old houses around. The crowd seemed good for a non racino track, no one keeps track of attendance anymore. Did I mention that in my previous two trips here I was a perfect 0-18, not my favorite betting track. Today I just played the favorites broke the jinx in the third race, hit 5 of nine a couple of good payouts and ended up with a profit. After the races it was off to Dover Downs.

Turf ParadiseDover Downs

After a two hour ride I arrived at Dover Downs, which is now a lot different since the last time I was there. Last time here was 1969, it was the inaugural year and thoroughbreds were the featured breed, yes thoroughbreds. Back then, if the lights weren't on you could drive right by and not know it was there. It was just a grandstand with a dirt parking lot, not the NASCAR shrine it is today, not to mention the casino.

  Speaking of the casino, this is one of the good ones, it has a hotel, so no problem of where to stay. Monday, Ferbruary 20, was presidents day, a lot of tracks were open, but that doesn't matter here, Monday is a normal race day. Racing doesn't start till 4:30 so there was plenty of time to look around. Found the gift shop, but that was also all about horsepower, not horses. It's a good thing I had plenty of time, it took a while to figure out where they hid where the racing stuff was. Why do they race horses here?

As for the racing I was a little disappointed Yannick and  Timmy were no shows, no juicy 2-5 shots to bet. It was a fourteen race card so I got plenty of racing in, even had a few winners, After the races headed back to the  casino to try to find an old fashion video poker machine. Just like handicapping I like to think I have some control over the outcome, even if I don't. No luck finding a machine, so had some dinner and called it a night. Tomorrow I start back north heading for PARX, if it's still called that.

Turf ParadiseParx

The morning of February 21, I headed out of Dover Downs already feeling like a winner , no Delaware Memorial Bridge, no New Jersey Turnpike, no tolls. The big decision was do I take the nostalgic Route 13, or the faster Route 1 to I-95. Route 13 here we come. It had been a while but a lot of it still looked familiar. The weather is holding, two hours to PARX.

Parx has had more name changes and facelifts than most Hollywood Starlets, and I somehow have seen them all. The story begins back in February of 1975 when it started out as Keystone Race Track, replacing Liberty Bell Park. My next visit here was in the nineties and it was known then as Philadelphia Park. My last time here was a couple of years ago and it was now PARX.  The weather was nice, the track was fast for the nine race card. Conserving cash and brainpower, I just stuck with the favorites hit 5 of 9, lost a few bucks.

 The track just went through another facelift so it's in great shape, Some of the races were going for $50,000, I remember when graded stakes went for that money, guess it's good to have a casino. Almost two million was bet on the day, only $44,000 at the track, no lines here! Left after the ninth and headed north, decided on a change of plans at the last minute.

When I started on this version of the trip, I thought I would include the live tracks from the first binge tour, but thought that, that wouldn't work out right, so I'm adding a day and heading to Monticello tomorrow, as it's kinda on the way. I spend the night in Parsippany, New Jersey about half way and headed for Monticello in the morning.

Turf ParadiseParx

Today is Wednesday, February 23 last day of the trip. Made it to Monticello with time to spare, older casino here so I found a video poker machine and amused myself for a while. Eventually I took the creaky old elevator up to the top of the grandstand, where the betting area is. It was a far cry from my first trip here in 1978, it was the weekend before July, fourth and the place was packed. I was looking down at a grandstand with 4,500 seats and there wasn't a seat that was occupied. Actually the whole place is pretty creepy, more cashiers than customers. I don't think people bet harness races anymore the pools seemed normal for a harness track, but the money wasn't coming from here. Afraid I was going to die of loneliness, I stayed for one mandatory race and headed for home, getting a jump on the four hour drive. With this leg in the books, there's no time to waste, much planning to do.

  Miles Cost Air-Fare Lodging Days Tracks
Leg-1 1005 502.50 .00 516.00 6 7
Total 1005 502.50 .00 516.00 6 7

Back home looking over the totals for the first leg, this could be a lot more challenging with the initial budget. This leg seemed pretty painless, but it did cost over a grand and use three of our twenty day. Looking ahead, a lot of east coast tracks will be opening, so I'm planning a similar trip centered around Pimlico, now that it,s only open for a few weeks. I've also booked a cheap "wanna get away" Southwest fight to Florida in May that will give me all the tracks there in four days. So I'll concentrate on these two and see where things stand.