Leg 2 The Sound of Thunder

The weather is beginning to break, the Kentucky Derby is nearing and tracks are starting to open, its time for leg-2. This leg will start with a round trip flight to Cincinnati, it's too late for Turfway and to early for Beltara, but it puts me in a good spot for five tracks in three days in Kentucky, Indiana and Ohio.  

Turf ParadiseIt's Post Time

The trip starts out from Hartford, Connecticut in the early morning hours of April 21. I arrive in Cincinnati about 10 am, make a bee line to pick up my economy car and by 10:30 I'm on I-75 heading south for Lexington, Kentucky. After two hours of driving and parking I arrived at Keeneland, with enough time to make first post at 1:05. I guess if I had to describe Keeneland in one word it would be traditional. To me it's right up there with Saratoga, nothing is rushed, it's like stepping back fifty years. Actually my first trip here was 51 years ago and back then there wasn't even a track announcer to disturb the serenity.

The weather was cloudy, but the place was crowded, the spring meet has a touch of the derby to it. Most of the elite of the business show up here, prepping for the meet at Louisville. The local ladies preview their derby attire, many gentlemen wear suits and ties, lots of tradition down here in horse country. I was only able to suck up four races of culture, before I had to leave for my next stop, only a few hours away, but worlds apart.

Turf ParadiseThunder Ridge

Leaving Keeneland, I head east on I-64 for a few miles before I exit for secondary roads, on my way to Prestonsburg, Kentucky and a place called Thunder Ridge. No, I haven't traded horse racing for car racing, it just sounds that way, actually at one time there was car racing here, on a third of a mile track inside the harness track. Thunder Ridge, has to be one of the most unique wagering facilities on the planet and the fact that it's still racing is amazing. A few years back, Keeneland had a deal to buy the tracks license, close Thunder Ridge and open a quarter horse track elsewhere. That deal never happened so here I am, just before 6 pm and first post of the five race card, now the odd part, nobody's here. There's no infield toteboard, so you have to find a monitor that shows the two horse at 1-9 and the other four horses at 99-1. Total pool for the race was $6, I was to find this unusual, because the usual total is $0. The next three races, not a dime was bet to win, place or show, the finale had six bucks on it. I did find out one interesting thing, if you placed the only bet on a certain pool and lost, your money was refunded. How cool is that! As for the racing it wasn't bad.

 Sticking out like a sore thumb, I figured I'd leave in a hurry, but I wasn't ready to crawl back into the economy rental just yet, so I hung around. With no betting to worry about, the 5 race card was over by 7pm. The races were all sub 2:00 affairs, there was a starting gate and an announcer. Purses ranged from $1,400 to $2,400, anybody's guess where this money comes from? The $2,400 race went in 1:56.1, not bad for a half mile track. Starting back on my way to Cincinnati for the night, I tried to think of somewhere I had been that could equal this and it hit me. I use to go to a dog track in Naples, Italy, where the lure was controlled by five guys who rotated a giant drum by hand, the bathroom was one bowl, no seat and paper was the local yellow pages, at least Thunder Ridge had real TP. Tomorrow we run the table in Indiana.

With post time not until 6 pm at Indiana Grand on Saturday, I had a chance for a cultural moment earlier in the day. After leaving Thunder Ridge, I overnighted in Lexington and early Saturday morning headed for Georgetown, Kentucky, the home Old Friends Farm. It was great to see these great athletes living out their days in the Kentucky bluegrass. My only regret was that old friend Zippy Chippy was not here, he's living out his days in New York. I don't know why he's my favorite horse but I saw most of his record breaking losses at the old Three County Fair in Northampton. With a tear in my eye, it's back in the economobile and off to the Hoosier State.

Turf ParadiseIndiana Grand

The ride to Shelbyville, was about two and a half hours. As you get close it's pretty hard to miss those bright red roofs on the grandstand and stable buildings. I did arrive a few hours before post, but killing time at a racino is usually not a problem.  Indiana Grand is the junior track in Indiana, but having a turf course it became the logical choice to host the states Thoroughbred meet. In it's early years both harness and thoroughbreds shared the racing year. I had to cut my visit off after three races, but I was surprised by how low the purses were and the number of entries in the fields. Somehow I got the impression that Indiana Grand was becoming one of the premier tracks in the country. One thing I did notice and it can't be a good sign for Mountaineer Park is that after years of riding there, Deshawn Parker has switched his tack here. We'll time to pile back into the car and head for Anderson.

Turf ParadiseHoosier Park

Leaving Selbyville I set the GPS for Anderson, home of Hoosier Park. Fully expecting to see Indianapolis at some point, do I get a surprise. The hour drive is all on back roads, which if you took five months from now, you would swear your in one of those children of the corn movies. Never fear the lights of Indiana's senior track finally come into view. Originally Hoosier Park split a harness and thoroughbred meet during the year, over the mile oval. At some point it became solely a harness facility. I arrived in time for the seventh race, to see Trace Tetrick, capture the Kenneth Stohler Memorial at twenty cents to a dollar. I stayed for three more races, in two of them Tetrick went off at less than 1-1, but didn't win either. This seems to be a common theme at most harness tracks todays, you take the hot driver who looks like he can't lose but mostly does at 2 or 3 to 5, or stick a hatpin in the program. Again I was a little surprised by the purses but there were no shortage of horses most races had ten and the finale had twelve.

Turf ParadiseMiami Valley

Its getaway day, overnighted near Hoosier Park, still had a two and a half hour ride to Lebanon, Ohio, but post is 2 pm so no problem. I had been to the old Lebanon Raceway a few times, but this will be my first trip to it's successor Miami Valley Raceway. Located only a few miles from the original, Miami Valley is one of the new cookie cutter racinos in Ohio. As you roll up on the track, it looks like you rolled back the clock. The parking lot is jammed, I'm not going to be able to park in front, then I realize it's two hours to post, these people aren't here for the races. I always think of these places as a Hollywood movie set, outside you have this giant new track, with a mini tote board and mini apron. Then you walk inside and there's nothing there, well almost nothing.

 Miami Valley has just one level, no traditional grandstand, inside there are mostly tables and chairs with a few row of seats and you can even find a few cashiers in the middle of it. What surprised me the most were the purses larger than Hoosier and considerably larger than the old Lebanon Raceway. Only had time to stay for the double, a $10.00 lock cause guess who?  Old buddy Trace Tetrick, won both ends, obviously he made the ride too. Okay it's time to wrap up this leg, an hour ride down I-75 to the airport and a late afternoon flight home.

  Miles Cost Air-Fare Lodging Days Tracks
Leg-2 694 478.00 385.00 180.00 1 5
Total 1699 980.50 385.00 696.00 4 12

Looks like flying and renting a car drove the price per track up to $208 from $171 on leg-1 the good news, only used 1 vacation day for 5 tracks. I'll be looking to get all the Florida tracks in late May, followed the next week with a bizarre fly drive to the mid-west.