Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The 2011 Kentucky Derby at Suffolk Downs?

The Kentucky Derby is the pinnacle of the Spring horse racing season.  Yes, the stakes are greater for the November running of the Breeders' Cup.  The Dubai World Cup similarly has larger purses than the Derby.  But when you ask thoroughbred trainers, when you ask jockeys and when you ask the ordinary person on the street, the Kentucky Derby is the most important horse race each year.  The fastest two minutes in sports, the sport of Kings, the First Saturday in May, they all mean the same thing.

Same here.  Instead of enjoying the race at home with our friends like we did in the 136th Run for the Roses last year, we decided this year to celebrate the Derby at the home of another venerable horse racing institution, Suffolk Downs in East Boston.  Once the home of the some of the most famous horses ever to run the oval tracks, Seabiscuit and Cigar just to name a few, Suffolk Downs has recently fallen on some hard times.  The MassCap, the big race at Suffolk Downs, hasn't been run since 2008 (Commentator blew away the field by about 50 lengths).  Just recently, a dispute erupted between the track's owners and the New England Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association about purses and number of racing days.  But not today.  Thousands of cars lined the enormous parking lot as we circled the lot in the rain looking for a spot close to the entrance.  I just wanted to get in to start looking at the horses.

4pm.  East Boston, MA.  There are four distinct chapters when gambling at the track:  figuring out which horse to bet on, actually making the bet, watching the race you've just bet on and figuring out if you won and the ramifications of that knowledge.

Who's the Skeevy guy next to you?
Handicapping.  We arrived about two hours before the Derby.  Because this was a party, we were not only doing some handicapping, but we also had a chance to talk to some of the New England Patriot's Cheerleaders, watch as the Aerosmith cover band tried to decide whether to play through the rain or not as a couple of fans milled around breathlessly awaiting their decision and look around for some of the promised BBQ.  We knew we were at the track too when a fellow who did not look destitute asked us for fifty cents.  I remained silent letting the LC answer for us.

"I'm sorry we're a plastic only family"  I started smiling as I wondered if I could bet on Nehro using my Visa Card.

Placing our Wagers.  I finally decided on a win, place and show on Nehro and an exacta box on Nehro and Mucho Macho Man.  Both of those horses showed tremendous closing speed at shorter distances.  I thought that with the 10 furlongs, they would both clear the field in the last furlong.  And I never like horses on dirt if they've only run on turf or synthetics.  LC picked Midnight Interlude and Mucho Macho Man, both to win.  I had spied a little nook near the Legends Bar to make our bet since all of the conventional betting windows were extremely busy.

A little too busy for a couple of old timers, I guess.  As we were waiting in line to place our bets, two 75 year old gentlemen started pushing each other because one had pushed the other out of the way to place his bet.  "I was here first!" I heard one of them shout at the other.  A security guard came over to break up the fight, to everyone's relief.  Noone wants to have to pick up the pieces from an old man fist fight.

"I've been coming here for 35 years, sonny. F*ck you!"  We all looked around at each other - did this guy just yell at a security guard to go f*ck himself?  After permitting him to make his bet (of course) the vulgar old man was escorted out of the Track by the First Security Guard and his back up.  A large intimidating gentlemen who I will call "Shorty."  Shorty menaced at this guy for a couple of minutes until he finally started shuffling out.  Meanwhile the other guy was merrily making a bunch of $1 bets.  I preceded to watch him go up at least three more times before the race.  My wife indicated that he was on the vulgar old man's side until he swore at the guard.  He started giving her some jaw too.  Oh for Christ's sake, can I just make my bet here?

Watching the Race.  After finally making our bets, we staked out a place to watch the race.  My kingdom for a HD TV!  We watched the race on 29 inch TV along with 30 other people.  Each TV had 30 people huddled around it, everyone clutching their tickets like they are holding a lottery ticket.  The excitement was palpable.  I'm not sure I can the TV I remember thinking.  But this was the biggest TV we could watch.  Finally, the race started.

This horse cost me a betting clean sweep
Unfortunately, as I thought, the TV was too small and the place too loud to really see what was going on.  I saw that Shackleford had the lead for most of the race.  I saw that my long shot was well out of it.  I couldn't tell what my other horses were doing.  Regardless, the excitement started to grow as the horses made the turn for the homestretch.  All I could tell as that a horse with two numbers had the lead.  Since we had horses 13, 15, 17 and 19 in some form or another, we felt good about our chances.  I start yelling for my horse to keep running, even though I wasn't sure if my horse was actually in the lead. 

Whichever horse won, it won by at least two lengths.

Post Race.  I was afraid to ask anyone who won.  The guy dressed in an orange suit, walking cane and sunglasses (we were inside on a rainy day, mind you) didn't seem to know who won, either.  An older gentleman pointed at the TV and told my wife that the 11 horse won.  He seemed confused because she told him that that was just the 11th race that he saw.  Even as the horse was interviewed on the track, as is NBC's tradition, we couldn't tell the winner.  After an exhausting trip around the track to see if i could find out the winner without looking like an idiot (too late), we found out that the winner was Animal Kingdom, the 16 horse, followed by Nehro and Mucho Macho Man.  I was a disqualification away from hitting all of my bets (I resigned myself to thinking)!  I did manage to win my Place and Show bets on Nehro, though.  So after all of the bets we made, I figured out that after all of that, we won 2 bucks.  Where's that guy looking for 50 cents, I can help him out now!!

Seriously, though, I'm not sure where I'm going to spend my $2 in winnings.

I'm cashing my winning bets and I see the old guy who got the other old guy thrown out of the place.  He's look at his tickets, tearing each one up as he scans them and rescans them.  He looks so sad about the losing.  Like I said, the fastest two minutes...

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