Who Says You Can't Go Home?


The paddock is a popular place at old Atlantic City


In walks Tom DeMartini with a s**t-eating grin on his face after a traffic jam on the Schuylkill Expressway turned a 90-minute trip into a three-hour journey.

Never mind that. It's good to be back, isn't it, my friend?

This is New Jersey racing as we remember it, and it doesn't really matter it's not what it was. But any other place might be long gone. They did right by us when they built the old joint with concrete and steel, and hardly any wood.

Yes, Atlantic City Race Course is still open. And we're happily scratching our heads, because we just can't figure it out. It's like that old horror flick The Brain That Wouldn't Die.

Opening day 2009. Sunny but cool. By the time the fourth of six races went off at about 5 p.m., the crowd count appeared to be more than 3,000. Not bad for a Thursday afternoon at a racetrack located 15 miles from the South Jersey casino strip.

The racing? Five races drew full field of 12, and the other race a field of 11, thanks to turf racing and an interesting condition book. When the final race is run May 1, field size for the little meet might be higher than 11 per race.

The crowd? Perfect. A few old faces from the 1970s, 40-somethings like us, younger guys with beers in both hands, and couples with kids that ran back and forth on the apron. Hello!

So what's the deal? We know there's interest from the locals and horsemen. On-track handle was in the $140,000 range, which ain't too bad these days at 75% of the tracks in the country. It's a shame more betting outlets didn't take the signal. Why wouldn't you offer wagering on 12-horse fields on the grass?

Maureen Bugdon, who runs Atlantic City, calls it "the wave"--when the crowd, like clockwork, moves from the paddock behind the grandstand inside to make bets and then heads to the apron to watch the races. "Ride the Wave" might make a good slogan and logo should the shore-area track ever decide to market its product again. Wouldn't that be great?

We call ourselves degenerates, but not because we're desperate to put our money through the windows every race. It's because we love racing, handicapping, and the social aspects of a day at the track. Other people, do, too.

We can have as much fun watching cheap OH-breds in the 90-degree soup from the paddock tiki bar at River Downs as we do at the Breeders' Cup. And there's nothing quite like hanging out on the apron at The Meadowlands on a winter night as a few sore losers charge the fence yelling obscenities at drivers.

Well, maybe that's not for everybody. That's a Northeast harness thing. But you get the picture. It's about atmosphere.

DeMartini and Joe DeVivo of Daily Racing Form visited nearby Delaware Park on its opening day, a Saturday, and both said the joint was packed. This is good. There are few places as nice as Delaware Park to take in the races, but often the crowds haven't been there.

Maybe this horrible economy isn't without positives. Handle is down, but is interest in racing down? At a couple of tracks in the Mid-Atlantic, apparently not. Something to build on, perhaps?

It's always nice to go home, even as things change. Next year? How about 10 days at Atlantic City? The following year, why not May and September meets? How about an industry plan for the future of New Jersey racing that takes into account all the stakeholders?

On the second day of the Atlantic City meet, the crowd was more than 4,000. We soaked it in, glad to be there but wondering how much better it could be with a little more effort.

We've got the starting point.

 

 Not a bad crowd for a Thursday afternoon

 

9 Comments

Leave a Comment:

aspradling@bloodhorse.com

Degenerates eh? hehe

28 Apr 2009 11:41 AM
kevin

Tom, I liked you wrote about  Atlantic City Race Track.

My experience was...

The Dream-

I closed my eyes and I swear I could feel vibes of the track's founders, the "Guys & Dolls" atmosphere that they gave on those race days of past, was for me alive. Frank, Al J., Mr. Kelly ($), etc. had the right idea with their "Hollywood Park East" when they created this race track.

The Present-

Pure pleasure when I saw  horseman and true gentleman, Trainer Oliver P. Keelan win the first race (on the 17th) with his filly "Cherry Cherry".

He represents those unsung horseman who labor every day, for the love of the horse, the thrill of the race, without recognition or publicity given for their daily efforts.

(The story of this horse and how he brought her to the winners circle in itself would make a good short story.)

Suffice to say with him and those many other trainers of his kind, thoroughbred racing will remain alive and well attracting and keeping the smaller owner.

The future-

Unfortunately as for Atlantic

City's future, we will only see more of the same. We only see that little because they are forced to run live dates, (six days is a cruel joke), in order to make the money on the off-track betting. As long as the owners of Philadelphia Park own AC, and those off-track sites, we will never see this Grand Dame of Tracks as we should.

Thank You for keeping the track breathing in print, as you wrote she has all the signs of life, she just needs to be allowed to live it.

                          Kevin

28 Apr 2009 1:33 PM
Monmouth Mutt

Some video from April 17:

www.youtube.com/watch

28 Apr 2009 6:43 PM
Dr. John

With all the doom and gloom around racing it is great to hear someone put a positive spin on this great game. Looking forward to future blogs, I'll let my friends know it is out there.

What kind of grin did DiMartini have again?

29 Apr 2009 12:09 PM
Blazingsally

When you dropped the s - bomb in the first paragraph, I thought this blog was not for publication!  Apparently, it is!  Spot any groundhogs running through the AyCee grandstand?

29 Apr 2009 5:53 PM
BlueHen

Long live the degenerates!

02 May 2009 9:04 AM
Just A Friend

Having trained at AC for many years, it's great to see the old lady back in action.

The heritage of the sport remains between the rails of that grass course as many of the sports best rallied down that stretch.

Many afternoons, and later evennings remain permanently etched in both my heart and mind.

It wasn't always the big names that made AC memorable; but instead it were the characters and the gameness of their horses and the many no fear riders.

Raise a glass to this old lady. She deserves it.

08 May 2009 2:06 PM
Johnny Slots

How about a blog about your experience as a Regular Guy?  As an award-winning writer - you really are.

04 Oct 2009 12:53 AM
turf &sand

Ispent many a night with my family at the ac race course loved it. Hoping that it has a meet even a short one in 2010.

21 Mar 2010 2:31 PM

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