A day at Laurel

I’m beginning to think that maybe I’m never going to meet a racetrack that I don’t like.

Oh, wait, there’s Gulfstream.

Spent a delightful day at Laurel on Saturday, in the company of some Saratoga ex-pats who have moved to the DC area, of Railbird, and of an upstate friend who road-tripped with me to take in a new track. We also spent some time with John Scheinman of the Washington Post, who is one of the funniest people I’ve met. Check out his article in Sunday’s paper about the feature at Laurel on Saturday.

As we all acknowledged, the first day at a new track, especially among friends, is not the best handicapping day. So much to see, to do, to check out, to talk about, that there’s just not a lot of good focused time to do any serious handicapping. That said, the day was not a total loss at the betting windows.

The physical plant of Laurel is impressive; the paddock is open and old-fashioned; spectators are in arm’s length of horses and get a good view of them as they walk in and get saddled. Unusually, the grandstand is as nice, or nicer, than the clubhouse; both are multi-leveled with excellent sight lines and plenty of comfortable, clean places to sit, with simulcasting opportunities plentiful.

We spent most of our time in the clubhouse, on the ground floor or in the box seats above; the track is winterized, and the boxes are equipped with individual televisions, padded swivel chairs, and carpet. It looked and felt more like a boardroom than a clubhouse, but I can’t say that it was unpleasant to sit there with the sunlight streaming in and one of the two finish lines in front of us. None of us could quite figure out the two finish-line thing.

The main bar on the ground floor of the clubhouse was sort of stylized, with faux stone on the wall, nightclub lighting (thanks, Frank?), and a decent selection of beers on tap, including Samuel Adams Winter Lager, a pleasant alternative to the usual Coors/Bud fare available. There were betting machines and tellers aplenty, and I never had to wait more than a minute or two to bet.

It was a beautiful day, and after the first few races, we decided to wander up the stretch. Unlike at many tracks, the part of the apron open to the public ends at about the sixteenth pole; undeterred, we walked up along the rail until the half-mile pole, about midway around the turn, where we watched one race before heading back. Great view of the clubhouse/grandstand, and it was cool to see the horses rounding the turn: quiet jockeys, so we heard only the pounding of hooves (and the crowing of a nearby rooster).

I am never at my best working multiple tracks, so I had printed out sheets for only Gulfstream and Laurel, determining to leave out Aqueduct for the day; that lasted until the third race at the Big A. Given the many distractions, I did surprisingly well, hitting two races (neither at Laurel) and breaking even. There were two big longshots in the Swale, so I threw a couple of win/place dollars on them and was gratified to see Surrealdeal pay $25.80 to place. I also hit the exacta in the 8th at Gulfstream (I love maiden races), which paid a respectable $32.20 for my dollar box.

Most bizarre race of the day: the 8th at Laurel, in which three horses ran, at odds of 2.20, 2.90, and .50 (in the order of finish), and remarkably, the exacta paid $15.80. No, none of us had it.

Unfortunately, the Horse Wizard was dark, so we didn’t get to go in and play, and none of us tried Frank’s Energy Drink, but we did a get free Maryland racing calendar with the purchase of a soft drink or beer. Laurel is spacious and clean; there’s attention to patrons’ comfort both physically and aesthetically. With the exception of making a profit, I couldn’t have spent a more pleasant day at the races. We’re already planning our next trip…

7 thoughts on “A day at Laurel

  1. I love these travelogue posts.And am I glad to hear that Frank has not made a mess of the place.But you should have had an energy drink and then compared your handicapping skills before and after downing the magic elixir.

  2. Glad you enjoyed your day at Laurel. I’ve driven by it but never had the pleasure of visiting.Love the Sam Adams winter and summer lagers, so maybe next time we should stop….WOO HOO GIANTS SUPERBOWL XLII CHAMPS!!!!

  3. John: We tried to get Jessica to accept the elixir mission…but to no avail. I will say that my two wins came AFTER the second beer. Coincidence? You decide. Think we could get someone to pay me to travel around to racetracks and write about them? Linda: So psyched the Giants won. And maybe more importantly, so psyched the Patriots LOST!

  4. Hey, John! I resemble that remark! (I know you didn’t mean me… or did you?!?)Glad you enjoyed your trip to lovely Laurel, Teresa. In answer to your semi-question, yes, the “stone bar” is thanks to Frank, who in addition has spent armloads of money completely renovating the track itself, building a big beautiful turf course that horsemen love, and lots of other stuff.Did you meet Fred, the head usher? Super-nice guy.Of course, now I feel guilty about badmouthing your home track…

  5. Happy to oblige, anon: barb put up an ad about how to make money working from home. I’m happy to send you the link. =)Frank: if Laurel were my home track, I’d think Aqueduct were a pit, too. That said, I think the Big A gets a bad rap for the most part. Decrepit though it is, there are plenty of good places to hang out and watch the races.And for the record, I grew up in Saratoga…so I consider that my REAL home track. =)

  6. Delighted to hear that you enjoyed your day at Laurel, and thank you for your kind comments.When you come back, you must try the dining room. Chef Will has a wonderful menu.Re the 2 finish lines: we only use the second one for the (dirt) mile races. With the start way back in the chute, we have a one-turn mile race. (If we used the “regular” finish line, the start would be on the turn. Not a good option!)Best regards, Phoebe Hayes, Director of Horsemen’s Relations, MJC

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