Monday, December 17, 2012

Guest Blog: An Eclipse Award for Most Tracks Visited?

by Mark Cramer

As increasing numbers of horseplayers are staying home, making on-line bets in their pajamas, we need to reward folks who actually get out to the track.

So I propose an Eclipse Award for the person who’s visited the most race tracks. I was going to nominate myself, but I’ve already found one person who has outdone me by one Tbred track. (We’re not counting harness and jumpers.)

The nominees are Tim Herboth, from Chicago, and his wife Tracy. (We could say that “the couple that plays together stays together.) Thus far, Tim has attended the races at 46 different thoroughbred tracks, including 13 abroad, quite often with Tracy at his side. (If you can beat 46, you can nominate yourself right now. I intend to forward the nomination to the Eclipse people themselves.)

Tim and Tracy’s foreign track visits include Ascot, Chantilly, The Curragh, Epsom, Deauville-Clairefontaine, Deauville La Touques, Epsom, Kyoto, Longchamp, Maisons-Laffitte, Nad Al Sheba, Saint-Cloud, St. Moritz (The White Turf), where they race in the snow, and Tokyo, though they didn’t attend all these tracks in alphabetical order. (See entire list at the end of the column.)

I asked them how they adjusted to such a dazzling but confusing array of horse betting scenes, especially with language concerns and just getting around where there are no signs in English.

“Amazingly,” says Tracy, “almost every track has the instructions posted or printed somewhere!   
Tim at St. Moritz in 2009.
Japan is so fond of betting that they gave foreigners a free sleeve to insert your ticket into so you could fill in the tickets similar to voting ballots.”

She adds, “We also always learn our numbers 1-10, how to say win or place and the currency, as well as “please”  “thank you”  “where” and “how much” in the language of every country, before we go.  Many a teller has blanched at our pronunciation but we get the job done, eventually.  And yes, we get lost everywhere we go taking public transportation.  On big days, follow the ladies wearing hats.  Otherwise, do your best with the language, pointing, playing charades, to get folks to understand “horse”, and visit a pub and pull out your form to handicap before you actually locate the track.  Generally it turns out fine and fun, or we get lots of exercise.”   
But surely, it must not be so easy to place a bet on the precise horse you want.

“In fact, no betting of any kind is permitted in Dubai,” Tim says. “I heard of the existence of “black market bookies” lurking around, but never saw any. So I went to the hotel business center earlier that day to make some bets thru my ADW account, only to have a screen ceremoniously pop up informing me that site was blocked. Drinking, oddly enough, is tolerated, but only in the International Village and “Bubble Lounge”, a sequestered area where cases of champagne bottles were uncorked well beyond post time of the last race.”

Tracy watching the races on the snow-covered lake of St. Moritz
I asked Tracy for some word images from her racing voyages.

“--the crowds in Japan are unbelievably huge.  Yet, after the race, everyone gets in orderly single file queues to board the trains back to the City.  Very crowded, but not a single person pushing!

 …Everyone sitting outside at tables and chairs set on the snow, drinking champagne, dressed up in winter finery, watching the races on the snow-covered lake of St. Moritz… Getting up at dawn to watch the horses swimming in the North Sea (with riders aboard) as part of morning workouts in Deauville. Spectacular.” Among Tracy’s favorite tracks in the USA are Saratoga, Del Mar and Keeneland. Getting used to seeing larger fields has prompted Tim and Tracy to alter their language learning process.

“We used to learn our numbers 1-10.  Once in France, Tim was making a bet in French at the Arc, with confidence, as he had made several bets previously and was sure that he didn’t need me to translate (my French is passable for purposes of general speaking and translating after several years in school).  Suddenly he comes literally running back to the seats, calling out to me “What’s the word for 11?!”  His bomb long shot was the 11 horse (which came in) and of course he hadn’t learned to count in French to 11, only 10! The Brits seated around us were laughing out loud at the explanation, and after learning that “yes, we know there are English windows but what fun is that?”  Always bring your translation book or learn more than 1-10, just in case!”                                  
But should our readers be fearful of confronting foreign racing? Not according to Tim.
“We’ve found international racing to be remarkably universal. There’s the racing surface, betting windows, paddock, walking ring, bars, guys selling tip sheets outside.

The punters (bettors) yell and scream for their horse, curse in whatever universal language when they lose. You don’t need to speak French or Japanese to know someone’s horse was just head-bobbed at the wire. A few idiosyncrasies might be betting with the bookies in The U.K. and Ireland and the absence of betting in Dubai. Even in English you can get confused, as “Place” really means “Show” in Europe.”

So how do to get people to fall in love with racing again, and actually show up at the track?

“I think the question comes down to overcoming instant gratification and away from the norm,” Tracy says. “Part of the issue is bringing the younger crowd back in to the fray. Big days are always well attended around the world which means the interest is there, right?”

So Tim and Tracy are my Eclipse nominees for the most Tbred race tracks visited. If any reader has attended more than 46 tracks, please nominate yourself.

Tim's Thoroughbred tracks visited:

North America:
Arlington Park
Sportsman’s Park
Balmoral Park
Washington Park
Belmont Park
Tampa Bay Downs
Santa Anita
Hollywood Park
Del Mar
Golden Gate Fields
Bay Meadows
Detroit Race Course
Hazel Park
Great Lakes Downs
Monmouth Park
Atlantic City
Churchill Downs
Kentucky Downs
Lone Star Park
Fair Grounds
Turf Paradise

The Curragh
Tokyo Race Course
La Touques (Deauville)
Clairefontaine (Deaville)
St. Cloud
Nad Al Sheba
St. Moritz (The White Turf)

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