COULDA, WOULDA, SHOULDA: THE OUTSIDE TURF COURSE

Happened upon Gil Short (the GM when CLN first was built and opened) and Ferris Allen on Saturday and the conversation turned to the turf course and how the original design called for it to be on the outside with the dirt course on the inside. I pointed out that we almost seem to take for granted now what then was an eyebrow raising goal of a full-card of grass races. On Saturday, there were 12 races – all 12 were on the turf.

The outside turf track was a fairly radical proposal at the time and it ran into a number of hurdles (pun intended).

Ferris admitted he didn’t help the cause by saying to outside turf advocate and Maryland Jockey Club Vice President of Racing Lenny Hale something like “how many turf races are you going to run in a given day – three, maybe four?” Oops. You can’t fault his logic – it was conventional wisdom at the time and it demonstrates how much times have changed.

Short, along with his boss Arnold Stansley, came up through the harness ranks and he didn’t want his beloved jugheads 180 feet from the apron and the fans/horseplayers. Once we overcame that argument, his boss didn’t want to build a tunnel that would access the dirt track without dragging people, horses and equipment over the grass course. Stansley had two million reasons why he didn’t wan to do that.

The solution in lieu of an expensive tunnel was to simply have a dirt crossover. The downhill course at Santa Anita crosses the dirt track and quite a few racecourses in Great Britian and Europe feature such “crossovers.”

Some Virginia and Maryland horsemen didn’t help the cause by reacting very negatively to the idea of a crossover. It was pointed out that they were common across the pond and that one racecourse in England or Ireland actually crosses a dirt road. Apparently everybody there is used to it so it’s no big deal.

Saturday, I told Gil and Ferris about my trip to Ireland. I started at the Irish National Stud before heading off the Curragh for the Goffs Million. Four rounds of golf later, I went to what the locals in Tralee called the “farmers’ meet” at Listowel. Damn nice bunch of farmers – all 20,000 of them!

The Listowel race meet is a week long affair in September. A large crowd of well dressed, well educated and, apparently, thirsty Irish racing fans filled the place up for one of those combo cards of flat and jump racing. Simply put, it could not have been more fun.

We drove across the turf racecourse to park in the infield and we walked across the second cross over just past the finish line to reach the grandstand. We took a moment to walk up the racecourse for a closer look (to some racing officials chagrin, no doubt), and we couldn’t help but think the course had suffered a bit from the wet weather the three previous days. It was a mess…

The three helicopters in the infield made us again question the “farmers’ meet” label our Tralee friends had dubbed the meet, and sure enough the first race was won by a horse wearing the familiar colors of Sheikh Maktoum. Obviously, he wasn’t concerned about the condition of the course or the two…count ‘em…TWO somewhat muddy crossovers!

Like I said: Coulda, woulda, shoulda…

Imagine Colonial Downs with that big monster of a turf course set up against the apron a la Woodbine. No doubt the track would have been more of a “destination” for horse racing fans…

A tunnel would have been perfect, but some 13 years later we’d all be used to the crossover.