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Collectables

7/2/2012

Horse race tracks have become collectables, not pictures or cards, the actual tracks themselves, the older and quirkier the better.

It's something of an inside fantasy, scheduling vacation time on a historic or unique racing venue. Only another horse player would be impressed with breakfast at Arapahoe Park.

Minor league baseball parks are among other structures worth collecting, the ancient brick and wood joints that have far more character than the new major league malls with bases.

Spa-type or scenic race tracks are the easiest to collect, Del Mar, where the surf meets the turf, or Saratoga, where the elite meets the fleet, or Oaklawn Park, where the barbecue meets the howdy-do. Some tracks, like Hollywood Park by the airport, or Santa Anita by the mountains, are simple additions to a track collection. It's something off the beaten track like Les Bois Park in Idaho that adds a rarified air to a horse player's portfolio.

Here's a candidate for the horse player interested in trying to hit the double at a rare collectable: my home town track, Fair Meadows in Tulsa.

Fair Meadows is primarily a collectable track because it is paid $2 million per year to do nothing much.


Fair Meadows does not run during the State Fair. It isn't near a meadow. It's between a water park and an old ball field now used by kids. It is on the fairgrounds property. And the weather is frequently fair during the live meet, fair and 103 degrees.

The late spring and summer racing dates are but a part of the uniqueness of this collectable horse racing facility. Spring here sometimes lasts four or five days. Then it's 100 degrees until October, just ask the professional golfers who played in the PGA tournament at the great Southern Hills course here five years ago in August. It was almost like pros drove it purposefully to the trees for some shade.

Fair Meadows runs a mixed live meet, quarter horses and thoroughbreds on the same race card. Jockeys doubling up, running 350 yards one race, a mile the next, deserve the Congressional Medal of Honor. By the way, playing a rider going from 350 yards to a route is occasionally okay. It must seem like all the world is operating in slow motion. But playing a jockey going from a thoroughbred race to a few hundred yards? Not wise.

This state has experience with tiny live meets. A fairly successful event of this type happens at Will Rogers Downs 35 miles up the road. The Cherokee Nation bought Will Rogers Downs. The Cherokees know something about running a gaming house and changed the live horse racing meet so that it runs lots of Mondays and Tuesdays and catches simulcast money from the hopeless junkies and degenerates out west.

Fair Meadows is primarily a collectable track because it is paid $2 million per year to do nothing much.

To be slightly more specific, four Indian tribes put their accountants together and offered to pay the live-meet Fair Meadows race track $2 million per year not to install slot machines.

This contract proves just how valuable slot machines are. Who knows how long it takes the Indian casinos with slot machines to make up the $2 million. A couple of days? Probably a little longer. But keeping slot machine competition out of the center of town was and is worth a fat check year after year.

The Fair Meadows live meet used to sell out a good-sized grandstand, 10,000 or more on the weekends. Then came the off-track and simulcast outlets. Then came the Indian casinos, about 100 of them so far in this state. Then came the home-wagering windows, sign up and get $100 free and clear. Now Fair Meadows draws flies at its live meet. Barely. A few dozen heads pop out of the shaded areas when a race is run. The handles are comically low, $5 and $10 double winners are apt to pay anything from $15 to $150. Quinellas often pay more than Exactas. Bet thirty bucks, you're betting against yourself.

There are sometimes more people in the cool Vegas-style simulcast building next door than are at the live meet, horse connections included.

So now all Fair Meadows has to do is figure out a way to keep its live meet losses at less than the $2 million it gets free and clear every year for not running slots. Who couldn't hold the small-meet losses to five, six hundred thousand? Forget improvements. Just hose off the railbird area every night, and here we go again.

So anyway, the meet runs through August 4. If you're in the area, bring something with ice in it and come on by. They're starting out each meet at plus $2 million. You don't see anybody getting something for nothing too often at the horse races.

Write to Jay at jaycronley@yahoo.com.