Not So Homey in Indiana

Posted on August 3, 2010


First the good news–our horse won!

JD’s Awesom Al, who we bought as a $6,000 claimer, won his third race in four starts–now competing in a $12,500 claimer–to the great joy of his owners, who had driven three hours to see him. It was one of my most joyous moments at the racetrack–and I have spent a lot of time at the racetrack–and for that I thank my partner, Greg, our trainer, Ernie, caretaker, Emily, driver Jason and, of course, Al.

Our night at Indiana Downs didn’t, however, start out that great.

I made the mistake of thinking that my 9-year-old son would have as good a time as I did when I started going to the races at the same age. I forgot, however, that racing is not geared toward the next generation as much as it has become stuck on rules and restrictions.

Since we had never before seen Al, I hoped my son could get some sort of visitors pass for the paddock to meet his one and only racehorse. A call to the judges was clear: No one without a license, and no one under 15, gets in the paddock. And since Al had already checked into the paddock when we got there–and could not leave–a Catch-22 was born.

God love Emily Gaskin who brought Al to the very edge of the paddock just to see us, and the kind gate guard who looked the other way while Danny reached his hand across the invisible plane that should have kept boy and horse apart. Al’s ears were pricked, Danny smiled wide, we gave our bay boy a kiss for luck.

Al was now down to business, but Danny’s challenges were still coming. He next encountered the world of racinos, where he was stopped from entering the grandstand since he is under 18, leaving us to feel a bit like an isolated minority as we walked around the grandstand to the outdoor elevator.

And once in the Club House: “$5 per person,” said the girl at the front desk bluntly as we began to search out Greg and his family (although the kid is free).

“Seriously?” I asked. “But we are here to see our horse and have dinner.”

$5,” she repeated.

And that was on top of the $24 buffet!

Turns out owners do get in for free, but we only found that out because I got annoyed enough to mention to someone that we were not yet feeling the Indiana Downs warmth. She also gave me a program, which I’ll admit was nice.

And then, of course, Al brushed home in 27.4 to win in a stellar 1:53 mile, and all was forgiven.

Except it wasn’t.

I have been a racing fan all my life. I worked in racing and now I play in racing, with disposable income I don’t really have. But if my son–and all others in the future generation of fans–will be left out of this experience, I’m not going to be investing in the sport too much longer.

Remember when racing used to be about families and fun? Remember when kids lined the fence and asked for whips and autographs? Remember how much little kids loved horses?

With these inflexible, isolating rules, we are going to lose that which made our sport survive generation after generation. And once those kids are gone, they are never coming back.

Posted in: Racing