Growing up in the late 1960s and early 70s, families sat around the kitchen table each morning before heading to school and work.
Scrambled eggs, hard talks, and loose laughter set the day’s tone.
My friends spent part of that time reading the “funny pages”— formally known as the newspaper comics.
My Dad taught me to read two things — the stock market page, and the Daily Racing Form.
Today, I would probably be better off had I stuck with the ins and outs of the Dow Jones Industrial Average. Instead, I focused on the Beyer Speed figure for horses in the seventh race at Churchill Downs.
But, just before my 11th birthday, I received the best gift of all.
On Oct. 30, 1974, Louisiana Downs opened its starting gate.
I now had a “home” track.
Never mind I was too young to get inside. Settling for the next best thing, I watched through a chain link fence, separating the rising grandstand on Highway 80 East from its parking lot.
This was the routine: I worked in the family business, which was open seven days a week. Our Sunday hours were 9 a.m.-3 p.m. With an early afternoon card, there was time to watch — and bet on — several races. That included the feature race — the best horses — saddled with the best jockeys, running for the most money.
Racing Form in hand and dollar bills in pockets, we would leave my mom’s car at the old Chateau Hotel downtown, hustle into my dad’s car, and “race” toward I-20 East and the “Race Track” exit.
We parked, Mom and Dad went inside, and I stayed outside at my usual post position. The view wasn’t great. Heck, it wasn’t even good. But I could hear the action, described by track announcer Bob Kinney.
That was good enough for me.
Between races, my mom would walk over to the fence. I would give her a piece of paper — and my two dollars — with my bet written down for the next race. Sometimes, she would bring me a hot dog or an ice cream cone. Let me tell you, it takes a mom with skills to squeeze food through a chain link fence!
After the last race, I would meet my parents in front of the grandstand for the long (and in the summer, sweltering) walk to the car. In Louisiana Downs’ heyday, that meant to the back of the parking lot. If the timing was right, we would hop the shuttle. That’s right, so many people used to go to the Downs that the track had shuttle buses carrying folks around the parking lot!
Such good memories. It didn’t matter if I won or lost. I was at the track (kind of), could hear the thundering of hooves, the roar of the crowd, and the excitement in Kinney’s voice:
“They turn for home now, and Shishkabob shows the way by two!”
I’ve been to Louisiana Downs only a handful of times in the past 10 years. With just a few railbirds standing near the finish line, and most horses one step from the pasture, the excitement was gone.
But now I have hope. Hope that new ownership — more of an individual instead of a casino corporation, which appeared to care very little about racing — will turn the track around. I’ve interviewed the new owner a few times. He says the right things. He says he has a plan.
But the proof will be in what he does.
If he does what he says, I’ll be back. And this time, I’ll be inside of the fence.
To report an issue or typo with this article – CLICK HERE