If you have been thinking all summer about that first racetrack visit, there is no better time to go than now. In my book “Betting on Horse Racing for Dummies”, I made a list of my personal 10 best racetracks to visit. It begins on page 317.
When I put this list together, I considered only tracks that I have either worked at or been to in person. Another caveat is I am not downgrading any racetrack that is not on my list. Every racetrack has its own unique charm.
For example, when I first moved to Las Vegas I went to the horse races at the Mohave County Fairgrounds in Kingman, Ariz. My cold beer and hot dog tasted just as good as what I had at any Breeders’ Cup host track.
My list is alphabetized rather than ranked No. 1 through 10, so I prefer you use my work as a checklist.
I begin with Arlington Park in the suburb of Arlington Heights, Ill., west of Chicago. The original track burned to the ground in 1985. The new Arlington opened in 1989 and is the signature achievement of its owner Richard L. Duchossois.
The first thing you will notice about Belmont Park is how big it is. The 12-furlong main track is the largest oval in American racing. If you want to get your exercise, just walk from the beautiful backyard horse paddock out to the train station at the end of the grandstand and back.
Churchill Downs is the home of our sport’s most popular race: the Kentucky Derby. But going to the races in Louisville puts you right in the heart of American horse country. I suggest a visit to the Kentucky Derby Museum while you are there.
Del Mar is in season right now. The original Del Mar was built by singer Bing Crosby and his cronies in 1937. The new Del Mar maintains the same celebratory mood “where the turf meets the surf” just north of San Diego.
Gulfstream Park, located near Miami, is admittedly one place where I visited the old facility many times, but not the new building. If you have any comments, I welcome your feedback.
Keeneland is located in the bucolic city of Lexington, Ky. I will show you my age where I went to Keeneland long before they had a sound system and a track announcer. Try the burgoo for lunch and try visiting some of the historic breeding farms in the region.
Lone Star Park opened near Dallas in 1997 and was built for the modern era of racing. It is smaller in size but its amenities are second to none. It is not far from the Texas Rangers stadium in Arlington, Texas, so a day-night doubleheader is easily done.
To me Monmouth Park is maybe the most underrated track in the country. I love the place, and the nearby area of Long Branch, N.J., is a short putt from the Atlantic Ocean.
The first thing you notice about Santa Anita is on a clear day the backdrop of the San Gabriel Mountains looks like an Ansel Adams photograph. I was lucky enough to work there when the Strub family still owned and operated this historic track near Los Angeles.
Last but not least is Saratoga in upstate New York. When fans ask me if I have ever been there my answer is this: How lucky was I that for seven years the NYRA paid me to go work there? Hollywood made movies about the Spa. I suggest you watch the movie classic “Saratoga” starring Clark Gable and Jean Harlow. That pretty much says it all about the place.