Tuesday, 15 March 2016

Welcome to Eagle Rock Downs

I have always been an enthusiast of quirky, unique stories in the racing world. I'm also a big fan of Quarter Horse racing, and the combination of these interests has led me to become curious about the world of match racing. In my time handicapping Hialeah, I started noticing horses with works at training centers with abbreviations I had never heard of, so I began doing some research to learn about these places. One of the training centers, Egl, turned out to be a place known as Eagle Rock Downs. This discovery led me to a Facebook page which displayed "entries" and win photos from several different places across the Carolinas, Georgia, and even Virginia and Tennessee. Once I discovered this I instantly wanted to visit one of these places.

      I ended up talking about these places with my friend Carly, and if you've already seen her photoblog (which is better than mine, so check it out), this story is beginning to sound redundant. Long story short, a roadtrip from Ontario to Penn National to Wendell, NC happened. Go me.

The judges stand? The announcers booth? The mutuel windows? Who knows
Taqueria San Luis' food truck has some really good tacos. 2 for $5. Great deal, too!
The track, which is about 350 yard long, ends here. The horses gallop out into the field
One of the Eagle Rock barns. I don't believe any of the day's racers stabled here, however
Track maintenance is not overlooked at Eagle Rock
This swamp is right next to the end of the track. Hopefully no one bolts into it...
A large crowd in the winner's circle after Rm Quick Dash wins the opener
This fellow picked up the mount on Ketchup from Julian Muscat, and felt good about his chances
Ketchup vs Bear at 200 yards. Ketchup (the chestnut) proved best.
Muscat shouldn't have booked off....
This beautiful paint named L scored the 'W' over a slipped saddle and loose horse (not pictured)
Down Town Patriot, 0 for 17 in registered races, scored an easy win 
Down Town Patriot in saddling area, which is also the parking lot.
Friendly foot races happen once in a while between races.
This man left his daughter(?) in the dust. Savage.
Cool Bug, who I was told to bet on, romps in the finale.
Unfortunately, I couldn't find someone to bet with me.
      This was the coolest racetrack experience I have had in a long time. I was overwhelmed by how friendly everyone was. If I wanted to know a horse's name, I always got the answer, even if the guy I asked had to ask three other people to find out. Plenty of people made sure to ask us if we were having a good time, if we had ever been to the races before, if we could email them any pictures we took. Every major track in North America could take a lesson in customer service and hospitality from Eagle Rock.
      Most of the races were match races, but the L and Cool Bug races both had three contestants. The gate holds four at the most, and always remains in the same spot. The finish line is moved for each distance, and a camera is set up at the wire to help determine photo finishes. Everyone saddled outside their trailers in the parking lot, and they jogged/galloped/warmed up back and forth in front of the crowd before every race.
      Several of the races were set up on the spot. The trainers would put in $100 or so, figure out the distance they wanted to go and that was that. We almost got one more race between Batman and and unnamed rival, but Batman's trainer wanted to go 300 yards and the other guy wasn't ready to go that far. Oh well.
      I find the match racing culture fascinating. It's built on pure competition without the pretension that major league racing can have. I'm all for huge parimutuel handles and Grade 1 events, but there's a certain charm about racing for the hell of it that I will always enjoy.
      The trip to Eagle Rock Downs was absolutely worthwhile. I had a great time, I got to see a side of the sport that I have always wanted to, and I have a neat story to tell people. What more can you ask for? Thumbs up, Eagle Rock.

1 comment:

  1. Good article. I became interested in bush track racing as well. It is not easy to find out about these races, when they will be held, etc. One almost has to network through FB. Some are 100% Hispanic, so that does not make it any easier. I have been to one such race day only, at Rancho La Pura Vida in Remington, VA. VERY nice track, and other facilities nice as well. Tables along the track with shade umbrellas, and other amenities. I guess there were about 300 spectators at $10 each (now raised to $20). I think my wife and I may have been the only native English speakers there. Everything on the PA was in Spanish. I wish these tracks had clocks. So far I have not found one that does.