Written by: Bob Kravitz of the Indianapolis Star. Kravitz is a columnist for The Indianapolis Star
ANDERSON, Ind. — I felt like a wide-eyed little kid approaching the bank teller with my first-ever lemonade-stand deposit.
“Ummmm, I think I want an exacta box with the 1, 3, 5 and 7 horses,” I told the nice lady at Hoosier Park.
She smiled, and not just because she was taking my $12 bet.
“This is your first time, isn’t it?” she asked, fully knowing the answer.
What gave me away? The sweating? The fact I had to read the words right off my notebook? Perhaps she could hear my internal conversation:
Pick-4 . . . no, that’s not it. What’s an exacta box? How many horses do I need to finish in the top three? How’s all this different from a superfecta? When will my brain explode, and can’t I just go play blackjack in the casino?
“Maybe you’ll have beginner’s luck,” she said, still smiling.
Yeah, beginner’s luck.
Two of the horses I picked battled it out for last place. The other two finished only a little closer to the winner.
Life as a gambler. And one heck of a wonderful day, and night, at Hoosier Park.
I’ll be honest here: I’ve been to only one horse track in my life — Churchill Downs, which isn’t a bad one if you’re going to attend one track — but had absolutely no idea what was going on at that Kentucky Derby. If memory serves, I wrote that day about hats and my failed attempt to get to the Queen of England’s private box.
You can take everything I know about horse racing (and several other subjects), pour it into a thimble and still have plenty left over for a martini with three olives.
In fact, it wasn’t until I showed up Thursday that I came to understand the difference between thoroughbreds and standardbreds, the difference between pacers and trotters.
Go ahead, quiz me:
What’s the difference between a thoroughbred and standardbred?
To put it in basketball terms, or something I understand, a thoroughbred is Kevin Durant: long, lithe, capable of great speed and power but a little bit brittle.
The standardbred, which ran in the night’s harness races, is like Kendrick Perkins, but without the scowl: tough, muscular, sturdy, capable of going greater distances and running more frequently at less breakneck speeds.
What’s the difference between a pacer and a trotter?
A pacer’s right legs go in one direction while the left legs go in the other direction. It’s an odd gait, not unlike our friend Kendrick Perkins. But that’s how they’re bred to run, just as I’ve been suitably bred to drink beer and lie around the house.
How do you like them horse apples?
Speaking of which, I am happy to report that the horse who took me on my first harness ride, along with driver Trent Stohler, has a very solid, high-fiber diet.
Tearful Reunion, who is now my horse, left a hefty trail of manure on the limestone track. I have no way of proving this, but I think it made him run faster. Horses in competition get up to about 30 to 35 mph. For my ride, Tearful Reunion was going about 20.
Not exactly a two-seater at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, but thrilling nonetheless.
“Here, you take the reins,” Stohler told me. “Pull on the left one, he’ll go left. Pull on the right, he’ll go right. Pull on both, he’ll slow down.”
Which seemed simple until I tried to guide Tearful Reunion, who seemed to be interested in running off track and into the giant lake in the middle of Hoosier Park. “I think something spooked him,” Stohler said.
Yeah, like the idiot holding the reins.
I discovered that horses are like teenage kids: The more you try to set them in a certain direction, the harder you pull on the reins, the more likely it is they’ll do whatever the heck they want.
“Here,” Stohler said, “I’ll take them.”
At which point, Tearful Reunion behaved and returned to a safe pace around the seven-eighths mile long track.
By the way, Tearful Reunion is a stud. So we had that in common.
I’ll be honest again here, too: My completely ignorant impression of horse tracks was that they were populated exclusively by degenerate gamblers who don’t appear to have showered since the Carter administration.
I expected a certain cross section of our population, old men with cigs dangling from their lips, ratty clothes, and a far-away look in their eyes.
Maybe that’s true at some places, but at Hoosier Park?
“We’re the best track for families going,” said Hoosier Park’s Tim Konkle, my gracious host for the day.
There were families, and I wouldn’t hesitate to bring my family at some future date. The clientele was decidedly middle class and upper crust (based totally on first impressions). It was almost disappointing; I was expecting whacked-out railbirds with dirty hands and rolled-up racing forms in their back pockets.
No such luck. I hate when my preconceived notions are blown to smithereens.
Hoosier Park isn’t just a horse track and a casino. It has concerts. It has fireworks. It has a pristine-looking clubhouse with white table cloths and menu items like seared ahi tuna, Kobe beef burgers and Chilean sea bass. I was expecting nachos with ersatz cheese.
Nope. Not on the menu.
But I came to win money.
“You have a hundred bucks,” my wife told me. “Remember, we just dropped a bunch of cash on our daughter’s open house. We’re tight this week.”
Now, I’m not in the habit of simply giving away money, so I dutifully scanned the horses’ past performances. Why, I don’t know. There were lots of acronyms and numbers, and it might as well have been written in some obscure Ukrainian dialect. All I understood were the odds, which, in the end, change as the pari-mutuel bets come in from across the country.
So I relied on my two betting studs, Konkle and Hoosier Park publicist Emily Gaskin.
Konkle, I was told, couldn’t miss last Saturday. And Gaskin knows horses so well, she picked out a $900 horse as a graduation gift, and that horse won more than $200,000 in harness racing.
Then we promptly got our brains beat in.
We tried exactas, superfectas and a couple of bets that I couldn’t even begin to describe, and things didn’t go well.
“We just lost to a 39-1 shot,” Gaskin groused.
At one point, I had so many losing tickets, you could have lit them and started a small forest fire.
One time, on a $30 bet, we won. I was totally excited. My first win ever.
Except the horses paid $28.75, so I won and lost $1.25.
Don’t spend more than $100.
“You should do a pick-4,” Gaskin said. “Pick the next four winners in the next four races.”
So I put my handicapping skills to work, skills not unlike those owned by my late mother, who used to pick NFL games based on how well she liked the team’s uniforms. She usually crushed me.
I took Getontheway in the first race, since my driver, Trent Stohler, was on that horse.
I picked Canadian Justice in the second because I’m a huge hockey fan and used to spend lots of time in Canada.
I chose Amy Jo’s Angel next because, well, I was in love with a girl named Amy in high school. Sadly, she was not aware I existed as a life form at the time. Her loss.
Finally, I picked Bluebird Kidsqueen, the rationale being that I spent many idle hours at the Bluebird in Bloomington during my college years. Actually saw a young John Cougar there, but that’s another story.
I didn’t win any of them.
Ultimately, I probably broke even, although over time, I started to impress the nice cashier with my improving knowledge of superfectas and exacta boxes. (And it’s not brain surgery; if you don’t know the game, there is lots of information available to guide you through the various bets. And they’re very nice to newcomers, likely because they enjoy taking and investing your cash.)
“Sorry we couldn’t help you pick more winners,” Konkle said.
You kidding? This was one of the most enjoyable days I had all summer.
I wasn’t done, though.
With most of my original $100 still in hand, I hit the casino and played video blackjack with a dealer so nice, she fist-bumped players every time they beat her hand.
I’m used to Vegas dealers, who chortle every time they turned a 3 into a five-card 21.
I ran my winnings from $50 to $200 but didn’t have the ability to walk away. A half-hour later, I’d lost it all. Which proves that with gambling, it doesn’t necessarily matter if you do or don’t know what you’re doing, you’re probably going to leave your money in Anderson.
The truth, though? It was worth every lost penny.
By: Emily Gaskin
Hoosier Park Racing and Casino’s 19th season of live Standardbred racing brings a number of enhancements and improvements with the opening of the 2012 race meet on March 27th, which promises to be its most exciting yet. The largest and maybe most noticeable improvement is the addition of a new, state of the art tote board installed in the infield.
Hoosier Park’s patrons will now be able to view the races from a 16’ x 27’ video board that will be installed on top of the reconstructed tote board. Along with the addition of the jumbo-tron, the existing tote board will be highlighted by brand new indicators that will make the display much easier to read from all areas of the grandstand.
”This is a great enhancement to the live racing experience,” Vice President and General Manager of racing Brian Elmore noted. “It is going to be especially beneficial to the patrons. They will now be able to see the horses like they have never seen them before.”
In addition to the enhancements to the tote board, Hoosier Park’s design team has also added a new graphics package for fans to enjoy. A more viewer-friendly tote board is the result of Hoosier Park’s significant investment.
“Our Chairman and CEO of Centaur, Rod Ratcliff and President & COO of Hoosier Park, Jim Brown are both very committed to improving the racing product here at Hoosier Park,” Elmore said. “It was at their direction that we do this project and I think that is a great reflection of their commitment to racing.”
The few tracks around the country that do utilize a video board, typically operate with a 16-20 mm board, Hoosier Park’s patrons will now be watching 12.5 mm video board which will create a much clearer picture and more interactive experience.
“It will be a great opportunity to market Hoosier Park and showcase Hoosier Park’s premier events,” Elmore noted. “We are going above and beyond expectations to bring the patrons a better experience and there is no doubt in my mind that the horseman and patrons will appreciate Hoosier Park’s efforts to be proactive in providing a better racing product for the public.”
The 80-day meet will offer five days of live racing per week, Tuesday through Saturday, July 14. In addition to the new tote board, opening weekend festivities will be kicked off with an indoor concert by the legendary rock band Air Supply on March 30th. Various handicapping contests and promotions will be taking place throughout the week as well.
Peter Wrenn completed a three-peat last season, earning his third straight leading driver title at Hoosier Park Racing & Casino. He has established himself as the “go-to guy” for several of the top contenders in stakes races and brings in a wealth of experience and success, not only on the local scene, but on a national level. Wrenn has wins in Breeders’ Cup action and has competed in almost every major race to date. The Michigan native is back at Hoosier Park again this year seeking to pick up where he left off.
With more than 8,700 career wins, Wrenn recorded 311 wins for the year in 2011, most of which were accumulated between Hoosier Park and Indiana Downs. He and his wife, Melanie, now reside in Carmel, Ind. with their children. For the most part, winter months are spent in Indiana preparing for the upcoming season. They currently have five horses in training at the Indiana State Fairgrounds and will have a couple of three-year-olds ready to race when the meet gets underway Tuesday, March 27. Wrenn is ready to get back to work.
“I am pawing at the door to get back racing,” said Wrenn. “I am more than looking forward to getting back to competition. Last winter, I raced a little Chicago and a little Cleveland, but haven’t done any competitive work since Dec. 15. I try to get mentally prepared and I work out and keep in shape. I am really, really ready to race and get back into competing.”
Wrenn earned 138 wins last year to move up the ladder of all-time leading drivers at Hoosier Park. He now has 513 wins in only four full years of competition to rank sixth on the list. Wrenn returns seeking his fourth straight title at Hoosier Park. Don Irvine Jr. continues to hold the record for most titles every won by a driver, trainer, or jockey with six.
Once again in 2011, Wrenn was spotted behind several top contenders in stakes action, including Next Flight In, Flight Elal, and Why Baby Why, all of which were winners during Hoosier Champions Night. Wrenn was once again honored as Indiana’s top pari-mutuel driver for 2011.
“I was lucky enough to drive a lot of good ones last year,” said Wrenn. “Some of them didn’t finish up the year as expected, but I’m excited to see them return this year. Hopefully, they will have matured up, sounded up, and will come back good. There are a lot of good connections and good people that I drive for. I’m really ready for opening night.”
Known as “The Wolf” in the popular Celebrity Standardbred Driver promotion, Wrenn will be joined by other top five drivers from 2011 including Trace Tetrick, Sam Widger, Ricky Macomber Jr., and Dave Magee. Tetrick has been racing at Windsor Raceway all winter while Macomber has driven at Pompano Park and Magee and Widger can be found on the Chicago circuit. All drivers have proven track records for success in the state of Indiana.
Competition gets underway for the 80-day meet Tuesday, March 27 and runs through Saturday, July 14. Racing will be conducted Tuesday through Saturday with a first post of 5:30 p.m. EST. For more information about the upcoming season, log onto www.hoosierpark.com.
Recent Article in The Herald Bulletin-
Those at Hoosier Park Racing & Casino have always considered themselves the best of a variety of things and Madison County residents agreed, voting it the best buffet, live music venue and place for entertainment.
“We look at Hoosier Park as having many facets for entertainment,” said Grant D. Scharton, Hoosier Park’s director of public relations. “Of course there is the casino, but there is also the great racing product, a variety of dining options and then the concerts. It is centrally located and offers a wide variety of entertainment options — multiple ways to win big, socialize with friends and have a thrilling night out. There are entertainment options for everybody.”
Scharton said that variety is why he thinks Hoosier Park was chosen for the third year in a row for the best place for entertainment in the awards.
Hoosier Park consistently brings in some of the greatest names in entertainment, he said, for both the summer music track concert series and the concerts in the Terrace Showroom including upcoming Air Supply and Wilson Phillips, Scharton said. He said information about the upcoming summer concert series will be available in the next month on the website at www.hoosierpark.com.
During last year’s summer series, more than 30,000 people came to Hoosier Park for the shows and the facility received more than 3.5 million visits.
The Prime Harvest Buffet stands out because of not only the quality product offered but also the friendly service of the staff.
Rudy McMillan, director of food and beverage at Hoosier Park, said the quality of the product has remained high and prices low. The seafood nights — Friday and Saturday — and Sunday brunch offer a variety of different items including crab, prime rib, fresh sushi and a chocolate fountain.
“You could have all the quality food in the world, but if you don’t have the great quality staff you can’t go any further,” he said.
Scharton said the combination of good quality food and a great team makes the buffet a star.
With more than 300,000 visitors to the buffet in 2011, assistant director of food and beverage Amy Whitler said a “great, smiling team” is key.
In addition to the $5.95 lunch buffet offered, Hoosier Park offered its club members 55 and over a 55-cent buffet and had 1,650 take advantage of that special offer, Scharton said.
Two Indiana Bred Quarter Horses have been nominated for American Quarter Horse Racing Association National honors. A Bitter Sweet Song and Lovemelikethat have both been nominated as the 2011 Three Year Old Filly Racing Champion of the Year. They join four additional horses on the ballot for this honor.
Bitter Sweet Song (Agouti – Whatasweetsong, by Shawne Bug), owned by Debbie Smith and Randy Haffner, accumulated $108,539 in earnings during 2011. The Haffner trained filly completed the racing year with eight starts that included four wins, one second and one third place finish. Her wins include the $100,000 Indiana Blue River Derby at Indiana Downs.
Lovemelikethat (Likenothinyoueversaw – First Smart Stride, by First Smart Money), owned by Cooter Daniel boasted $148,636 in earnings in 2011 resulting in career earnings of $236,280. The filly, trained by John McCreary, won not only the $100,000 Sterlie Bertram Memorial, but also QHRAI Derby at Hoosier Park completing the racing year with seven starts that included five wins and two thirds. Lovemelikethat was also recently recognized as the Quarter Horse Breed Development Three Year Old Filly Champion and Horse of the Year.
“These two horses are not only an extraordinary example of the quality of horses being produced, but also a great achievement for the Quarter Horse Breed Development Program in Indiana,” noted Jessica Barnes, Director of Racing and Breed Development for the Indiana Horse Racing Commission.
By Stuart Hirsch
The Herald Bulletin
Tourism has become big business in Madison County and Hoosier Park Racing & Casino is the star attraction.
That’s the conclusion of a recent report from the Anderson/Madison County Visitors & Convention Bureau, which looked at the economic impact of the tourism and travel industry here in 2008 and 2010.
Among the report’s key findings were that:
Tourism and travel contributed nearly $506 million to the local economy in 2010.
A total of 3,821 jobs exist here because of the industry.
Nearly one-third of them are high-wage earners, professionals, technicians, managers, sales and construction jobs.
Tourism-generated jobs provided more than $68.6 million in wages to Madison County workers in 2010, compared to $62.9 million in 2008.
More than 3.9 million people made Madison County a tourism destination in 2010, compared to 2.2 million in 2008, the year when the casino opened.
Tourism generated $22.9 million in revenue for county and municipal governments in 2010, compared to $14.8 million in 2008.
The report, prepared by Certec Inc., a market research company based in Versailles, Ky., concluded that “tourism impacts all sectors of the local economy.”
“The takeaway is that there has been an accelerated rate of change in tourism and its impact on economic development,” and George Vinson, incoming president of the visitors bureau board of directors.
Ralph Day, executive director of the visitors bureau, said the 2008 and 2010 study years were chosen specifically to look at the impact a casino would have at Hoosier Park.
“It has really made Anderson a destination,” Day said.
And Hoosier Park has been a terrific corporate citizen, he added.
Since the casino opened in June 2008, the complex has averaged 3.5 million visitors a year, said Grant D. Scharton, Hoosier Park’s director of public relations He also noted that the Indianapolis Business Journal has named it the Indianapolis area’s most popular tourist attraction.
“Hoosier Park Racing and Casino is very pleased with the response in the central Indiana region and the tourists who come and visit the casino,” he said.
Tourism and community amenities such as Hoosier Park are an essential component of economic development efforts, said Rob Sparks, executive director of the Corporation for Economic Development.
“I think that tourism is a really important part of branding our community,” he said.
Watch for a cyclone of dust and drive found only on Hoosier Park’s oval of speed!
Once again the Fab Five Standardbred Drivers return to Hoosier Park for an unforgettable Standardbred meet. This year will be a tough one for the celebrity drivers as Peter The Wolf Wrenn returns the reigning champion and three new challengers enter the fight.
Trent Stohler, aka The Bachelor, will catch your eye at first glance. Blessed with good looks and style, Stohler is sought after both on and off the track. Brandon Big Ticket Bates earned his title because he’s never afraid to take on a long shot or a hard-to-handle horse and drive it to the wire. Most of Brandon’s winners pay double digits. Outlaw Josh Sutton brings passion and intensity to the sport of Standardbred racing. Josh was on a winning streak in 2006 before he headed West. He returns to Hoosier Park determined and ready to reclaim his territory.
Check back throughout the season for special guest updates from drivers and the latest information on the 2011 Hoosier Park Racing & Casino Standardbred Season!