I’ll never forget that phone call in February of 2006. It was from Brian DeJong from River Downs and Beulah Park and he asked me very simply “So do you want it?” It…was the announcer job at River Downs. I had only called a handful of races at Portland Meadows so they were taking a shot with a total unknown. I told him yes right away, not even asking what the pay was. I didn’t care. This was my chance. I had been working for my mom for a couple years as a floor man at her poker room and I hated it. I remember standing in my upstairs computer room and just screaming “Yes!! Yes!!” I ran straight down to my mom’s business to tell her the news. Somewhere on that drive I realized that I was going to have to move cross country in a month. At the time, I hadn’t left the Seattle/Portland corridor in about two years, so I was nervous about not only moving, but moving 2306 miles from home. As the trip got closer and closer I decided I was going to make my trip into a vacation. Here was the itinerary:
Friday: Portland to Sacramento (Cal Expo harness friday night)
Saturday: Sacramento to San Francisco (Golden Gate Fields Saturday)
Sunday morning: San Francisco to Arcadia (Santa Anita)
Sunday evening: Arcadia to Los Alamitos (Los Al)
Sunday night: After races at Los Al drive to Palm Springs
Monday Morning: Palm Springs to Phoenix (Turf Paradise)
Monday evening: Phoenix to Tucson
Tuesday morning: Tucson to El Paso (Sunland Park)
Wednesday: El Paso to Dallas
Thursday: Dallas to Hot Springs
Friday: Oaklawn Park
Saturday: Little Rock to Nashville
Sunday: Nashville to Cincinnati
It was an ambitious 9 day trip that was going to consist of a shit load of gambling and a shit load of driving. I brought $3,000 with me for gambling and somewhat responsibly didn’t play much at Cal Expo or at Golden Gate. When I pulled into Santa Anita on Sunday I had stayed up most of Saturday evening studying the PP’s. I went off like a rocket. I didn’t hit a single thing all day. I think I ended up dropping like $600 and my bankroll was already about a quarter of the way gone counting my three In N Out runs I’d made on the trip (Redding, Kettleman City, and one in LA somewhere). I sprinted down the freeway to Cypress California and went to Los Alamitos. I introduced myself to Mike Joyce and Dave Weaver who were there broadcasting the Quarters. They were super nice even though they’d of course never heard of me. When I was walking around I heard Ed Burgart say there was a carryover in the Pick 6. I thought he said there was a $12,000 carryover so I took a $24 stab at it. Well I hit each leg and even though it was chalky, with the carryover I thought this might pay well. Well it turns out the carryover was $1,200 and not $12,000 and it ended up paying a whopping $76.
I drove to Palm Springs that night and the next day got up early and raced to Phoenix. I went into the office at Turf Paradise and asked if I could meet Luke Kruytbosch. The lady said he’d be there shortly and sure enough he walked right in. I introduced myself and told him I was moving to Cincinnati to announce at River Downs and he invited me to come up and hang out with him. It was surreal. This guy announced the Kentucky Derby and here he was inviting me up to hang out. Luke couldn’t have been nicer. He gave me advice, told me some funny stories and told me some of the characters he knew from River Downs, including a guy named Vince who was the simulcast coordinator. Well as the card wore on I told Luke I should leave him alone and I went down to the apron to gamble. Well the last race there I hit a Superfecta that paid $1,800! I looked up at Luke and was trying to communicate that I made a big hit, but i’m sure to him it just looked like a fat guy dancing.
I drove to Tucson that night, my wallet quite a bit fatter and in the morning I made a b-line through New Mexico and down to El Paso to go visit Sunland Park. I remember you actually enter Texas and then when you get off the freeway and drive to Sunland, like 2 blocks before you get to the track you cross back into New Mexico. I spent the whole day with Robert Geller, who I’d known from working at Emerald Downs. Robert is the best guy ever and we had a blast. TVG even called and was asking him which horse he liked and he asked me…I said the #3. Robert says on air “My friend Jason likes the 3….I like the 6, who looks great on the track.” The 6 was 45/1! Well it came in 3/6 and TVG called right back after the race and wanted to know if we hit the exacta! (we didnt). I do remember there was a horse making its debut named “Scaramouche” and Robert had never heard that word before and I told him I think it was from the song Bohemian Rhapsody. Well in the race, Scaramouche made a huge move and grabbed the lead at the 1/16th pole. Robert without missing a beat turns to look at me, away from the track and says “And Scaramouche doing the fandango!” I died laughing but at the same time admired his immediate wit and ability.
Wednesday was a drive all day through west Texas and then drive to the Lone Star Parking lot just to say I went there. Thursday was drive to Hot Springs where I was gonna go to Oaklawn the next day. I ended up that night going to a classy (dive) Gentleman’s Club (strip club) called the French Quarter. There were two gals dancing there, one older and really thin blonde gal and one younger and thicker blonde gal. Well the older gal was on the pole and doing some upside down trick and pops her face on the pole and a tooth comes flying out. She bends over and picks it up and puts it right back in. It was the strangest and most awesome thing I’ve ever seen in a titty bar. I mean gentlemen’s club.
I spent the next day at Oaklawn, which if you haven’t been is horseplayer heaven. I was standing in line waiting to play a trifecta at Gulfstream and some lady, with an hour to post at Oaklawn, was asking questions on how to bet a daily double. the teller explained and she wasn’t getting it and sure enough I get shutout (the self serves were 3 or 4 people deep). The tri hits and I would have made $400. I sat there pissed off and did that passive aggressive move where you curse loud enough about your bad beat so everyone, including the teller and the lady know they cost you $400. I was a douche. I ended up hitting 4 out of 6 in the Classix wager and lost a couple hundred bucks. I was pretty burned out at this point though. I drove to Nashville the next night and just pigged out on Texas Roadhouse for dinner in my hotel and got up the next morning and finally drove to Cincinnati. I drove straight to River Downs to look at my new place of employment. I stopped at White Castle, which was the grossest hamburger I’ve ever had. They were just awful. But it was a great adventure and the next two years when I would drive to River Downs I’d make the same drive each time. Awww to be young.