Keeping the tradition alive

My daughter loves horse racing. Here's why: My father loved horse racing.

Going to the live horse races each spring is a family tradition.

Which family traditions are being shaped now, video gaming? E-mailing? Phoning?

For a week each spring, my father and I would rise daily at sun-up and take a glorified wash tub onto a massive lake in the middle of Arkansas to fish for largemouth bass. Lake Ouachita, pronounced 'wash-itaw', was protected by big hills or squatty mountains, depending on your background. State and natural parks restricted obscene lake-side development. Given the deep pockets in which the lake sat, sometimes the water was like glass, far as you could see. If a series of serious whitecaps formed found you on Lake Ouachita, part of the fishing lodge had probably blown away.

It was more like catching than fishing.

Fishing today is like stalking, you locate a blip on radar and then follow it home and lower an electrical charge into the drink; or something.

Lake Ouachita was one of the few big bodies of water where largemouth bass schooled -- ran in packs and fed in a frenzied fashion.

The schooling largemouth bass of Lake Ouachita were not gigantic, they'd average a couple of pounds, more than a plateful being a waste. It was something special, and obviously memorable, to be sitting in the middle of a monstrous lake under a clear dawn, bright green pine trees extending at least a quarter of the way to vertical in all directions, the lake gold from the sun fading to bright blue, and have the water around your boat boil as a hundred famished fish chased nine fat minnows.

When fish school to eat, you could attach a key chain or a bottle cap to the end of your line, and cast it in there and catch something.

After fishing, we would motor to shore and wash the bass guts and scales and smells from our bodies and rush 30 miles into Hot Springs to Oaklawn Park for the thoroughbred horses; rush, because the two-lane road resembled one big sidewinder snake, with the only brief straight stretches leading to more hairpin curves.

A friend of my father's had a few race horses. This friend owned one of those great old one-story strip-type motels situated within engine noise of the prevailing state highway -- dozen and a half rooms, one beside the other, most adjoining, the adjoining doors leaving, oh, three inches of space at the bottom, the room walls seeming to be made of pizza crust, aluminum folding chairs our front between all the doors.

Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs is classic spa racing. Spa racing is where you can take a bath at the track or from natural spring water fresh from the earth. Spa racing is as good as live racing gets because you get atmosphere and recollections no matter who wins, as well as a good bet.

Racing under glass has made attending the live races unnecessary to many. Racing under glass is televised racing at a simulcast joint or off-track parlor.

Attendance is down, handle is up -- will somebody please bring the Windex to my screen so I can see what I just bet?

I know a man who wagers a tremendous amount on money on thoroughbred horses. He cannot remember when he last saw a day of live races. He thinks it was about six years ago, maybe eight.

You'd think good handicappers would win more at live races than they would off-track, watching glass miniatures.


Live races slow you down.

Going to the live races is fun.

Write to Jay at jaycronley@yahoo.com