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Horse fan, here's to you

I like to take a moment during big times like Belmont day to tout -- to the people coming to the game to see what all the excitement is about -- horse racing's other half.

Horse racing is comprised of two parts of equal importance and entertainment value – big racing, spa racing, big-city racing; and small or medium-sized track racing, grassroots racing, if you will. Some might ask grass, what grass, where?

Small or moderately-sized horse race tracks serve as one of society's last bastions for character and characters – at the fork to the left, there are support group meetings, marriage counseling, rehab, the organic food joint; to the right is where they race $5,000 claimers. Whereas even minor league baseball parks have come to look like carbon-copy mall extensions, and whereas even a football stadium for a rinky-dink college team has a high-def scoreboard and corporate boxes, small-scale old horse race tracks have personalities created by that lived-in look. One of my favorite tracks has a concrete pillar by the betting windows. This rock-like pillar has a shoulder spot rubbed into the cement, a place where horse players have been leaning for decades after winning or losing another close one.

You routinely see things at small tracks that you will not see anywhere else – mothers and sons competing one against the other at the races, for one example. Not betting against each other, racing against each other, riding. One night at a track in Pennsylvania, a mother jockey and her son jockey rode against each other in the same race! Neither finished in the money; I had my picture taken with them, no problem whatsoever.

In a time of bad movies and worse television, of nasty travel in over-priced carriers, it's hard to imagine more fun for the money than what's available at small or middle-sized horse race tracks. If you like the Belmont Stakes, you'll love the feature at Hooterville Downs.

Write to Jay at jaycronley@yahoo.com.