Sunday, July 20, 2014

Multnomah Falls, Cascade Locks, OR


This site is all sorts of things, and I think travelogue is probably outweighing any other category.  It spares me the aggravation of deep thought, research, and real writing, I suppose.

Given a very narrow window to “experience nature” during a recent trip to Portland, Multnomah Falls fit the bill.  Roughly 20 miles east of the airport, it’s readily accessible.  In fact, when you park, you can see its heights immediately.

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A marker indicates the upper falls, which is from the top down to roughly the bridge, is 542’, with another 69’ below.  Unlike most water falls, the water doesn’t descend gradually, but just drops from a sheer face, pools, then drops again.

Well, the photo shot comes without any effort, but what would the view from the top look like?

Well, that involves a bit of a hike.  The bridge isn’t difficult, and once you get there, you experience the mist created from the upper falls.  Add a little high noon sunlight, and photographers beware.

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It is said that in 1995, a bus sized piece of basalt (400 tons) fell 225’ from the upper falls, landing in the pool below – and splashing a wedding party posing on the bridge.

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Time to hike. 

On the way to the bridge, the cable reinforced fencing suggested Velociraptors might be awaiting prey on the trail.

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None seen.

There is a paved trail, and it necessarily goes up the side of a mountain in “switchbacks”.   The photo below makes it seem fairly easy, and it is representative of the width of the trail, sufficient for people going each way to pass by comfortably.  It’s curious that the remains of the fence are on the high side, however.

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Trying to keep my camera level, this is what the general incline looks like.  This also doesn’t look so bad, but for those observed hand carrying infants, pushing a double stroller, or otherwise in a stage of fitless, this is a long, hard climb, just a little over a mile in length.  Many stopped to catch their breath.  It’s not a competition, unless you’re in a hurry like me...

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But it’s worth it, as long as you don’t tread too closely to the edge.

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I guess there’s not enough room to put railings along the exposed edge.  But, there is room for this:

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Let’s put the fence to deter people from walking places other than on the trail.  And, of course, they do.  Usually kids, or parents trying to show kids how much fun it its to climb to the next switchback, all the while kicking loose dirt and small rocks on those below.

There are views to be had along the way.  Below shows the Columbia River, with Washington State on the other side.  A railroad track splits the parking area, and river boats can be seen on the river, in addition to smaller pleasure craft.

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And, there’s one nice turn where you have an unobstructed view of the upper falls:

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You eventually get to the top, then go downhill a bit, at which point you hear the spring fed creek that leads to the falls.  Curiously, the mountain reaches higher than the view from the base would suggest:

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Before you get to “The” falls, you first pass by “Little Multnomah” falls.  Quite a few use the creek upstream as a resting spot to cool off before going back down.

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Finally, there is a small wooden deck to the side of the not-so-little falls, which is fairly quiet given the fairly minor amount of water passing by as well as the absence of any nearby rocks to hear much of a splash.  It’s just a long way down.

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Not quite the perspective you’re seeking?  How about this?

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Leaving the area, I stopped briefly for a ground level view of the Columbia River Gorge.  Definitely a worthwhile detour.

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It’s also pretty cool to look at the site on Google Maps, in “Earth” view rather than maps.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Peachtree Road Race 2014


I don’t know that I have a “Bucket List,” but the Peachtree Road Race has always been something that daunted me.  First, because I really don’t like to run.  I run so I can eat and drink what I want.  Secondly, because I’ve generally been unfit since my 20’s.  I blame cable TV and the internet.  Thirdly, 6.2 miles?  Ouch.  Half that let’s me eat all the Mexican food I want without gaining weight.  And fourthly, there’s the observed hassle of going downtown amid many thousands of people weighed against a very formidable foe: sleeping in on a holiday.

I’m in better shape now, and after completing my first 5k last fall, it sort of dawned on me that if I were to attempt doing this thing, now was the time.  And get the “finishers-only” T-shirt of what is now the world’s largest 10k race.

In the past, getting into the race has been a problem for many – lotteries, etc.  They now accept up to 60,000 (and rumored 65,000), and I got in, probably because I had a formal finish time for the 5k.

Packet pickup was was at the Georgia World Congress Center.  In the future, I’ll pay the extra fee to have it mailed.  The suggested route to the discounted parking deck was re-routed, and, well, traffic.  I’ll leave it at that.

Once there, things went smoothly, with neatly organized booths for quick pickup.

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But this was more than just a pickup – it’s a Fitness Expo.  As such, there were plenty of vendors and sponsors.

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Mahatma, which I enjoy but wouldn’t expect at a fitness expo, had a wheel to spin for prizes.  (spin) Free yellow rice.  Which beats a goofy eraser my daughter won.  I like freebies, and I had already collected a free T-shirt from some other group that wanted my email.  I’ll remember who they are when they start emailing me, I guess. 

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My regret is below.  “I run so I can eat Waffle House” is a really funny shirt.  They were an official sponsor, and the prize bag at the end of the race included a coupon for a free waffle.  Plus the one a friend gave me.  Score!

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The local newspaper was a sponsor as well.  They seemingly have a tent/table  at every expo and festival event around town, no doubt adding one subscriber per week.

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There were also plenty of free sample snacks and sports drinks, as well as runner “gear,” mostly targeting females for style and color coordination.  That’s just a prelude, and it’s not like the night before Christmas.

So, I wake up at 5:40 a.m., my wave begins at 8:14, and I’m not exactly enthused about getting up.  Again, I don’t really enjoy running.  I enjoy sleeping more.  But...

I’m at the northernmost MARTA train station by 6:30.  There was some mention of trains leaving every 10 minutes, which wasn’t observable.  I’m not sure how long we waited at the station, but we were pretty full of runners, bewildered but friendly Jehovah’s Witness convention goers (who weren’t in recruiting mode yet), and one poor soul with his roller bag headed for the airport.  More piled in at each stop on the way to Lenox Station.

From that point it was close to a mile of walking until I reached Wave K.  Should an organizer be reading this, please note that the pedestal stands for the speakers should be barricaded lest people walking amid a throng trip over them.   I managed not to break my face or my wrists from the fall, thank you very much.  Safety first.  Avoid lawsuits.

The runners are divided into waves, this year A-Y, and move in packs herded by several of the multitude of volunteers.   We started exactly on time, which is pretty amazing in managing a crowd shy of 60,000. 

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The race bib includes a strip that activates a timer when you cross the start line.  And then, I walked... because there’s all these people, you see.  For 200 yards or so, my fast walk was just as suited as all the eager runners, each hopping in tiny strides.  Did I mention I don’t like running?  It was a nice way to begin.

The waves are roughly seeded by ability.  Fast runners go early, so they don’t have to dodge slow people.  Slow people start late, so they don’t have to worry about fast people bumping into them.  I was roughly in the middle, based on my one official time of the one race I had run.  That was a 5k race.  This was 10k.  Or, a 6.2 mile route that frustrates me even when driving.

When I run, there’s about 1 time out of 6 when I have a good measure of endurance.   I haven’t figured out the magic formula yet.  But, environmental factors certainly help.  With our wave starting off at a wonderfully cool 65o, and the ample water stations and misters/sprayers along the route, I’m fairly certain that I perform much better when I’m cool.   To top it off, a cool breeze often graced the runners.  It was a perfect morning.

Though all the informational emails and talking with others, I knew what to expect.  The first mile is roughly flat before going downhill over the next two.  The fourth mile is Cardiac Hill, so noted because it’s a relatively steep incline that passes by Piedmont Hospital.  Afterwards, it’s a mile with some flat and some uphill, and the final mile relatively flat.  

My game plan was to walk up the 2 observed hills and otherwise run until my heart told me I needed to walk for a minute.  By benefit of the previously mentioned weather, or perhaps the Mexican dinner I enjoyed the night before, or not drinking my 2 Coke Zeros the day before, it was a good running outing for me (not to be confused with enjoying it).  I walked during the length of each water station, and otherwise ran.  Eh, except for a portion of Cardiac Hill, along which I at least walked faster than others (and there were many).

When you’re trying not to run into other people, or get trapped behind other people, you don’t pay much attention to the scenery. But I knew a blog was coming, so I tried to pay attention where I could.

  • Band stages – maybe 5?  With different types of music, and heard only briefly when running by.  But I’m sure these were enjoyed by the many folks who lined the street encouraging the runners.
  • Free beer – Really, dude?  Thanks for holding the can out, but I don’t take drinks from strangers, and... I can’t imagine running with beer.
  • One couple with signs – “I just want to cross the street” and “Worst Parade Ever!”  There  were others, but I don’t remember the signs.  Many of them were for particular runners or groups.
  • Many people essentially tailgated, with food, lawn chairs and friends gathered around.  And drinks.
  • Water stations – Hey, I get to be one of those running litterbugs that throws a cup on the ground!  If I didn’t see a trash can, I at least tried to dump mine where it wouldn’t splash the feet of the many volunteers.
  • Taking water from volunteers seems to make them very happy.  Especially those toward the end of the table who see runners routinely take them from volunteers further up the line.  My rule:  drink one, splash a second on my head.  Everyone’s happy.
  • One Episcopal Priest – or someone dressed as one – flicking holy water out of a bowl at runners as they went by.
  • As far as the area, I was oblivious to all of them... except the hospital.  And I was surprised when I crossed over I-85.  It was a sort of “Hmm.  I’m going to actually finish this” moment.  Otherwise, it’s just a road.
  • Turning onto 10th Street, I knew the finish wasn’t too far, but I didn’t know if it was on the street or after a turn into Piedmont Park.  But I didn’t want to walk that close to the finish, what with the gazillions of people standing along the street.  When I could finally make out where the finish line was, I surprised myself by being able to spring (relatively speaking) the final 200 yards.

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Go me.  And, wow, I need to tan the top of my head. 

Here’s the entrance to the park, which queues to the coveted T-shirt pickup lanes.  That’s a bunch of people.

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The results:

Time:  1 Hour, 5 minutes.  That’s 10 minutes shorter than my goal, which had planned for a lot more walking up hills, and it’s also 2 minutes faster than my only 10k attempt, which was on a treadmill.  (“only” = I don’t like running).

Place:  21,106 of 57,556, per the Peachtree site’s unofficial results.  Or...  20,996 by the results on AJC.  I’ll have to favor the liberal bias, then.  Maybe there’s some hanging digital chads somewhere.

Of Men:  13,679 of 28,724.  Top 50%.  I’ll take that, but... it’s not like I’m a great runner.  I think there’s a lot of people who run/walk just to get out and get a T-shirt.

The view from the hill, looking down at the field:

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I had no intention of doing this again, but I probably will because... I can*, and I didn’t embarrass myself.  And... to get next year’s T-shirt, of course.   (But a size smaller as the XL’s are exceptionally large).  

*hoping for a cool July 4th, 2015

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Buffalo Trace Distillery Tour


The problem with Buffalo Trace Distillery is that hardly anyone knows them.  As I told friends about visiting a Kentucky distillery, they expect to hear Maker’s Mark, Jim Beam, or Wild Turkey.  Maybe Evan Williams or Woodford Reserve.  Rarely Four Roses.  Never Buffalo Trace.  There’s nine distilleries within 125 miles of Louisville, all in Kentucky.

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But... it’s the oldest continually operated distillery in the U.S., even during Prohibition during which they were licensed for medicinal purposes.  The distillery had been known for a good number of years as the George T. Stagg Distillery, but they were acquired in the1992 by a family owned company (Sazerac) and changed their name to Buffalo Trace in 1999.  

That name gives homage to a buffalo migration route which crossed the Kentucky River at the site of the Distillery.  This works from a historical sense, but if thinking about either “Buffalo” or “bourbon,” few would tend to associate one with the other (Similarly, a souvenir T-shirt with a buffalo on it likewise falls short).

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The name hasn’t hampered their history.  According to their website and their tour guide, they’ve won more awards than any other distillery in the world in the last 20 years, and given the global demand for bourbon, that says a lot.  But not if you’re thinking solely of a product named “Buffalo Trace Bourbon.”

They make bourbon under a wide variety of names, which include:

Buffalo Trace Thomas H Handy Sazerac
Sazerac Rye George T. Stagg
Eagle Rare Stagg, Jr.
William Larue Weller W.L. Weller
Elmer T. Lee Single Barrel Colonel E.H. Taylor, Jr.
Pappy Van Winkle Rock Hill Farms
Hancock’s Reserve Ancient Age
Benchmark Old Charter
Blanton’s Single Barrel Old Weller
 

Where labels are named after people, they each have had a role in the Distillery during its history, usually as an owner... except Pappy Van Winkle, which is made for a company no longer owns or operates a distillery but shares a heritage with Buffalo Trace.  Of note, Blanton’s Single Barrel was the first single barrel whiskey offered for sale in the world, beginning in 1984 (as opposed to blending it with whiskey from multiple barrels).  

Colonel Taylor pushed heavily for the Bottled-in-Bond Act of 1897, which set industry standards for uniformity for whiskeys to be called Bourbon.   Requirements for bourbon include:

    • Aging a minimum of four years,
    • Bottled at 100 proof (50% alcohol by volume),
    • Made by one distiller at one distillery location,
    • No artificial colorings such as iodine or tobacco,
    • Aged in a federally bonded warehouse

I think governmental requirements later added:

    • The grain mixture (wheat or rye, barley, corn) should be at least 51% corn
    • Aged in new, charred oak barrels
    • Distilled to no more than 160 proof
    • Entered into the barrel for aging at no more than 125 proof
    • Bottled at 80 proof or more

There is no minimum specified duration for its aging period, except straight bourbon which requires two years.  However, if it is less than 4 years, it must state the age on the bottle.

As of 2013, 95% of all bourbon is produced in Kentucky.  The state has 4.9 million barrels of bourbon that are aging, which exceeds the State population.  Tennessee Whiskey is a straight bourbon and technically meets the other specifications for bourbon.

So, why Kentucky?  Heritage and a high concentration of limestone, which removes iron from the water.

Distilling at this particular site is said to have begun in 1811 by Mr. Blanton (thus their 200 year history), but their website notes 1858 as a firm distillery being built at the site.  Through the years, others improved upon the facility as technology advanced, often by the ingenuity of the owners of the distillery at the time.  The company website gives a good bio on the contributions of each.

The warehouse below was built in 1885 and is still used today.

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In 2008, Buffalo Trace produced their six millionth barrel after Prohibition.  Their first had been in 1942, and, as they purchase 80,000 white oak barrels per year from the Ozarks, and as a barrel can only be used once... it will be a while yet before they reach their seventh million.

The current “problem” for Buffalo Trace and the industry is that worldwide demand for bourbon is up (10% in the last year), and it’s not simply a process of making more.  Supplies today are based on sales projection made 10 or more years ago about what the demand would be today, weighed against the cost of making it then.   It puts pressure on the industry that essentially results in higher prices... unless a distiller makes a faux pas such as the decision Maker’s Mark attempted in 2013 to dilute their product in order to increase their supplies.  The guide alluded to the TV show, “Mad Men,” as one possibility for the renewal of interest in bourbon, but in any case, that interest was apparent as at 2:00 on a Monday afternoon, around 20 people were gathered for a tour when some years ago there might only be a few.

Parking is plentiful, after a short drive in a well landscaped entrance.  Upon entering the distiller, you see what will get you coming and going, the usual novelties and, of course, drinks.

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But... there’s also a promise of a pleasing end of the tour (note the shot glasses):

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The basic tour includes a visit to the warehouse and the packaging line.  There’s not a lot to say about a warehouse.

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Or, is there?  They have 12 warehouses on the property (None elsewhere; the equivalent of having all of their eggs in one basket should a catastrophe occur).  They store approximately 300,000 barrels which age anywhere from 3-23 years. 

During the tour you learn a bit about the time it takes for the wood to flavor the whiskey, including seeing a cross section to see how far the bourbon had seeped into the walls of the barrel.  But it’s not a straight-line effect.  The bourbon seeps in and withdraws, varying with the temperature.   The placement of barrels within the warehouse influences their ultimate flavor, such as the distance from walls or on which floor level they are stored.   Air flow, the angle of the sun, open or closed windows depending on the season, even wood or concrete floors make a difference. Add to that steam heating for the winter months, and Buffalo Trace claims each warehouse has a unique aging profile, which makes sense.

Also, we learned about the shape of the barrels.  First, they weigh over 500 lbs, so the ability to roll them is a great advantage in transportation.  The convex sides allow for changing directions with little friction.  Engineering at its simplest, the work done by “coopers” for those doing crossword puzzles.

The subject of barrels emerges in a warehouse because the bung hole needs to be at the top (for sampling some years later).  They aren’t slid into place; they’re rolled.  In other words, the employees have to plan the relative placement of the hole at the entry position so that it is on top when it reaches its resting point.  The photo below demonstrates the wasted effort of having to roll a barrel back out if it’s not placed properly, and the experience to know how many revolutions are needed for each stop (surprisingly not noted on the wood framing).

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During the years of storage, evaporation occurs.  In low humidity, most loss is in the form of water.  In high humidity, more alcohol than water will evaporate.  Their most sought after product, Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve, is sold at 15, 20, and 23 years.  After 23 years, a 53 gallon barrel yields only 10-12 gallons.  For this reason, it’s sold almost covertly due to limited supplies, for ~$150 if you can find it.  We observed at a Louisville bar that a single shot was $75.

More fun with barrels – these are from, I think, an area where the barrels are filled, feeding in from the far right on a track system by gravity.  At the left, you’ll see a hand rail around an elevator to lift it to the road level:

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At which point the crossing guard goes down, and the barrel rolls along, unguided.  It’s convex shape keeps it perfectly aligned on the rails.

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After crossing the street, they feed to an elevator to take them to the desired warehouse floor.  Yesterday’s technology still works today.

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The fungus on the building is fed by the loss of ethanol during evaporation and is known as the angels’ share fungus.

On to packaging we go.  The barrels roll in and are tapped.  I think the proof is adjusted in the tanks below, because...

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It’s straight to the bottling line.

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After which the bottles are processed largely by hand, including wiping of fingerprints before placing in the box.

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Why Kentucky?  Bourbon can be made anywhere, though for it to be declared bourbon it must be a “distinctive product of the U.S.”   Sorry China.  Our guide pointed out that bourbon can be made anywhere, but the area’s water supply has the perfect limestone and calcium content. 

Speaking of our guide, I don’t recall his name, but if he’s on duty, count yourself lucky.  Experienced, knowledgeable, and as “down home” a delivery as you might hope.  Hang close, though, for other little nuggets, and be sure to ask questions.

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Which takes us back to the bar and those shot glasses.  They offered their own Vodka brand and their “White Dog” – essentially moonshine (alcohol before aging in the barrels).  Is this a pick one? or both?  Answer is, you can try both.

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Then the good/better stuff came out, Buffalo Trace Bourbon and Eagle Rare.  Interestingly, their own branded bourbon is a “straight bourbon” rather than something aged further.  I guess it’s their flagship “quick to the masses” product.  In any case, it was good, but not nearly as good as Eagle Rare, their 10 year whiskey. 

But wait, there’s more!

Afterwards, we were offered Bourbon Cream, which is very similar to Bailey’s Irish Creme.

But wait, there’s more!

Locally made Kentucky Bourbon Balls – I forget the name.

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And it’s all free!  FREE!

While the distillery offers the Trace tour hourly, check out some of their others for a more focused tour.  They do not occur as frequently and may require reservations.  The site is listed as a National Historic Landmark.

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Money, waiting to be made:

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Saturday, July 5, 2014

Father’s Day at Churchill Downs


1875.  That’s the year Churchill Downs opened, after a century of other horse races in the vicinity.  That type of legacy makes one appreciate Kentucky’s pride in its horse business.

Approaching the facility, you’re aware of the age of the place due to all of the homes in the neighborhoods that surround it.  Many are in great condition and others are being remodeled in the cyclical nature of urban restoration.  And when you arrive, Churchill Downs looks old, with a lot of exposed wood and exposed steel platforms.  The track’s trademark twin spires are almost hidden from view.   That’s not a “grand” presentation in any sense, and it’s more than a bit disappointing.  There should be an oak lined 1/2 mile drive or something...  but it’s still placed in a better neighborhood than, say, Augusta National.  So consider the place a well loved elderly survivor.  

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This isn’t to say that a visit here was a disappointment.  The facility is a registered Historic Landmark, and deservingly so.  It’s the kind of place that most people should be excited to see, particularly when horse racing season is open, as it was during my visit.

Inside the gates, there are a couple of artistic elements...

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... both of which are completely unnecessary and distracting to the allure of the rest of the place.   Once inside the gates and through a betting area, the architecture has a chance to breathe. 

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Yes, we got there early.  Prior to the race, the horses come out to the paddock where they can be observed by those who want to take a peek.

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The above is Jinx the Cat, the favorite in the first race, and also the name of my daughter’s cat.  After checking out the horses, we went back inside to make our bets.

We stayed on the main level, which was a “commoner” area.  Those paying more than the bargain $3 entry went upstairs to reserved seats, club levels, etc.  Generally speaking, those better dressed (sundresses, shirts with collars) – and there were many - headed that way as well.  There’s been many millions spent on renovations and expansions over the last decade, but I’d wager that most of it is “upstairs” – other than the massive video boards outside.   Still, I enjoyed the “old, familiar” presentation of the ground level.   (Except the smoking..., who has their insurance, anyway?  This is largely a wood frame structure).

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You research the race, make your picks, and pay “the man.”

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Our wallets massively lightened and wagers made several minutes prior to the post time, we headed not just for the outside seats, but track side by the finish line.

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Watching on TV is one thing, but as the horses come around the final turn, they’re still quite a ways off and take some time to arrive.  And pass quickly.

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My bet to win on Jinx was thwarted by his second place finish.  If it had been a hypothetical bet, no doubt Jinx would have won.  As I did, however, I really should have paid more attention to the name.

I was surprised by the number of horses in each race, usually 6 after scratches.  Through 6 races, I didn’t bet on a single horse that failed to finish in the top 3.  And with such narrow fields, the payback on Place and Show bets were minimal.  Disappointingly, had I made Trifecta box bets (instead of Exacta boxes), I would have won every race except one.  Doh!  Fairly easing pickings... you just have to bet them right.

As the only other horse track I’ve been to was Birmingham’s failed Turf Club back in the late 1980’s, I didn’t expect for there to be off-site wagering at one of the elite tracks.  But there is.  I figured it was something that was only done at tracks where they needed it to make ends meet.  Go figure.

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The day started slowly as far as attendance, but it was Father’s Day, and many came to the track with their families.  (Permanent seating capacity – 52,000).

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It was a good time and a great venue, and it makes me wish horse tracks were more accessible from Atlanta.  It’s always a great group activity, win, lose, or don’t bet.