Posted On: 06/01/2004
The honorable understand that real gambling involves dice, cards, fast athletes and faster animals. Slots are for simps. The honorable also understand that the Illinois side’s more quality cities are east of Illinois Route 3. Sauget is for ballet. One such quality city, Collinsville, hosts real gambling – wagering $2 on faster-than-you thoroughbreds.
Collinsville, Ill.: the horseradish capital of the world and home to Fairmount Park, St. Louis’ only horse track. Coincidence? Collinsville, Ill.: all that horseradish and the historic ketchup-bottle water tower, no cocktail sauce. Collinsville, Ill.: no shrimp, many fast horses that can win you heaps of dough.
The look …
You hit Fairmount Park’s ticket window and turnstiles simultaneously. Where you go now depends on who you are and what you want to do. FP is huge.
Shuffle left of the turnstiles into a large betting hangar. Spent betting slips cover the concrete floor. Betting windows dominate the entire right side, while snack and booze stands dominate the left. Between, barkers sell programs and tip sheets. Overhead, countless televisions – faced by dozens of tables and chairs –broadcast offtrack races. Many people stand. Upstairs, hundreds of stadium seats and some rented boxes face the FP track.
Shuffle right of the turnstiles into the multi-storied and multi-atmosphered clubhouse. Floor one looks like a sports bar with many large offtrack televisions and most people sitting. In another room, a snack stand and more televisions. Around the corner is casual restaurant First Turn Café. Bet at a small handful of windows across from a for-rent party room. The recently remodeled Black Stallion Room covers floor two. Window-side tables look onto the track, while the buffet sits among more tables, two bars and a small stage. Floor three showcases Fairmount’s class. Place bets at the counter that looks more like a hotel front desk. At Top of the Turf, watch live races in the luxury skyboxes while dining on white linen. Drink in the club-like barroom.
Outside, walk along the track to the handsomely remodeled paddock. Get a good look at the track conditions, then the horse that controls your immediate financial future. Whisper encouraging words, then relax at the trackside bleachers, benches or chairs. Scream like hell when your horse runs by.
The scene …
Into September, the horses run every 19 minutes Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, beginning at 7:30 p.m. On Tuesdays (or Mondays in case of holidays) horse hooky post time is 1 p.m.
Again, where you cheer your steed depends on who you are and what you want to do. Gambling castes mix in FP’s numerous areas but mostly in passing. Hardcore, hard-luck, casual and well-to-do gamblers have their own destinations.
If you want to gamble and only gamble, hit the betting hangar. The people-watching is top-notch. The number of very casually dressed men far exceeds the number of women. Everybody is consulting the offtrack program. Many smoke cigars alone.
If you want to socialize and drink/eat on the cheap, head to The Black Stallion Room for Ultra Thursdays and Friday’s Party at the Park. This casual gambling crowd puts the ponies second. A cover charge (Thursdays: $7, Fridays: $10) gets selected $1 bottled beers and an all-you-can-eat appetizer buffet. Fridays are absolutely packed with large groups sitting at every available table, inhaling wings, meatballs, ribs and more. The young (21 to 30) are highest in number. If you want to eat your ribs tableside, come very early. Bands play Thursdays and Fridays, but for better or worse, it’s hard to hear the music unless you’re close to the stage. Dress to hang out and pig out.
The classy head to Top of the Turf on the clubhouse’s third floor. Dress nice and act like you know what you’re doing, going so far as to make a reservation at the restaurant. No drunken cursing. Wipe that sauce off your face, too.
Outside, the pure and curious gamblers belly up to the track and paddock, taking in a horse track’s one-of-a-kind sights, sounds and smells. For the latest promotions, visit www.fairmountpark.com.
The products …
FP offers something for many tastes and many billfolds. Buy nachos and pizza at the snack stands, draft beers and cocktails at the liquor stands, candy and cigarettes at the vending machines, egg rolls and ribs at the buffet and filet mignon and Merlot at Top of the Turf.
I describe gambling as a product because you plan on winning. With detailed instructions posted next to the betting windows, wagering is easy. The minimum bet is $2, so it’s very easy to stretch your entertainment dollar. If you really want to win, I highly recommended paying $2 for Mike Dodd’s tip sheet. Follow his exacta betting instructions and win a rent check. But, if you’re like most people, bet on horses by funny names.
The straight 411 …
For packed food buffets, people watching, unique sights, sounds and smells and, most importantly, real gambling, head to Fairmount Park.
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