Between all the madness during the Triple Crown, the middle of the Spring meet at Churchill Downs and the Scripps National Spelling Bee, I was able to find time to head an hour and a half east to River Downs. Today was my first trip to River and certainly won't be my last. Today I saw first hand all the hard work, dedication, and faithfulness of the staff at River Downs to their racing.
River Downs is often described to me as a "second tier track". Many people have opinions of the racing at River because of the quality of horses that normally race there. My opinion quickly changed when I pulled into the parking lot and witnessed one of the most open and relaxed atmospheres of a racetrack that I've ever seen. Before heading up to the announcers booth to spend the afternoon with track announcer, and friend, Pete Aiello, I explored the grandstand restaurants and bars.
River has a unique tiki bar that's atmosphere is one of a kind for a nice spring day. With drinks flowing and racing 100 feet away from you, it is a perfect spot to take in the action. Couple that along with several restaurants and excellent food, River has it all.
One of the biggest observations I witnessed was how a track with a noticeably smaller handle than I am used to seeing was able to overcome that with the racing. Track announcer Pete Ailello also makes the morning line for River Downs. Before the card began I did not know this was one of his jobs at the track. One of the most important roles at a track, from a gambling perspective, is to have a fair morning line. I can honestly say Pete's knowledge and objective opinion allows the racing to be so competitive from a gambling standpoint.
From sharing racetrack stories, bad beats, and getting the knowledge of what it's like to be a track announcer, it was truly a day for the books. If you normally witness me covering the races at Churchill Downs I won't watch them in the press box or one of the "premiere" sections there. I'm an old school railbird and love to be up close to the action. River Downs allows you to experience that atmosphere with no track apron, but makes the option of an open grandstand to sit in.
Long story short: just because you see tracks with short purses, short fields, or not great quality of horses there is a lot of positive things about almost all of these places. The great atmosphere, competitive racing, and some of the best staff I've witnessed at a racetrack, River Downs is truly a gem in disguise.