01/08/2008 2:25PM

Mardi Gras Chiens


The logo for the Mardi Gras Race Track and Gaming Center, formerly known as Hollywood Dog Track, is a pair of green and gold masks meant to summon the festivity of the annual carnival in New Orleans. They could also stand for the two gambling operations that are housed at the same address but might as well be on different planets.

Say what you will about the transformation of Gulfstream Park two miles away from a classical racetrack to a crazy-quilt racino, at least the racing is still the dominant theme and the featured attraction. When I went to Hollywood/Mardi Gras Sunday night, the biggest challenge was finding the racing. I entered through the ground floor, which has been transformed into a self-contained slots casino, and knew there was a dog track somewhere only because one row of slot machines backed up onto a glass window showing the tiny paddock where the greyhounds were having their tattoos and muzzles checked by handlers in Hawaiian shirts:


Not one patron was looking at them, though. The machines were set up so that the players' backs were turned towards the dogs, their eyes fixed on the Reels o'Dublin, Treasures of Troy and Super Hot Jackpot machines.

I could dimly see the old racetrack apron through a row of smoked-glass doors lining the entire east end of the building, but every door to get to it appeared locked and alarmed. A security guard looked surprised when I asked him how to get to the racetrack and reluctantly pointed me to the one unsecured door leading to it.

On the other side, there was the beloved Hollywood of yesteryear, with the stands reopened and perhaps 100 people scattered through them. To bet, you had to climb about 50 stairs to the second floor, where there was a bustling simulcast area with perhaps another 100 customers and walls of monitors showing everything from greyhounds in Arizona to trotters in Delaware and thoroughbreds in Australia.

One level down, the floors between the slots were freshly carpeted, a variety of bars and food courts lined the walls, and cover bands played in lounges. In the racing area, a single ancient short-order grill accomodated the horse, dog and poker players, the latter limited to $5 bets.

But you know who was having more fun? The upstairs crew, by daylight. Downstairs, rows of retirees appeared plugged into their machines as if they were life-support devices, sitting in silence as the clanging machines gobbled their credits. On the parimutuel and poker planet, there was cheering and arguing and groups of buddies comparing notes and questioning the parentage of jockeys and greyhounds. And the fresh-off-the-grill $5.95 Patty Melt Basket was a lot tastier than the $18 hamburger at my hotel.

Sunday is mandatory-payout night at Mardi Gras each week for the tri-super on the 9th and 11th races -- for each winning ticket you buy on the 9th race tri, you get one exchange ticket to try to hit the 11th race super. The carryover was $2,679 and I took a $48 shot, emerging with a $97.50 payoff and one of the 37 live exchange tickets, giving me one cold punch. I did have the $4.20 winner on top in the very chalky 11th (where the straight in-race super paid only $120.20), but I missed underneath and there were two winners with the right numbers at $2654 each.

Total handle for the 15-race Mardi Gras card was $202,159, compared to $7.9 million that afternoon on Gulfstream.

JOSEPH F More than 1 year ago
Flip Dawson More than 1 year ago
So, Santa did not leave a good cushion at Santa Anita!!It appears that they are in deep doo-doo, especially when they are thinking of changing back to dirt. A good horse can win on a sloppy track. Trouble is, no more sloppy tracks. This hurts breeding figures. All the tracks who got rid of the dirt will now bite a large bullet to renovate to dirt tracks. And dinosaurs like me will once again have the luxury of watching for shoe changes, leading to inflated payoffs that I love so dearly.
cjdstable More than 1 year ago
kev -- of course I remeber that episode -- Lots of racing themed episodes on that show, probably b/c Klugman loved the game (of course, he owned Jacklyn Klugman). Answering my own question, Zenyatta in S.A. grade 2 on Sunday v Tough Tiz's Sis
Pru More than 1 year ago
The dog tracks have become totally disinterested in the racing/simulcast part of the business. In my four years at college, I saw this transformation at the Twin River Casino formerly Lincoln Park in Rhode Island. A few years ago it had enough tellers/machines to serve the simulcast players well, but with their massive expansion of slot machines the simulcast area became a mere blip on the radar. Despite having packed attendance in the simulcast area, the place has less than ten machines to place wagers on and about half that in tellers for a couple hundred avid players. I don't get comp drinks or rebates like all the slot players get. If I am lucky, I have a place to sit and handicap in peace without hearing another quarter being force fed into those machines. Thankfully I have moved my action back to the Meadowlands.
jeff More than 1 year ago
Steve, I haven't been to Gulfstream in about 5 years. I was thinking of going next month for a few days of racing. From most accounts it sounds like I am going to be very disappointed. My absolute favorite spot in "old" Gulfstream was on the upper level they had a nice outdoor patio overlooking the paddock.....then when the horses made their way out to the track it was a 15 second walk over to the grandstand....that was livin !! Sounds like now I'll have to maze my way through the ringing and dinging of those darn slot machines....UGH!!!
Empty Pockets More than 1 year ago
Was that article Steve Crist or Damon Runyon? I'm not much of a dog track person, but I just loved the article. The "like they're on life support line" was priceless, and true. I got that same feeling when walking through the casino at Philadelpia Park. For the life of me, I can't understand how people could prefer slots to horses.
Kevroc More than 1 year ago
LOL cjdstable.. Do you remember an episode of the odd couple when they are listening to a horse race on the radio and Oscar's horse gets beat in the final jump? He says to Murray, "If my horse had your nose, he would have won!". Classic.
the bya More than 1 year ago
I,too, have great memories of the old Hollywood dog track. "Back in the day", it was packed and on those nights it was dark, our crowd would venture up to the also crowded Dania jai-alai. Hollywood had a great announcer whose calls were equal to any thoroughbred announcer in the nation. His nightly joke was to announce that the owner of a car with Illinois plate number 123456 should go to the parking lot for the lights were on. He'd come back two races later and announce that the car lights were still on, "but a little dimmer" I, too, recently went to the track and found it very depressing. Not so much for the plight of dog racing but rather for the passing of the generation that made it a fun place.
Floppydog More than 1 year ago
Off the subject...If the Form had a daily Curlin Watch (a bit like you and Devil's Bag), maybe it would mildly encourage the owners to make horseplayers happy and say, Don't worry about the legal stuff, Here He Comes! What's his schedule? Would he try grass, a la Secretariat (not comparing, obviously, just curious). Btw: A good song for you 20 years ago, when you escorted the Woody Stephens colt from state to state...Robert Johnson's Me and the Devil..."Me and the Devil, were walkin' side by side..." The rest of the lyrics are kind of brutal, but you get the idea. Blog on, Brother Steve!
cjdstable More than 1 year ago
Steve -- Are you an Odd Couple fan? I received the second season for Christmas and (coincidentally) watched the dog racing episode just before I came down and read the blog. Oscar wins a greyhound named Golden Earrings in a card game off a guy named Salty Pepper (sweet name), sneaks the dog to Miami to race over Felix's objections, and the laughs ensue from there. They certainly painted a more glamorous picture of greyhound racing than you did in your depressing description. Back to horses: Any idea when the very impressive Zenyatta will run again?