- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 18, 2001

The major league baseball playoffs are in full swing, the Michael Jordan NBA party is starting and Jaromir Jagr is coming back to town tomorrow night, albeit a bit bruised up.
But for me, because of the way the stars have aligned, I am in the middle of two of the greatest days of the fall in sports here that have nothing to do with any of these high profile events.
Yesterday Laurel Park opened up for its fall season. Tonight, "Fight Night" will take place at the Hilton Washington and Towers.
Horse racing and boxing are the only two adult sports remaining, the only venues left where a guy can still be a palooka and not have to apologize for it. You'll never hear the word "geek" at the betting window or ringside. No one is talking about his golf game or health club.
It's guys and dolls, baby.
Laurel had been scheduled to open its season Sept. 6 but couldn't because the place is falling apart literally. Windows and walls started cracking this summer, and the track had to delay opening until it could get the place shored up enough for customers. It did, and the track opened yesterday, although all of the police tape and temporary emergency exit signs everywhere might have made patrons a little nervous.
Then again, the track might be the safest place in America in these troubled times. They didn't exactly fill the parking lot at Laurel yesterday. You could be in the witness protection program here and feel safe.
And it's only going to get worse. Now you can bet from home on the Television Games Network, and Laurel will soon likely be part of that, as the Maryland Jockey Club will be asking the state racing commission next month for approval to allow telephone betting from Laurel and Pimlico.
Where's the fun in that? Much of the allure of horse racing is the track itself, even with cracked windows. It's probably the most diverse crowd in all of sports: black and white, in suits and paint-splattered shirts, all rooting for the root of all evil money.
Besides, you miss out on some important information if you're not at the track, according to Bob, who has been betting at Laurel for the past 30 years and says details are the key to success.
"I knew a trainer who walked every inch of the track every day before his horses raced," Bob said. "It's the little things, you know, like Shakespeare said, 'because of a nail, a horse was lost. Because of a horse, a rider was lost. Because of a rider, a battle was lost.' …or something like that."
Tell me the last sports venue where you heard Shakespeare quoted. Maybe we'll hear it soon at FedEx Field, when Chief Marty turns to Redskins owner Dan Snyder and says, "Et tu, Danny?"
When you're not at the track, you miss the color, like when one bettor yelled to a jockey as he rode his horse toward the starting gate, "Hey, you gonna run today or you gonna throw?" To which the jockey replied with a middle finger, since he heard it so clearly. It wasn't like the crowd noise would drown him out.
For what it's worth, the horse finished out of the money.
So did I all day long. Maybe I didn't have the nerve to make the right bets. "Scared money never wins," Bob advised me.
I spent most of the day in the infield, since it was such a glorious afternoon, and that was the only place I could smoke my cigars. That's one revolting development at the track you can't smoke inside. Next thing you know, they'll be putting dresses on horses.
Maybe they don't want to have a negative influence on the kids. That's another revolting development recently at the track kids running around like at a day care center.
The second part of my quinella takes place tonight, when Joe Roberts' "Fight Night" orgy takes place in the largest ballroom on the East Coast, in the Hilton Washington and Towers. It's a much different crowd nearly 2,000 of the biggest movers and shakers in the area get the chance to play Al Capone, drinking champagne, smoking high-priced cigars and having beautiful models hang on their arms and their every word while watching fights and other entertainment, all for a pretty good cause. The event has raised $19 million over the past 12 years for more than 70 children's charities in the Washington area.
It's quite the spectacle probably the best one of these type of boxing events in the country though the track is more my style. However, the best part of tonight will be the chance to talk to the legends of boxing that are part of the event.
I'll have a chance to talk to former middleweight champion Carmen Basilio and ask him what he thought of Bernard Hopkins' victory over Felix Trinidad last month. I'll have a chance to talk to former heavyweight contender Earnie Shavers and ask him how the man with the most feared single punch in the history of the division wound up being a preacher. And I'll have a chance to ask Evander Holyfield what he thought of Mike Tyson's performance against Brian Nielsen last weekend, and maybe, if my money isn't scared, ask him why he is even bothering to fight stiffs like John Ruiz anymore his next fight, probably next month.
This will almost be better than cashing in a winning trifecta at the track almost.
At one point yesterday, I got a call at the track between the fourth and fifth race on my cell phone from my son. "Can you pick me up?" he asked.
I asked him why he didn't get his normal ride home from high school, and he said he had to stay for a National Honor Society meeting. "I can't," I said. "I'm busy."
"How do I get home?" he asked.
"Walk," I said.
A palooka would do no less.

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