Wyoming Downs: A Day at the Races
Certain movies aren’t as funny, sleeping on the floor isn’t as comfortable, the “Kool-Aid Man” t-shirts aren’t as fashionable.
Maybe it’s the wide-eyedness of being a kid. Maybe it’s that you expect more as an adult. Or maybe it’s something else entirely.
Whatever the case, Wyoming Downs, the closest horse racing track to Salt Lake City, appears to be one of those things.
I remember as a kid being mesmerized by the atmosphere of the races. In fact, it’s one of the highlights of my first trip to Yellowstone National Park, though the Evanston, Wyo.-based track is far outside the park’s border.
Wyoming Downs 1987
My parents, aunt and uncle and I had just finished our week-long visit to Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons and we were winding our way back toward Salt Lake. One of the adults thought it might be fun to experience a day at the races. My 10-year-old self thought it might be the best idea ever.
I still remember us stopping at a gas station outside of Evanston to acquire additional information about the races. It was about noon on a Saturday.
“Yes, they’re racing today,” the attendant told us. “But you’d better hurry on down there! The races start at 1.”
We hurried on down there and experienced quarter-horse racing at its finest.
As the trumpet sounded, I peered through the binoculars to watch the parade. Too young to bet, obviously, but I probably told my dad to put an extra $2 on the horse whose name I thought was funniest/coolest/etc.
Wyoming Downs 2014
Fast forward 25+ years and the Wyoming Downs I remembered looked exactly the same. That could be the issue, considering I’ve now visited some of the top tracks in the West — Santa Anita, Hollywood Park, Del Mar — and some things just don’t hold up for nearly three decades.
Some things you want to stay the same; that’s part of the nostalgia. The gravel parking lot remained, the ticket booth hadn’t moved, and the concourse looked exactly as I remembered it in the summer of 1987.
But the people had changed, and the quality of service expected by a kid and an adult are admittedly different.
To be fair, this was the season’s opening day, and the first time the track had opened in five years.
But the fact that it was Opening Day — a new dawn, on my birthday no less — made me think that things would be different. Windows would be washed, menu items would be updated, beer would be served cold on tap, rather than in a can pulled from a tub of ice.
We soon found our table in the Clocker’s Corner (just like old times), opened our racing program, and looked for the would-be winner of the first race.
My dad seemed excited. Yep. This might be OK.
Aside from the long lines at the betting windows and the facility’s unkempt appearance, my wife, my dad, and I spent an enjoyable day at the races. We sipped a couple beers, won a few bucks here and there, and had some laughs (a horse named GI Run Away Bride bolted right before its race and took a solo lap around the track).
I still have my memories of my first horse race experience, but I will keep the memories of last weekend’s experience as well.