They come for the race, stick around for the fun

Horses: The crowd at the state fair's track enjoys unusual names and colors rather than rankings and odds.

September 05, 2004|By Sarah Schaffer | Sarah Schaffer,SUN STAFF

An announcer yelled, "They're off!" and the several thousand people in the wooden grandstand stomped their feet and slapped the seats as they stood to watch the nine fillies tear around the track at the Timonium fairgrounds.

In less than a minute, the race was over. But a palpable buzz lingered in the warm air yesterday, as the crowd -- one that included many children -- checked tickets and picked favorites for the next race.

Most of those at the sixth day of thoroughbred competition at this year's Maryland State Fair seemed focused on the excitement of the event and not on taking home a bundle of money by picking winners in each of the 10 races.

"Its just fun," said Chris Cribb of Parkville, who was standing in line waiting to place her bet.

Like many gathered at the track's old pavilion and ticket windows off York Road, Cribb said she was looking to have a good time.

Winning big -- and betting wisely -- was not the point, she said.

That's why Cribb put money on a filly named Our Laura Bell. The program guide she purchased said the horse's odds were good; but Cribb, whose daughter's name is Laura, just had a good feeling about the horse and what to her was a sentimental name.

"I'm not real scientific about this," she said, laughing. Our Laura Bell came in first, paying $5.20 on a $2 wager.

Cribb's less-than-proven methods of deciding on a winner might have put her in the majority of novice bettors at yesterday's event, said racing analyst Gina Rosenthal.

"A lot of times ... they'd rather do it this way -- not even look at a program and then pick a horse [by] color just to have fun," said Rosenthal as she stood near the stables. For five years, she has been appearing on local racetracks' television terminals, offering quick commentaries and updates for patrons before each event.

Rosenthal, who is the wife of a jockey and the daughter of a horse trainer, said she has spent enough time at the track to know about dozens of crazy betting trends and quirky wagering schemes that use numbers, colors and even a combination of both.

But there's only one that she has seen time and again: "Gray horses -- if there's a gray horse in that race, a novice bettor will bet on it."

Rosenthal was right, at least in the case of the Kaufmans.

The family of four watched six horses parade onto the track for a warm-up. And after a few moments, their choice for the next race was clear -- it was a charcoal-colored 2-year-old named It's Time to Smile.

Lucy, 4, liked that the horse was gray, and her sister, 6-year-old Caroline, thought its name was nice.

So, their parents, Lisa and Mark Kaufman of Guilford, placed a small wager.

"The kids just love the animals, so that's why we come," Lisa Kaufman said.

The family also aimed to visit the fairground's straw-filled barns, where cows stood for milking and sows nursed days-old piglets.

But for the moment, it was all about the gray horse.

Lucy and Caroline watched the animal intently. The pretty blue and green silks worn by its rider also made the horse a nice choice, said Lucy, who dressed as a jockey last Halloween.

When their pick came down the stretch, the two sisters were elated, shouting and waving their hands as the gray horse kicked up sand and circled the course.

It's Time to Smile didn't win, but the girls were happy. Their parents were also pleased -- although they were out a few bucks -- because the day made for a nice family outing.

Cribbs, who was visiting the fair that day with her 17-year-old granddaughter, won on the next race using her sentimental method.

Her pick: Granny Gail, a horse that everyone was calling Granny.

Racing continues at the fairgrounds today and tomorrow. Post time is 1 p.m. Admission to the racetrack is included with admission to the fair.

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