Cold or not, bets are on

Laurel Park draws bundled-up racing fans in dead of winter

Maryland Journal

January 29, 2007|By Brent Jones | Brent Jones,Sun reporter

Laurel -- Darryl Carideo is by himself. Pressed against the outside fence of the track, Carideo will not be swayed from his usual position by either the frigid temperatures or the isolation.

The last race ended barely five minutes ago, and the handful of others who come out to watch the horses run live have retreated to the warmer confines of the Laurel Park concourse.

Carideo, though, studies his race book. He is waiting for the horses scheduled to run next to come out before finalizing his picks. The wait lasts about 15 minutes.

"You watch the horses, see if something is wrong with them," Carideo, 58, explains. "You go in, place your bet, come back out for post time and watch the race. I feel very uncomfortable staying inside.

"That's the way I was taught. That was the way of my dad."

The track at Laurel Park, especially the outer corridor, can be an empty, solemn place during the winter racing season. On a recent afternoon, the outside benches have no one in them. It is blustery and overcast, and most of the people who dare to leave the inside concourse are sporting lighters and cigarettes, heading back inside as soon as they've satisfied their nicotine fix.

An older man comes outside and hurriedly smokes a cigarette. Asked whether he's planning on watching the next race, he laughs and says he is not even betting at Laurel, and even if he were, he would not think about hanging out in this weather.

Here in the winter racing season, most of the bettors - and there are a couple of hundred at Laurel this afternoon - pay more attention to races from tracks around the country than they do to the local horses. They plant themselves in front of small television sets to watch simulcast broadcasts, betting on one race after the next, Florida, then New York, then Texas, then California.

There are, however, a handful of die-hards who prefer the great outdoors.

Carideo is among them.

The Catonsville resident is wearing a scarf, black leather gloves and a full-length black wool jacket, the perfect outfit for three to four hours in the cold.

For Carideo, something about seeing the horses so close and listening to the sound of those hoofs against the dirt gives this place the buzz of a Las Vegas casino.

He sometimes passes time between races by drifting back in time. Carideo says his father brought him to the track when he was a boy, and the pomp and circumstance of it all, including the parading of the horses, makes him remember when racing was a big-time sport.

"It bothers me," Carideo says of the temperatures in the mid-30s, "but it's worth braving. I'm a big promoter of the venue. Where else can you go for $3 and see nine events? You can't see the Ravens play for nine times."

As post time for the fifth race draws nearer, a few dozen spectators trickle outside to join Carideo. The horses head to the starting block as Eli Nash, a retired judge who lives 10 minutes from the track, situates himself along the fence and near the finish line.

Nash, 71, comes to the track three times a week. Calls it part of his retirement recreational schedule.

He does not play every race, but he will watch all of them outside. Unless, of course, conditions become unbearably cold - mid-30s does not qualify.

"It's not actually that cold out here. I guess my adrenaline is going. I've got money out there, and I've got to feed the kids with it," says Nash, his head protected by a University of Michigan baseball cap.

Nash makes himself laugh with that line. The reality is, he has placed but one bet on the coming race.

Soon, the horses will sprint past Nash, who holds his lone ticket in his right hand. Win, place and show is blasted over the outside speaker.

Nash knows what the numbers are on his ticket, but that does not stop him from checking. And checking. And checking again before conceding the undeniable truth.

Right numbers. Wrong order.

"You believe that," he says, shaking his head.

"I'm not gambling really," he continues. "I don't have to sit at a table and figure things out. I don't come out here with a plan. I just come out, watch the horses run and bet a few dollars. I do bet, but I don't bet much."

Sherry Merschoff watches the race a couple of hundred feet away from Nash. Merschoff, of Pasadena, moved to Maryland about 3 1/2 years ago from Texas.

With the sun starting to peek out from behind the clouds and the wind dying down as the final races approach, Merschoff decides to stay outside between races.

The cold weather, she says, is a nonissue.

"I've got dogs I've got to walk," Merschoff says. "I go outside all the time."

Darrel Davidson, 50, came to Laurel for one race - his own. Now he patrols the outside area to make sure his horse, Let's Lindy, is in top shape. Davidson eschews the owner's box to be closer to his horse, cold weather and all.

"It doesn't bother me," Davidson says. "And as for the horses, 40 degree weather is ideal for them to run in. That's the best temperature for them to not overheat. So summers are tougher than the cooler weather. Today is not too bad for them."

Maybe Let's Lindy, unlike his owner, prefers the summertime. He finishes last in the seven-horse race.

brent.jones@baltsun.com

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