Monday, August 14, 2006

They Race Horses in Iowa, Don't They?

Last week, my girls and I took a little trip to Iowa (state motto: "This is not Idaho or Ohio"). While there, I was presented with an opportunity to visit the facilities of Prairie Meadows Racetrack and Casino in the hot-spot Iowa vacation destination of Altoona. According to the little pamphlet that I picked up at the Iowa Tourist and Information rest stop on I-35,
Prairie Meadows is the Midwest's only combination full-service casino and live racing venue ... Free Stable Tours ... Complimentary continental breakfast under our apron canopy while you watch the horses during their morning workouts ... Family Day at the Races.
It appeared to be family friendly. Granted, no minors are allowed on the casino floor, but I felt surely, my children and I would have clear access to the racetrack venue. My handy dandy little pamphlet indicated that minors could accompany adults to the track as well as the simulcast parlor.

When we walked into the grandstand ... was it a grandstand? Unsure. It was a casino. But I asked some important looking guy with a walkie talkie and some kind of electronic equipment attached to his ear if an official or marketing representative to speak with me and perhaps give me a tour, alluding that I was some kind of "turf writer" based out of Lone Star Park and that I was just passing through Des Moines. Actually, Mr. Chief Security Guy was rather helpful, saying that if I go to the 4th floor of the grandstand, to the simulcast area, there would be someone there to provide me information. Unfortunately, that is when I discovered that the Prairie Meadows grandstand is phagocytized by the casino. We went up the first set of escalators and found ourselves smack-dab in the middle of the casino with a dozen security officers staring down at my children, ready to pounce if one of them even so much took a breath in the direction of a slot machine. We hurriedly got on the next set of escalators where we reached to the simulcast lounge and had an actual view of the racetrack, winner's circle and finish line, which by the way, is very nice.

Once again, I babbled about being some kind of writer, and one of the friendly pari-mutuel gals offered to give me a tour. Deb Moss showed us the entire facilities, including paddock and jockey room. And as it turned out, Deb Moss is no racing slouch. She has been a breeder and trainer and groom and pari-mutuel clerk and handicapper and just all-around smart horseperson. She also sits on the board of directors for the Iowa Thoroughbred Breeder's and Owner's Association, so when I actually asked her hard hitting questions, such as "What is happenning to the Iowa foal production?" or "How many ears of corn do patrons consume on Cornhusker Day?" she provided me ready answers ("Increasing" and "They eat too much and don't bet enough").

Great tour. Attractive facilities. Very cool chandelier on the 4th floor. However, it is completely family-unfriendly. It was difficult to walk throughout the facility because the casino encompasses so much. Our little tour group was constantly accosted by secruity personnel because my 4-year-old could potentially look at a slot machine or my 7-year-old could breath casino air. True, the casino has provided the opportunity to increase purses which increases Iowa-breds which in turn is good for the equine industry in the state. But the it's-a-crime-to-be-under-21-in-the-casino law has infected the mentality of the racetrack venue of Prairie Meadows. It doesn't matter if they have a Junior Jockey Club every Saturday morning or Family Fun Days scheduled throughout the meet, because Prairie Meadows has made me, as a mother of young children as well as a horse racing enthusiast, unwelcome. So there's a few bucks that won't be showing up in their on-track handle any time soon.


Nick Dencklau said...

As an Iowa resident, saying that the "grandstand is phagocytized by the casino" is about the best way I've seen to put it. Even when you've been to the track a few times it's still easy to get sucked in and lost among all the slot machines on the second floor.

If you are visiting with children and don't wish to be accosted by the security your best bet is to go straight to the track apron. I'd recommend sitting on the deck with tables at the north end.

If you wish to sit indoors it does get a little trickier. I can't recall if there is a set of stairs near the south entrance but that would probably be your best bet to reach the grandstand with children. The east set of stairs (nearest the track) used to take you straight to it, but that area has been consumed by table games.

suebroux said...

I appreciate your comments, Nick.

It's a sad testament that the under-21 crowd becomes discouraged and irrelevant, especially there in the fine state of Iowa. Iowa is known for their active groups of Future Farmers of America, and 4-H. Prairie Meadows shouldn't make the venue so inhospitable for the youth.