Those who've never tried it will be pleased to learn that there's an inexpensive and enjoyable form of sport Monday through Friday at Freestate Raceway in Laurel.
The harness track is under new management, which has adopted as its slogan "We Care for You" -- and appears to mean it. It's one of the most pleasant evenings available anywhere.
If you've visited local tracks recently, you know why reporters have been writing about decrepit physical plants and crummy treatment. The people who park your car at some of these tracks look like thieves, the security police like winos. The restrooms are filthy and the tellers surly, as if they're doing you a favor taking your money.
Not so at Freestate, where parking is only $1, general admission $2 and a program $1. The track personnel is clean cut, uniformed and courteous. A friend of mine who goes to the tracks almost daily almost fainted when one of the attendants at Freestate wished him luck -- they all do. My friend owns a restaurant, and knows food, and he had nothing but raves about the food at Freestate.
I went out there a recent Friday and found that my friend was right. There's a very friendly and refreshing atmosphere about the place. We sat in the clubhouse, where good dinners run $6.50 up, with beer $1.35 and mixed drinks from $1.65.
They've got some interesting innovations -- closed-circuit color television sets at the tables so you can get a close-up view on the screen while watching the races live. You can rent a private box for eight people with TVs showing the races and the regular programs for $10 total.
There are ten races nightly, 8 to 11, with triple betting on the first and last races and exactas on the others. If you're a novice at betting, my advice is to follow the selections on the bottom of the program. The night I was there the program selecter had the winners of the first eight races.
I've tried every betting system from careful handicapping to wild hunches, girls' names, colors, my age, license-plate number, and Social Security number. I'm not sure which one of them works best, but it's fun trying them all, so play your own hunches. And remember, there is such a thing as beginner's luck.
The men's rooms are clean, and I'm told that the ladies' rooms have crystal chandeliers, antique mirrors, and "moire" walls (whatever they are).
The track is currently advertising the Freestate Fling, which includes admission to the clubhouse, racing program, complete prime rib or crabcake dinner, taxes and gratuities, Monday through Friday -- all for $15, which is the best bargain I've seen in a long time.
Old-time baseball fans who notice names of horses with the word "Yankee" in it might be surprised to learn that it's owned by Charlie "King Kong" Keller, former star of the New York Yankees, who has a horse farm in Maryland.
The track is about half an hour's drive from downtown Washington. Beltway to I-95 North to Route 198. Follow signs to Laurel, three miles to U.S. 1, take a left, then two miles to the track. For dinner reservations call 953-2738.