Robert and Teresa Rogers have always found Rosecroft Raceway to be a magical place. Twenty-two years ago they met each other in the grandstand "between races." A few years later Teresa won the bonanza and, with the $15,501.79 winnings, bought their first house.
Last Friday under a moonlit sky, the two continued to celebrate their affair with Rosecroft.
It is the anniversary of the day they first met "when Robert was sitting in front of me," says Teresa, "and turned around and picked me up."
Clutching heavily penciled racing forms in their hands, they giggle and glow as they tell their story. Teresa is taking home no bonanzas this evening, however. Tonight Robert is winning.
In the clubhouse Mary Alice Nooralian is doing some celebrating of her own. It is her 34th birthday, and she and her sister, her husband and two young daughters are seated at a table next to the big glass window overlooking the track. "Momma is winning!" cried daughter Shari as she bounced up and down in her chair and watched the races.
There are other birthdays and anniversaries in the crowd as cakes are taken to various tables in the three-tiered dining room. Children run through the corridors, young couples linger over their racing forms, men and women table-hop, chatting with friends found throughout the [WORD ILLEGIBLE]
It is the evening of the William Miller Memorial, the largest purse in Maryland harness racing. Named after the founder of the track who in the '40s took his farm and turned it into a race track, the memorial race is one of three "glamour" events in the three-month season. Tonight the hard core track visitors - the heavy gamblers, the businessmen with their clients, the grooms, trainers and "horse people" - are joined by married couples, families, dating singles.
It has been three years since Earle Palmer Brown, president of the race track and a Washington advertising executive, plunked down $5 million to renovate Rosecroft. Once a curved wooden and metal structure teetering toward seediness, Rosecroft is now a large, bright concrete building reminiscent of a sports arena crossed with a Kentucky fried chicken box.
Red and white stripes decorate the roof and the betting windows. Off-white linoleum floors, plastic plants, closed circuit televisions and rows of chairs dominate the betting rooms.
The clubhouse, a huge multi-leveled dining area that can serve 1,200 people in an evening, is more elegant. Elegant in a California-casual way where lots of wooden railings and white table cloths face an enormous floor-to-ceiling window facing the track.
As he surveys the crowded room, Peter O'Malley, counsel to the race track and the unofficial power behind the throne of Prince George's County politics, remarks that "this is Prince George's." He begins to name some of the people in his row of tables, a list that includes doctors, businessmen, retailers, contractors. Throughout the evening most of those people will come by and say hello to O'Malley and his wife.
Rosecroft, for him, is like a country club, where business can be talked over dinner, where socializing is there when you want it. "I usually get here three times a week. Most of the time I bring clients, but tonight I'm having fun. You know, I used to work here when I dropped out of law school. I worked behind the counter selling (betting) tickets."
O'Malley points out several friends of his children who now work at Rosecroft. "They're good kids.It's a good place to work during the summer, the money's good." He introduces Mike McCormick, an 18-year-old who graduated last year from Surrattsville High School. McCormick, now a wide receiver for the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill football team, started working as a busboy at Rosecroft last summer. He is just one of the hundred or so young people who scurry up and down the clubhouse area.
Kathleen O'Mera also works at Rosecroft. A 24-year-old social worker from Oxon Hill, O'Mera comes to the track every night, "and, when I can, during the day. I groom horses, clean the stalls. The track people are the friendliest people in the world. They're so kind."
When she is finished working, O'Mera also uses the track as a "place to relax. I come in here, drink a beer, get away from the job."
Clustered in the center of a betting area with her are other young people who work with the horses. Lynn Burwell, a sophisticated looking 13-year-old, works for her father, who owns and trains horses at Rosecroft. "I love it here. I skip school sometimes to work. "It's exciting. Being here is important to me."
Both Burwell and O'Mera say they come to the track for the horses. Out in the grandstand and in the boxes, many partrons echo this sentiment.
"Look, if you're a gambler, you stay inside ad watch the races on TV," said Jay Axelrod, a salesman with the Bowie Tool and Equipment Co. and a track regular. Sitting in a box just shy of the finish line. Axelrod added, "If you like the horses you come out here and watch."
John McVay, of the Donahoe Construction Co., shares the box with him. McVay, however, said he "doesn't bet anymore. My wife doesn't even allow me here. But I come because I like the horses."
The box seats, the granstand behind it and the infield in front of it are filled to capacity this night.A warm breeze brings the smells of horses and straw, beer and hot dogs. The crowd alternately cheers and moans, followed by the predictable tearing up of useless tickets.
Lanston and Alice Augustus like it outside. For the past four seasons they purchased the $70-a-season box seats. Like O'Malley, the Augustuses see a social opportunity in Rosecroft as well as a chance way to win some money. "In the box, people get together," said Augustus. "It's friendly. You get to know all the regulars, all the people up and down the line (the box area). It's relaxing and if you don't get hooked (on the betting) it's fun."
Inside, the gamblers, the men and women who don't care about the night air and the smell of horses but prefer the smell of hard cash, sit on the vinyl chairs or gather in groups around the closed circuit televisions.
David Glover stands watching the crowd and checks his racing form for the next event. A cool-headed 8-year-old, Glover comes to the track as much as possible. Tonight he is with his father, brother, uncle and grandmother. It is, as David's father Ray said, a "family affair."
David makes his money, not from gambling, which is illegal for someone so young, but from the tickets other less-knowledgeable bettors throw away. "A lot of people come here and don't know what they're doing," said Ray Glover. "They buy a show ticet and if the horse comes in first, they don't think they win anything. David's got quite an eye," Glover added, obviously proud of his son.
As the evening wears on, the number of tickets thrown on the floor increases. The finish of each race becomes more of an event, the screaming, yelling and swearing gets louder.
In the clubhouse two young boys in Sunday blue suits sit with the remains of chocolate sundaes before them. They appear sleepy but excited. The Miller race is coming up and they are ready for it. They root and cheer their favorites. While they have no money riding on the outcome, their choice is important. The race is close and they loose. For them the evening is over. Their parents gather them up and out they go, down the stairs, out the doors.
But wait, what is that in their back pockets - tomorrow's racing form?
"It's Affirmed in the Preakness," they turn and whisper to an observer, and, turning back again, they shoot out laughing into the starry night.