It was the final Last Day at the Bowie Race Course.
A small plane overhead trailed the banner, "Thanks for the Memories, Bowie." Jack (Stable Boy) Kallens, a regular since 1916, hawked his last Bowie tip sheet. D.C. cabdriver Harry Aiken got into the "Pick Six" betting line for the final time.
With much sentiment and some regrets, the Bowie Race Course ended its 36-day summer meet yesterday -- and its 71-year history as a thoroughbred track.
The owners of Maryland's three thoroughbred race tracks had wanted to close Bowie and focus interest on Laurel and Pimlico, which is in Baltimore, in hopes of reviving the state's struggling horse racing industry. In January the General Assembly agreed.
Bowie, famed for its track surface but long criticized for its poor access roads and deterioriating facilities, will continue as a training center.
The 12,012 persons who attended yesterday's races went home not only with memories of the track but also with a piece of it as well. Track officials gave each fan a key chain formed from a capsule of dirt scooped from the finish line.
"We thought about horseshoes," said Al Karwacki, the track's general manager. "Maybe even straw. We thought about miniature Bowie flags. And then it finally came to us: What is this place known for anyway? Its track, that's what."
The grandstand area yesterday had all the commotion and noise of a big-city train station.
Bettors waited in long, fast-moving lines, dollar bills and racing forms clutched in their hands.
As soon as the buzzer sounded, signaling the start of each of the nine races, they darted outside to cheer on their horses and begin deliberating on their next bets.
"Come on, number five. Come on, baby," said Mack McLaughlin, 55, of Fairfax.
"I'm retired law enforcement and retired Army and I haven't got anything better to do," McLaughlin said, after number five had won, making him $200 richer. "I come out here five or six days a week. I spend $300 to $500 a week. I've won a few thousand dollars here and there, and I've lost a few thousand more than that."
Bermuda shorts and fishing caps dominated the race crowd. Cigar smoke hung in a heavy cloud over the grandstand.
Men and women sat with bifocals perched on the ends of their noses, scrutinizing their tip sheets and racing forms.
Although, as track spokesman Jeff Weissman said, "all walks of life" have been represented at Bowie, there seemed to be many "The end of an era . . . . When something like this goes, it never comes back." -- Track official Frank Kelly elderly people.
"The best thing to do when you're retired," said McLaughlin, "is to keep active. I saw my buddies out here. We had fun. Of course, it was all done with the anticipation of winning. There was always that."
Track officials estimated that more than $33 million in bets were placed during the final meet at Bowie. Geraline Fairfax of Gaithersburg was not sure, however, that she would be contributing to the total.
"I've never been to the races before and I knew it was now or never with Bowie," Fairfax said, holding a paper fan in one hand and her money in the other. "I think I'll just hold on to my dollar, though."
The fans said they would miss the Bowie races because they liked the convenience to the metropolitan area and because of the friendly atmosphere at the track.
"I'm more of a baseball fan, but I like the way it feels around here," said John Samborski of Hyattsville, a retired building inspector.
But others associated with the track's operation see the closing in more symbolic terms.
"The end of an era," said admissions official Frank Kelly, whose father Pete has worked at Bowie for 50 years, first as a jockey, then as an usher. "When something like this goes, it never comes back."
The Kellys will not lose their jobs, nor will the other 700 employes of the track. They are a traveling work force moving with the race season from Bowie to Laurel to Pimlico.
Nor is "Stable Boy" Kallens, 83, losing a market for his tip sheets; he and his family work other courses. But Bowie, he said, was a little special.
"First, I sold newspapers here, then I sold apples, then I got into my business," he said. "I like this race track, always did. Every day, the same people. Nice people, too."
A busload of people streamed in through the double doors and Kallens stowed his sentimental memories for a display of business savvy in the show-must-go-on tradition: "Come on, lady, gimme a buck, over here, over here, one buck, let's move it, lady, good luck. Good luck, everybody, hope you win."
Five hours later at the completion of the ninth race, the winners and the losers in the grandstand stood and sang "Thanks for the Memories" and "Auld Lang Syne."