ooking for action?
Just drive south from Los Angeles for 2 1/2 hours, park your car, walk across the border, hail a Tijuana taxi and say, "Race track." At Caliente Race Track, you'll get as many opportunities to gamble as you could ever want.
In the morning, the Libro Foraneo--the foreign book--accepts wagers on all the major Eastern tracks. You can bet the entire card at Bowie, Aqueduct, Keystone and Gulfstream Park.
In the afternoon on Saturday and Sunday, Caliente offers 10 thoroughbred races with a multitude of exotic wagering possibilities. To fill the idle moments between races, you can stop in the Libro Foraneo and bet on the day's card at Santa Anita or Golden Gate Fields.
And when the day's races are done, the action isn't over. In the evening Caliente puts on 10 greyhound races. To give customers a little variety, the track has even brought dog races via satellite from Florida and conducted wagering on them.
This track has been a gambler's paradise ever since it was founded in 1928. Known originally as Agua Caliente--"hot water," for the mineral springs nearby--it has earned many distinctions. It was the site of the first $100,000 race in the world. It conducted Sunday racing before any track in America did. It introduced Pick Six wagering with the possibility of spectacular six-figure payoffs.
But what made Caliente most special was its ambience. Los Angeles handicapper Gordon Jones recalled, "There were ornate chandeliers and gently shaded rooms, an atmosphere that was mysterious and almost a little sinister. It was like something out of a George Raft movie."
As recently as the 1960s, Caliente drew bigger crowds than Saratoga. But its days of glory have ended. Californians no longer had to come across the border for Sunday racing or Pick Six wagering when their own tracks started offering these attractions. Caliente's grandstand burned down and had to be rebuilt. Its owner went to jail and a new management let the whole operation deteriorate. When a Mexico City corporation bought the track a year ago, chairman of the board Raul Baz said, "Caliente was living on a legend. We'd lost our charm. People were coming here just because they had nothing to do."
The new management has been trying to refurbish Caliente's physical facilities. It is trying to stimulate business with the simulcasting of races from other tracks, because Baz believes that "the future very much depends on the electronic age." With these efforts at modernization underway, modern Caliente is full of contrasts.
In places, the track is elegant. The entrance to the Turf Club is breathtakingly grand, with its Moorish architecture, marble floors and stained glass windows. Yet in other parts of the plant the paint is peeling, the rugs are frayed, the floor is crumbling.
Caliente has a big satellite dish so it can present live telecasts of races from thousands of miles away. But when the clerks in the Libro Foraneo take bets on them, they write them on a square of paper and retain a carbon, just as they did in the 1920s. Results are not posted on any electronic board; they still use chalk and blackboard. But the primitiveness of the operation surely wouldn't discourage anyone who loves action, who relishes the unparalleled opportunity to bet on 75 races a day