Fathers, sons and the lure of the trackBy Bernard Kroviak, Special to CDC Gaming ReportsJanuary 4, 2018 at 1:06 pmI suppose that many racing enthusiasts had their first horse racing experience – their first taste of the game – by attending a local track with their father, grandpa, maybe even an uncle or a close family friend. For me, it was as a young boy with my dad, and the place was Thistledown. It is located in a suburb of Cleveland, and was, at that time, directly across the street from another race track called Randall Park, which, since I did not understand racing meets at the time, seemed strange to me: why would you have two tracks so close together?I remember Thistledown as a gritty place, but friendly, smelling of cigars and filled mostly with men. These patrons were mainly workers from the industrial factories of Cleveland. Many worked in the steel mills, on railroads, or in our two major automobile plants. They were mostly middle-class family men, happy to be back home, away from the rigors of wars in Korea, Japan, and Europe.My dad worked for the Ohio Bell Telephone Company. He drove one of those hideous pea green trucks, which held “all the tools known to man” to aid him in repairing phone lines. He did it by climbing the wooden poles with those spikes attached to his legs, and did it in every conceivable type of weather. He was a tough son of gun, but, given that he’d been a B-17 gunner and bombardier in World War II, I’m sure this job was not nearly as harrowing as what he had experienced overseas. I loved going to the track and standing by the rail. The first time I heard the thunder of the horses coming past me, it took my breath away. They were so majestic, and so colorful, and made a deep impression on me. The colors that surround horse racing still excite me to this day, in fact: the multicolored silks, the lush green of the infield, the deep earthen brown of the track. But the yellow, pink and gray of the tote tickets was what really got me hooked.In those days at Thistledown, the only wagers available were win, place, show, and the early daily double. Tickets were purchased at separate windows with signage above each to indicate whether it was a betting or a cashing station. Win tickets were printed on heavy yellow paper stock, place bets were printed on pick sheets, and show wagers were on lowly gray paper totes.To distinguish the early daily double tickets, they were gold with red lettering and were about 3/4th the size of regular waging receipts. I remember this because I used to use an empty popcorn box to go around and pick up those discarded red-and-gold tickets off the ground. I was not “stooping” (what people did, and still do, checking to see if some patron dropped a winning ticket by mistake), although I think, at that age, I’d have been forgiven if I was (Not that there’s a rule against it, per se, just that it’s somewhat tacky.) No, I was just a kid having fun between races.It was the first place I think I had ever been where it was acceptable to throw stuff on the ground. Because many of these factories worked in “shifts”, there always seemed to be men at the track during the day, a concept that Dad had to explain to me when I asked him once, “Don’t these guys work?”I never knew my father’s handicapping system. Sometimes he bought a Racing Form, and planned a whole card around it; sometimes he just went over to the track for the last few races, by which time of the day one got in for free, and just used the simple program provided by an exiting patron, a friendly gesture that seems to be missing at race tracks today. He did not bet much, and said he always broke even, but he reveled in his wins, a circumstance that brought joy to the whole family: if he won, that meant we were going out to eat at a restaurant. There were not many fast food eateries at that time, a few car hop establishments (which Dad abhorred), so we were usually treated to a sitdown meal at Kenny King’s Family-Style Restaurant, the original home of Kentucky fried chicken.As I grew up, I dreamed of the day when I would be old enough to go to the races with my father, and actually wager my own money alongside him. It never happened. My hero died of a sudden heart attack when I was 19, before I could share this wonderful experience with him as an adult bettor. I guess, for me, this passion for horse goes deeper than just the smells, colors, and inherent excitement of the track. It goes back to those days as a kid when just being with my father was all I needed to feel happy, safe, secure and close to him.Today, my track experiences are with other racing friends, and it is a rare day that we don’t still swap memories of those early days with our dads at the races. And today I am so very, very lucky, to be able to share some of these wonderful racing days with my now-adult son, something that fills my heart to the fullest. It also helps me to understand my father’s love of the game and how special it must have been for him to share this experience with his son – somewhere close, I’d say, to how special it was to spend those times with him. Winning money at the races is great, but sharing the experience of the track with those who really care about horses, family, and life, is what makes this passion truly golden and wondrous for an old handicapper like me.