Now that the 2008 Fairplex Park racing meet has ended, I look back at some of the “little things” that made it fun.
Between races there was always some form of entertainment. A live band played near the top of the stretch on weekends. The always-popular bugler Jay Cohen wandered the stands between races, telling jokes and playing requested songs with his horn. The most popular is “Happy Birthday”, by far. A few times he played the Tequila song, and at the end a whole section of the crowd would scream, you guessed it, “Tequila!” Other musical entertainment included a wandering group of soul singers.
Throughout most of the meet a grandstand entertainer imitated people as they walked by, following closely behind them, and then pretended to look elsewhere when they noticed. Perhaps the most laugh-inducing joke was when he grabbed unsuspecting spouses’ or dates’ hands, pretending to be their significant other. When they realized who was holding their hand, the reactions ranged from a laugh to sheer shock. His second act was covering himself in a black blanket with outstretched arms, seemingly an inanimate object. He would then tap passersby on the shoulder as they walked by, with few people realizing that it was the black object. This blogger fell prey to this trick.
Sometimes just a change in the racing itself could add fun to the day. Nothing did this more than the sprinting “longears” - the mules. Sometimes “stubborn as a mule in the paddock,” their short sprinting speed could surprise someone who had never seen or heard of racing mules, and their jockeys were happy to pose for the camera. The first year of wiener dog racing at Fairplex Park dramatically changed the racing from equine to canine, and brought more laughs than anything! See this earlier blog entry for more on their antics.
Always fan favorites were the Budweiser Clydesdales. Their peppy theme song “Here Comes the King” started over the grandstand loudspeakers, and everyone knew who was coming. The jingle bell tune of their showy harnesses also signaled their arrival. Crowds gave them a rousing cheer when the 8-horse hitch did its intricate turns on the 75-foot-wide stretch. The Dalmatian atop the wagon seemed to the horses on with a bark heard throughout the grandstand.
Other miscellany also had a positive impact on the atmosphere. After races, some outriders brought their friendly ponies up to the rail for people to pet. This was always a hit with young children. One day the message on the infield tote board read, “Will you marry me Lynda?” Multiple voices in the crowd screamed, “Say ‘yes’ Lynda!”On closing weekend there were T-shirt shooters like one would see at a baseball game.
The screams coming from the carnival rides in the distance, large stuffed animals being toted around, a variety of delectable and/or strange foods, and even the Pace Pals cartoon handicapping symbols in the program all helped bring horse racing to the lighter side at the 2008 Fairplex Park meet.