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Core Samples

Jay Meehan, Record columnist

The manner in which the state of the economy has been insinuating itself into my leisure pursuits is starting to wear on me.

A couple of examples would be the ever-shrinking horse-racing season up at Wyoming Downs outside Evanston and the seemingly simultaneous cancellation of "American Routes" on both KPCW and KUER. I’m just guessing here that their collective motives bordered on the monetary.

The window of opportunity we horse players have to gamble away whatever meager disposable income we might have socked away for such admittedly esoteric pleasures is quickly becoming reduced to the size of an upstart-nag’s nostril. There is absolutely no more satisfying a way of having your heart ripped out than by losing at the wire by a nose.

Actually, we were lucky to get the four weekends of racing we got. Up Boise way, with Les Bois Park going under, our Idaho neighbors have yet, this year, to experience that most wonderful ritual of tearing up a sheaf of losing tickets. Word has it, however, that plans are underway to rename their track, haul out the starting gate, and begin accepting greenbacks from the faithful.

Not that I ever grace the track more than once a year. It’s just that I desire a wider time frame from which to choose the date of my annual cash contribution to the Wyoming Racing Commission.

The funny thing about the racing season up at Wyoming Downs this year was that not only was the meeting itself reduced to eight days, but the length of the races on the card appeared much shorter than in past meets. They were making a long story short, as it were.

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It’s a given, of course, that quarter-horse racing exhibits more of a sprint component than does that of the thoroughbred. They always include both types of races up at "The Downs," but the vast majority feature the western quarter horse which is so prevalent in our cattle-country landscape.

And these races are, for the most part, of the 250-yard to 450-yard persuasion allowing for anywhere from 13 to 22 seconds worth of thrill-on-the-hoof. These horses, you see, don’t mind banging together or clipping heels or stumbling sideways or drifting toward the rail or overcorrecting or shying away. And that’s just in the first few steps out of the gate.

But, a couple of weeks back at the Evanston track, they actually featured at least two races of 100 yards. I mean the finish line was in the shadow of the starting gate. You wanna talk roller-derby? Well, this was it! They began whipping the ponies before they left the paddock. They revved them up and popped the clutch.

I must admit that back in the day in Southern Cal, I would have sooner been caught entering one of those "art" theaters in downtown L.A. than strolling into Los Alamitos, the local quarter-horse Mecca. We who flaunted our railbird status at Santa Anita, Hollywood Park, Del Mar, or across the Baja border at "Caliente," saw ourselves as being above that sort of low-brow activity.

You go with what you’ve got, however, and small-town quarter-horse tracks, as it turns out, are hipper than you’d think. It’s become, as they say, my cup of tequila. Of course, as Will Rogers once said, "a difference of opinion is what makes horse racing and missionaries."

Meanwhile, back at the microphone, my longstanding love/hate relationship with radio is once again messing with my cultural sensibility. That would be "public radio," of course. How could I be disappointed with commercial radio? They would first need to acquire my attention.

At its most creative, public radio is sooo cool. On the road, it warps time. When lying in the dark, it transports. In nearly every application, it transcends. But most of all, its top-shelf syndicated music programming spoils its listeners. And therein lies the rub. It seems that what goes up must come down.

Recent weeks have seen the double-kibosh put on "American Routes," easily the best radio program to tie together those threads of continuity that run through most all traditional American music forms. KPCW is running a live PSA/music show in its stead. And that’s OK, as long as they don’t funnel the cash they had budgeted for "Routes" to a lesser program.

KUER, however, replaced it with something called "To the Best of Our Knowledge," which must have involved fewer traumas to their overhead than "Routes." They also dropped "Marian McPartland’s Piano Jazz" and the Celtic oriented "Thistle and Shamrock."

They can’t fool me. I see where we’re headed: All-BBC All-the-Time.

Jay Meehan is a culture junkie and a free-lance writer with a background in commercial and community radio, among other pursuits. He has been a columnist and feature writer for various Park City publications going back to 1973.