Crosby Downs is
30 highway miles northeast of Houston's core, or about 25 miles as the crow
flies. The crow flies extremely low in these parts because of morning fog, and
because there are no hills to worry about.
To reach Crosby
Downs you get on the Beaumont Road and proceed past the Southern Bible College
and the Sheldon State Fish Hatchery, make a left at Fritz' Auto Parts, and go
into the heart of Crosby—no problem, because it is a small town with small
arteries and its heart is very hard to miss. You turn right where everybody
else is turning right, and this is Crosby Downs. Not Track or Park, Downs.
In Scotland golf
is played on links, and in South Texas quarter horses are raced on downs, at
least in spirit, because all there is to Crosby Downs is a dirt track and some
are raced here most Sundays at noon. But if your horse is entered in the first
race, and you have been entered in the last church service, relax, this is a
very casual operation. It is even more flexible than come-as-you-are. It is
closer to come-as-you-used-to-be, when a horse race was to that tree and back,
winner take all.
There are no
trees on the dirt track at Crosby Downs. No improvements are scheduled,
although there is talk about putting up a rain gauge. But it is hot and dry
this Sunday and the wind is already loose.
It costs $2 a
human head and $1 a horse's head to get through the gate, plus you get a
program that lists the entries for the day's 19 scheduled races. Since this is
Sunday, there is an inspirational message across the top of the program for
persons of all religious denominations: "This is strictly a training
track—no gambling allowed."
promises that the races will go off, rain or shine, both of which are liquids
that can get the inexperienced dirt-track player in a lot of trouble,
especially shine that has been sitting around for awhile.
You park in the
infield, and you can watch the races from the hood of your car or from the rail
or from the steps leading to the race announcer's perch, but whatever you do,
don't get under those steps. The seating capacity for this wooden structure
appears to be the announcer himself.
If you are not
with a horse, or known by the regulars, it is a good idea not to take pictures
or perform any act that could be misinterpreted as gathering evidence. It is
best to sit on your hood and get the feel of it all.
A young boy,
proudly carrying a dollar bill as if it were the flag, said he would take the
worst horse in the first race for a buck. This sounded like a good bet to me. I
gave him a horse so lifeless all it lacked was a slot on its back for quarters.
I won. So did the boy. He volunteered to hold the stakes, took my dollar and
went home. He is making somebody a wonderful son.