At both of the horse races I’ve been to previously I won more money than I lost.
I had high hopes going into The Carolina Cup (AKA “The Cup” in these parts) that I could make it three for three.
My host, Adam, and I left Columbia at 8:20am with a days ration of coffee, cash, and beer for each of us. Adam’s friend from the geography department at the University of South Carolina was raised in Columbia, so we had the veteran info on avoiding traffic and a reserved parking spot right on the track railing.
The spectator experience at The Cup was radically different than what I expected – night and day compared to the Del Mar track in California.
At The Cup, everyone tailgates in the infield, people bring their own alcohol and set up elaborate spreads of sandwiches, and snacks. My favorites were the pulled pork bleu cheese sliders and the peanut-butterscotch haystacks. They perfectly complimented my Mint Julep, muddled and served in a copper mug.
The gambling is informal, and each tailgate group runs its own pool. The lucky at heart draw horse numbers from a hat. There were $2 and $5 pools. Winner takes all. At Del Mar alcohol and food are bought from concession stands inside. Most people sit in the grandstands on the home stretch. The betting is formal with real time odds displayed on the finish line ticker. You can compare the ticker odds to the odds in the pamphlet and see what stands out as smart money.
There are things I like about both, namely the tailgating at The Cup and the betting at Del Mar. In general, its cool how unique from each other the two events are even though they center around the same sport. If I had to choose – I prefer The Cup.
Recently (I’d guess ~5 years ago), colleges in the surrounding southern states began hosting frat and sorority events at The Cup. It became so popular that the organizers set up a specific area outside the track along the back stretch for the college groups. This way the younger crowd could whoop it up without bothering the people looking for a more dignified experience.
Adam insisted we walk through College Park at least once so I could get the full experience, and I’m happy he did.
Southern hospitality was in full swing.