by Frank Carulli
April 6, 2020
Cal-Expo was the last U.S. harness track running amid the coronavirus pandemic. Live racing survived until the end of March at the one-mile oval before the Sacramento Health Department shut it down.
Bettors might have been hesitant to wager on the 10-race cards and horses they knew little about. They might not have been interested in a $2,800 race for “non-winners of $751 in their last five starts.” They probably couldn’t relate to leading drivers Luke Plano, James Kennedy or Nick Roland, who didn’t rank among North America’s Top 15 in wins or Top 50 in earnings.
But Cal-Expo gave bettors a reason to watch and wager. Unlike any other track, it provides detailed trip notes on every horse, every live racing night, on a never-ending scroll at the bottom of its video feed. The notes are so detailed, one could bet with confidence without a program in hand.
Take the March 31 card, which featured a million-dollar handle for the third consecutive night of live racing and a $40,000-plus carry-over pool in the 10-cent Single 6 wager.
Lincoln won the first race at 9-2 odds, a week after the 9-year-old pacer “brushed out 3/8s, got past the fave half, attacked into lane, held on pretty well. … Excuses in last couple.”
Western Devil sat a pocket trip and won the second race by 4 lengths, no surprise off a prior-race trip in which he was “sent from the gate, brushed back before the quarter, opened up into lane, caught by fave, tough try.”
Marty Bridges, a chart-caller for 45 years, is the man responsible for the trip notes. He has been at Cal-Expo since the early 1980s and has made it his passion to inform novices, recreational bettors and serious horseplayers with his hard-hitting, easy-to-follow notes.
In the fifth race, Wizzle Stix rallied past the co-favorites to finish second at 18-1 and create some good exotic wager payouts. The trip notes revealed that he was “stuck last throughout, traffic into the lane, angled wide … not without a small chance at big odds.”
Hi Ho Julio lit up the tote board when he paid $69.60 win in the sixth race. He was at least worth a closer look on late Pick 5 tickets, considering he was “reserved to the far turn, tipped out but no headway into strong winner, James (Kennedy) drives, not worst stab.”
Cal-Expo surely attracted some new fans while the other tracks were dark.
And the fans might return -- with their trip notes in hand.