Beck is on the road again


While most racing fans are anxiously awaiting the next major Triple Crown
prep or the Santa Anita Handicap or the beginning of the spring race meets at
Keeneland or Belmont, retired school teacher Bob Beck can't wait for the
doors to open at tiny Manor Downs. It is then, and only then, that the quest
can continue.

Beck hasn't just been to a lot of North American racetracks. He's been to
every North American racetrack. Bar none. But racing's greatest fan and
greatest racetrack collector found there was a void in life in the summer of
1998. It was then that he completed his amazing 35-year mission: to attend
every racetrack in North America. With a visit to Hualapai Downs in Kingman,
Arizona, Beck had attended them all.

Two hundred and twenty one racetracks later, there was nothing left.

"It was a strange feeling," he recalled. "I got so used to always
traveling somewhere and knowing that I had to be in such and such a place on
such and such a day. It was different being so bound to the home."

But that's about to change. The first ever thoroughbred meet at Manor
which used to run just quarter horse races, begins April 21. Some time on or
about opening day, Beck and his saint of a wife, Beverly, will walk through
the gates of the Austin, Texas track. Later this year, Beck, 57, will visit
still another new racetrack, Yavapai Downs in Arizona, which is slated for
its inaugural meet. Build a racetrack and he will come.

"Absolutely, I'm excited about this," he said from his Maryland
residence. "It will be fun to plan another trip and try to blend in as many
racetracks as I can. I get a lot of enjoyment out of plotting out the trips."

Beck's obsession started innocently enough. He attended his first
racetrack in 1962 when going the races at Monterrico in Peru. He was there
visiting his brother, who was working overseas for General Motors. To this
day, it's the only non-North American track he has been to, but his trip to
the Peruvian track started him on his way. Two years later, he had made his
mind up, he would visit every thoroughbred track in the United States, Canada and Mexico.

"A guy who wants to see every major league baseball park can make a hell
of a run during one summer," Beck said. "With racing, there are plenty of
small tracks that just run a few weekends here or there and I was tied up
teaching school."

Beck started to pick away at the hundreds of tracks in the U.S., some of
them so small that they won't ever appear in the Daily Racing Form. His only
rule for a track that was it had to include at least one thoroughbred on a
racing card, even if that horse was racing in a mixed breed race. Sometimes
Beck would have to stick around bush tracks for days before he would find a
race in which a thoroughbred competed. But sometimes it seemed the smaller
the track the better the story.

"I was at a track in Burns, Oregon one time and only four jockeys showed
up for the races," he said. "The problem was, they had five horse in every
race. I figured they'd just have a draw to scratch a horse in every race.
Instead, they brought a guy out of the stands to ride, some guy with a cowboy
hat. He rode all the fifth horses. He was a normal sized guy. He must have
weighed 160 pounds. I think he was last in every race."

A small bettor at the time, he made many of his plays by assessing the
size of the jockeys. It wasn't uncommon, he said, to see half the riders at a
track weigh 140 pounds, even though they were listed at 120. By throwing out
the fat jockeys, he was often able to turn a profit.

Of course, Beck has also made all the major tracks, from Saratoga to
Santa Anita.

"When people ask me what my favorite track is I always say that it's a
mixture," he said. "If you could take the beauty of Hialeah, the tradition of
Saratoga and the rider colony in Southern California and combine those three
aspects then you'd have the perfect racetrack."

He also soft spots in his heart for Blue Ribbon Downs, Whoop Up Downs and
Anthony Park.

By the end of the summer, Beck will have added Yavapai, a new track built
to replace Prescott Downs, to his resume and will return home. Once again,
his collection will be complete.