Each year the Kentucky Derby and my birthday run neck and neck. To celebrate, the SigOther and I rounded up our two favorite gambling bugs – my dad (aka Fast Freddie) and Great Aunt Vi – for a trip to Finger Lakes Gaming & Racetrack in Farmington.
Finger Lakes hosted its first race in May 1962, when Pure Village won the inaugural run. By 2004, gaming machines were added (now 1,500 in total, and a 33,000-square-foot expansion occurred last year.
With the summer racing season on the horizon, a Finger Lakes excursion makes a nice addition to the calendar. Just hop on the I-90 and you’ll be at the impressive complex in no time.
Our fun adventure started the minute we pulled up to the valet.
“Do we pay now or later?” I asked. The blushing lad replied, “Now.” Then hastily, “I think in case you don’t have money when you leave.” Funny and honest.
Oh, where to begin?
With live racing an hour away, we took in the huge gaming floor. It’s impressive, almost Vegas-like. There are only slots but plenty of them, ranging from penny to high-limit, as well as video poker and progressive machines. We love the hilarious names and/or themes, too. Our favorite? An entire group devoted to the King of Pop, Michael Jackson.
We turned Fast Freddie and GAV loose, and an hour later (some winners, some losers), we met up to go see the stars of the day.
Our first stop was the horse paddock. We discovered a semi-secret passage near the elevator on the gaming floor that headed outside. A groom was walking a pretty gal from Tampa trying to get her acclimated.
While waiting for the elevator, the guard told us during peak racing, nearly 1,400 horses are stabled. A picture of 2003 Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Funny Cide, graces the elevator. He was the first New York-bred horse to win the Derby. On July 4, 2007, he won Finger Lake’s Wadsworth Memorial Handicap.
The grandstand area was hopping. In addition to Finger Lakes, bettors can wager on races via simulcast. We bought the Finger Lakes and Churchill Downs programs, only to determine we needed a doctorate to read them.
Who doesn’t think the sport of kings is exhilarating? When the “call to post” bugle summoned horses and riders, the hairs on my neck stood up. Wanting to get closer, I watched the race from the large open area below the grandstand seating.
From how the gate is set to the arrival of brightly colored riders and beautiful horses, it’s a fascinating scene.
At my low vantage point, I could see impatient hooves skitter as each big beast was loaded into its gate. Then wham! The doors opened and off they went, hooves making soft “puff” sounds in the dirt.
We noted it would take us all day (and three sets of lungs) to run the huge oval. Horses cover the distance like it’s nothing. In the end, Skedaddletoseattle did in fact skedaddle to win it.
We wanted to get our Derby bets in before grabbing some food. Despite our handy program, we did as most do – bet names and colors.
The track wants the lines moving, so it prefers bettors to use a specific method: track name, wager amount, type of bet and horse number. It’s nerve-racking! We studied up before heading to the window to ensure we placed the correct bet but still flubbed it. Window workers were patient with us novices, however.
Because it sounded fun, I bet a $2 exacta “wheel” ($19) plus two boxed exactas, including a Derby long-shot combo: Candy Boy and Commanding Curve. The window guy said, “Are you gonna come back with a wheelbarrow for your money if that comes in?” Funny and honest, again.
We headed home long before the Derby went off. Had we won, we’d have to return to Finger Lakes to collect in person. Alas, it was not to be.
More to do
At the Windows From The Sevens sports bar on the gaming floor, racing fans can view horses at the finish line. (A self-serve betting terminal is here.) Remedy is a gorgeous bar located on the gaming floor. Sleek and chic, one humongous TV was tuned to hockey with others tuned to horse racing. I slurped a $5 Derby Special, a Jamaican Julep while watching pre-Derby coverage.
The Vineyard Buffet prices ranged from $13.95 for seniors Monday-Thursday to $19.95 for dinner. We opted for the delicious Wolfgang Puck Express (open daily from noon to 9 p.m.), a casual restaurant with upscale food. We ate like horses – Tortilla Soups, Butter Lettuce Salads and Wild Mushroom Pizzas. Prices range from $5 to $16. There is a variety of other options throughout the complex. New this summer, Trucks at the Track features Rochester food trucks, wineries and breweries at the track on select dates. Look for live music on weekends plus outdoor concerts.
If you go
Gaming: Daily from 8 a.m. to 4 a.m.
Racing: Mid-April through early December. Doors open at 11:30 a.m. unless otherwise posted. Post time at Finger Lakes is 1:10 p.m., Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday; 12:35 p.m. Friday. (No live racing Wednesday/Sunday).
Check out the Purple Haze Center (fingerlakestap.org) located on the edge of the parking lot (near Beaver Creek Road). It houses the Finger Lakes Thoroughbred Adoption Program (FLTAP), which is dedicated to finding homes for retired horses.