Boise Sports and Outdoors

Live Horse Racing at Les Bois Park - Ten Furlongs of Fun

You'd probably give me a strange look if I tried to convince you that we're a lot closer to Kentucky than you might think. No, I'm not talking about all the Kentucky bluegrass that's in everyone's yard, nor am I going to cite statistics about the bourbon consumption in Ada County, even if both are quite significant. The connection is a love for horse racing, and the only place around here to get your fill of the ponies is Les Bois Park.

The return of live horse racing to Les Bois Park a couple years ago after a multi-year absence was greeted enthusiastically by degenerate gamblers all over the valley, which is not all that surprising. But large crowds throughout the race season proved that even casual fans missed the genteel sport and were willing to spend a few bucks at the track. Or maybe it was just that a lot of women around here have a closet full of large hats and an affinity for mint juleps, which makes the track about the only place they can show off the former and guzzle the latter without appearing gauche or unrefined. Either way, with a reported attendance of 170,000 in 2011, people showed an overwhelming amount of support for a venue that was once seen as a lost cause, and this came as a surprise to many folks.

The obvious draw of horse racing is the gambling action. If you're partial to a Pick 3, Quiniela, or Parlay, they've got you covered. Supposedly you can study a variety of factors in the racing program and be able to lay down bets that have a good chance of paying off, but to me, betting on horses or dogs has always seemed like picking a number out of a hat. But I've talked to many a racing fan who insists that if you do your homework and pay attention to things like track conditions, moon phases, and astrological prophesies, you can actually make good money wagering on horses. One fellow says he even paid his way through college doing it down in California. I suppose if you can make a living playing cards, you can make a living playing horses, but it sure seems like a longshot to me. For the casual fans, picking a horse that looks good and has reasonable odds and betting on it to win is entertainment enough. You can make it as simple or complex as you want, and that's the secret to good time.

For me and most folks you'll find at Les Bois, the real attraction of the horse track has more to do with atmosphere. Why do so many people go to the Kentucky Derby? Trust me -- it ain't because of the races, which are way too similar to bad sexual experiences (long buildup, 45 seconds of action, then disappointment). It's because of the huge party and social event enveloping the races. Even on a Wednesday night at Les Bois, which is always Ladies Night, you'll be able to feel this atmosphere, which is rife with beer-fueled conversation, pretty ladies, race bugling, and excited wagerers pumping fists in the grandstands as the horses cross the finish line. On a warm evening, with the sunlight flooding the Boise Foothills in the background, Les Bois is a very agreeable place to be.

Even kids can appreciate the place. After you get over the strange feeling every somewhat respectable parent gets when you realize you're taking a young child to the track, you'll realize there's a lot for a kid to watch. The racing teams parade the horses in the paddock before the race, and kids love to get up close and watch them pass by. And unlike a sport such as football or baseball that has complex rules, a horse race is easy for kids to understand. Fastest horse wins, period. There are no pass interference flags, icing, offsides, or infield fly rules to try to explain, so even a six-year-old can understand what's going on. As for the wait between races, well, buy the kid a soda and tell him to watch the tractors grooming the track or the down-on-their-luck gamblers combing the racing program for that one winner that's going to start them on a hot streak. It's good, clean fun at its best.

With a full racing season this year -- early May to August, consisting of over 30 live race days -- you'll have ample opportunity to experience Les Bois, and I recommend you take advantage of the chance. Even if you don't wager a penny, which is usually the way I roll, you'll still have a good time. I'd bet money on it.

Event: Live Horse Racing
Where: Les Bois Park

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When: May-August
Cost: $5 general admission, then lay down your bets
Website: Les Bois Park
Why I love it: In this day and age, what other purpose can horses serve?