Where were the fireworks? It's tough to get people to come out for local pro soccer when it's running at the same time as the World Cup (won Sunday by Italy in overtime penalty kicks after Frances's Zinedine Zidane, apparently gagging on all the adulation from TV announcers, decided a head butt was a good way to step off the world stage). At UH's Robertson Stadium fans get to sit on (stick to) aluminum benches without cover from sun or rain. World Cup viewing at home or in a bar is generally more comfortable with a better choice of alcoholic beverages.
It didn't help any that the July 4 night game match of the Dynamo versus the Columbus Crew from Ohio was flat. It started out auspiciously enough. Skydivers dropped into the stadium pre-game. Two steel gray jets flashed through overhead. Brian Ching, in his first at home game since his visit to World Cup land, scored within the first five minutes. The Texian relentless boosters went off — this time at the right moment. Then it all sort of settled out into endless touches, bobbled passes and "missed opportunities" -- that wonderful euphemism for pissing a game away. The Dynamo let not-so-hot Columbus catch up with a penalty shot and that was pretty much it. The crowd was a just under 8,500 for the match — not stellar for a holiday, but as the Houston Chronicle explained, there had been that threat of bad weather that night. Another disappointment: no fireworks at the end, but since they were missing from the game, probably appropriate.
Best play: the two teams of U13 Kingwood boys who took to the field at halftime showing hustle and some good foot skills as they battled each other. Note to club: Someone needs to tell the Texians to stop beating their drums while the stadium is playing something else (the Digimon music soundtrack this time) to urge on the kids' halftime showcase game. Fan of the night: the idiot sitting four rows back who methodically yelled "cheaters" or "you cheaters" every five minutes or so throughout the game. At least work on a little variety.
Forget the fireworks, where were the umbrellas? Saturday's mid-day consolation match of the World Cup allowed Germany to regain some of its honor with a 3-1 win over Portugal. The Dynamo decided to match that a few hours later and actually came out and played soccer like it meant something. Maybe the pre-game lightning got them charged up. In fact, the turnout showed how bogus Tuesday's bad weather threat excuse had been. More than 11,000 fans showed up to wait 45 minutes for the game to start as the lightning and thunder finished up the pregame show. The difference was the opponent, Chivas USA, an up-and-coming California team with several players from Mexico. For once the orange-shirted Texians faced off with an equally devoted group, this time the Chivas true believers in red and white.
Chivas, working to take second place away from the Dynamo and make it its own, scored first. But the Dynamo, led by, of course, a Ching goal came back in the first half and two more goals were scored in the second, one by Alejandro Moreno on his birthday and the other by Brian Mullan.
Outside the stadium, an untidy stack of umbrellas lay on one table, confiscated by management. Turns out even when it's raining you can't bring in an umbrella. It obstructs the view; it attracts lighting strikes and people can use them as a weapon, one security guard lectured helpfully to disgruntled drippy fans. "This is a UH rule," she added, probably mindful of the bad publicity the Dynamo got for first saying people could bring their own water in to games with them, then saying, no they couldn't.
Best shot of the game: Number 10 for Chivas, Juan Pablo Garcia, took a hard fall to the turf. After a lot of drama queen moments on the pitch he consented to being moved over to one side of the field where trainers pulled down his shorts and squirted water on his injury. Fans on that side were treated to an up-close and extended look at his bare butt. An umbrella might been a useful cover-up.
Speaking of umbrellas, backsides and rain, Sam Houston Race Track came close to calling off Saturday night's quarterhorse races after taking a drenching with the rains. Things got underway a bit late but conditions improved as the evening went on. Still, horses were pulled from races throughout the night — not everyone is a mudder. It was a big night too, star billing went to the MBNA Texas Challenge Championship. This Snow is Cold won the ninth race and gets to go on to the finals in November, proving two things: girls can beat the boys at the shorter lengths quarter horses run and horse owners are running out of names.
Now that most of the airports are off limits to wander around in unless you're actually getting on a flight, it's tough to find a better place to study society than at a race track. It's cheap ($3 to get in), handy, especially if you're in the north Houston area, and even if they're not running races there's some Simulcasting going on. A piercing fire alarm went off periodically throughout the evening thanks to the heat in the kitchen. The bettors pretty much ignored it. Should be interesting should they ever have a real fire there.
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Of course this is more than just betting. There's the horses, the mud encrusted jockeys, the trainers thanking owners for sending them their horses so they can feed their families and the owners themselves. Owners like Joe and Joyce Platt from Wimberley whose horse Ida Snow Man (there's that snow stuff again and for a Texas bred too) won the fifth race just half a breath off the track record. They stood in the muddy winner's circle, just beaming. It's a big risk to run horses — known mainly for their ability to suck money out of people — especially in Texas where the purses aren't always as big as in nearby states.
There aren't quarter horse races in New York or New Jersey, according to track publicity director Martha Claussen. So seeing quarter horses run here is kind of like going to some northern states where they still do log rolling or eat some kinds of weird pickled fish. Kind of a regional delight. The races on the straightaway are short and fast. Catch them quick, the season is over in September, before the track switches back to thoroughbreds.
Highlight personal best bet: Bet $18 on three horses in the ninth race. Collected winnings of $18.20. Ahead by a nose. -- Margaret Downing