Island Tales
Naples Ft. Myers Greyhound Track ©
- Libby Boren McMillan

When Smarty Jones came across the Belmont finish line trailing Birdstone, in-the-know southwest Floridians were watching from the comfort of the Clubhouse - at Naples Ft. Myers Greyhound Track. Operating in Bonita Springs since 1957, the track not only presents year-round greyhound racing, but simulcasting of thoroughbred horse racing, harness and greyhound racing from across the U.S. As if that weren't enough to attract gamblers, the Clubhouse now offers a popular poker room.

A friend and I enjoyed an evening at the track in late May. Parking was easy and free, $2.00 valet was available. Visitors to the track choose from grandstand admission ($2.00) or clubhouse admission ($3.00). Children under 12 are free. Families choose the grandstand - in this section of the stadium, you can stay indoors in the air conditioning, or go outside and lean right up against the rail. You get a completely different sense of the speed involved when the dogs thunder past, causing earth to fly and hearts to pound. A railside position also allows up-close inspection of the dogs in the pre-race parade toward the starting gate. Grandstand goers have access to Food Courts for sandwiches, snacks, beverages, ice cream and pizza, as well as full service bars.

The extra dollar to get into the Clubhouse was well spent. The Clubhouse dining room serves lunch and dinner, with full trackside views on four levels. Open during all live racing performances in-season, the dining room has a simulcast TV on every table and the food looked delicious. (Reservations are suggested on weekends and in season).

Greyhound Racing
Photo courtsey of Naples Ft. Myers
Greyhound Track

Just outside the dining room is another large, comfortable room from which to view simulcasting on a multitude of TVs. Live action races can be enjoyed on a large screen, or by a short walk down to the wall of windows. We began the evening walking back and forth from betting window to picture window, but eventually settled into seats in front of a big screen, just steps from our favorite cashier.

Wagers are easily placed via staff or automated machines. We found the fellow taking our bets to be extremely personable and helpful. A person certainly doesn't have to be an experienced bettor to have fun, but a little homework seemed to pay off. Programs and handicap sheets for both horses and dogs spell out pre-race odds, as well as previous track records and winnings. We spent a few minutes before each race, studying the numbers together, and formulating educated guesses. Making $2 bets all night long, we had a blast, high-fiving each other for earning $5 here and $3 there to offset our losses. Our big win for the night? A $25 quiniela (choosing 1st and 2nd in any order). All told, at evening's end, the two of us had had three hours of betting fun, two cocktails and two sodas for a grand total of about $20. (Your results will vary, of course, depending upon budget, nerves and luck).

Part of the fun is the people-watching. Clubhouse goers tend to be much more serious than those in the grandstand, where the majority of the whooping and hollering is going on. Throughout the facility, people were dressed in everything from shorts to formals, although nice casual dress was the rule most folks followed in the Clubhouse.

One of the best parts is watching other people win. While we waited in line to collect our meager earnings, the young fellow in front of us almost fell over when told he had just won $4100.

This piqued our curiosity: what was the largest amount anyone had won at this particular track, betting on dogs or horses? "On Kentucky Derby Day, May first of this year, a man from Bonita Springs hit on the trifecta and won $41,090.00," says Dave Kempton, Marketing Director for the track. "That was one of the biggest ever."

Next to the Legends Lounge is the Clubhouse poker room, a recent addition to the track. "They just changed the law last summer, the legislature did, that upped the stakes of how much you could play for in a game of poker," explains Kempton. "What that means is that we're attracting the serious poker players. Poker's now also popular on TV, so that's created more interest."

Naples Fort Myers Greyhound Track is home to legions of dogs. Many of the dogs running there are local dogs, owned and trained by southwest Floridians. "Your bigger owners," says Kempton, "will have a large number of dogs, and they move them around from here to the east coast. Probably right now, there are around 50 kennels at the track, with 50 different owners or trainers. We have up to 900 dogs here at one time. It's a big operation."

Greyhounds make great family pets
Photo courtsey of Homewardbound Greyhounds

Dog lovers should consider visiting the Adopt-A-Greyhound offices at the Grandstand entrance. According to literature available about the service, these four-footed trained athletes are considered among the most affectionate, well-behaved and intelligent pets. They don't jump on people, they travel well, and in most cases, families can enjoy up to 9 years with their sleek pets, as greyhounds retire at two to three years of age, and live until about 11. Adoption is free; new owners are responsible for having each dog spayed or neutered and given the necessary shots.

Besides matinees and nightly racing, the track has a few special events throughout the year: the three Triple Crown Races in late spring, the Breeders' Cup in late October, and during season, the track's own $20,000 marathon championship for the dogs. St. Patrick's Day brings one of the best Irish Music Festivals around.

Naples Fort Myers Greyhound Track is fun for anyone. "We get a lot of families in the summer and on spring break, we get the college kids," says Kempton. "We have a mini putt-putt golf course and some games for the kids, but little kids, six and
under .... they're entertained by watching the dogs. They get close to the track, see the dirt fly up. Little kids are enamored with that."

Located on Bonita Beach Road at Old U.S. 41 (just east of U.S. 41), Naples Fort Myers Greyhound Track is an attraction worth checking out. Results are posted daily on www.Rosnet.com. Call 239-992-2411 for info.

For information on adopting a greyhound, call 239-731-3187 or 239-947-2365.

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