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San Clemente Journal

Off and running... OC Tavern adds the “Sport of Kings” to its Menu

Feb 01, 2011 10:02PM ● By Brian O

OC Tavern brings horseracing to San Clemente

by Don Kindred

I don’t know what it takes to make a horse racing fan, but I’ve seen it happen ...

It’s usually at the stretch, when the horses come back into view after rounding the far side of the mile long track. That’s when the crowd starts to squirm in their seats ... straining their necks to bear first-witness as ten thousand pounds of equine perfection rises out of the last turn like a single 40-legged beast, all muscles and manes and hammering hoofs, raising thunder as it pounds the earth. One by one the crowd begins to rise, murmuring hopefully to themselves. The colors come into view, and the numbers and the jockeys with their shiny hats and swinging whips and the brown turf clouding about them like smoke from an anvil. Murmurs get louder, growing into a soft, rhythmic volume of separate encouragements. And then there’s a movement, from the back of the pack a maiden breaks out, caught in the rhythm and growing in speed she passes the 4th place horse.

“Come on girl...” a stifled cry rises from the crowd. Moving stronger, she passes into 3rd, “Come on girl...” the voice is louder now. Hearts are thumping inside of chests with barely-bridled excitement. When she moves to second, “Come on girl!” becomes a full-throat scream ... and as the long-shot filly sticks her nose across the finish line first ... all hell breaks loose, amid shouts of joy or frustration, tickets are tossed, strangers are hugged and no one in the room is surprised to learn that horse racing is one of the most popular of all American spectator sports ... second only to the most all-American of them all, baseball.

And now that experience comes to San Clemente. San Clemente, OC Tavern.

Right Time, Right Place

He had the room, he had the need, he had the location and let’s face it; Michael Merrigan is not one to look a gift horse in the mouth. When the owner of OC Tavern got an e-mail from the racing board that the powers that be were expanding the so-called “off track” betting sites in California, and that his site might be considered for one of them, he jumped on it. Now, after two years of meeting with race officials and the city and making the necessary improvements, OC Tavern has become the first “Mini-satellite” betting facility in California (that was not already a casino or race track.)

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The state will allow up to 45 of these locations, 15 each in the three California racing zones. “The reason the timing was good,” Michael explains, “is because since World War I the popularity of horse racing seems to have coincided with Triple Crown winners. Man-o-war brought people flocking to the race tracks, then things died down. Again in the ‘70s there was a resurgence from Secretariat, Seattle Slew and Affirmed. But since then there hasn’t been a winner for the Triple Crown, and attendance has been down at the racetracks, so the racing board decided to expand the venues, to sort of take horse racing to the people, expanding the number of venues where the sport can be enjoyed.”

Fast forwarding ahead these last two years, we now have all the attention from Zenyatta’s dramatic run for the triple crown last year (Zenyatta won the first two legs of the triple crown, the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness then finished a close 2nd on the last race at the Breeder’s Cup), combined with the release of the movie “Secretariat” and a new HBO series called “Luck,” the sport is enjoying a little surge in popularity. “As far as location,” he continues, “they needed something far enough away from the Los Alamitos Race track, and still far enough away from the Del Mar Turf Club and we’re right in between.“

Just like the realtors have always said about San Clemente; location, location,  location.

Merrigan has taken a room that was previously used for concerts and private parties and turned it into the OCT Room, which now boasts 26 wide screens, three live tellers and 15 self-serve tellers, it has its own separate bar and an open air patio with more screens and self-serve tellers. The “OTC Room” opened officially last December 26 and operates five days a week, Wednesday thru Sunday. With mini-satellite wagering, you can place bets on any horse at any of up to 10 race tracks that might be running on any given day … including one of the three local California tracks, Santa Anita, Hollywood Park, or Del Mar as they take their turns throughout the year, along with other race tracks throughout the United States.

You can pretty much place any bet at the OC Tavern that you can at a racetrack. Only you spend less gas, there’s no entrance fee and the parking is free. You’re already winning when you walk in the door. “This has been successful in Arizona already, they’ve had 60 sites running out of sports bars, bowling alleys and such, and it’s proven successful. So we have the opportunity to add the experience to the other things we’re doing here. It’s one more thing for our customers to enjoy.”

Michael adds, “We’re still doing concerts, private events, we’re still one of San Clemente’s most popular sports bars, we’ve just redone our menu, and patrons can even bring the even kids, as we also have a game room. We like to think we have something for everybody”. Stop in and see what the excitement’s about, a $2 ticket just might make you a horse racing fan.  

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