2003's horseracing heartwarmer, Seabiscuit (released last month on DVD and video), takes a fashionable look at the "Sport of Kings" in the late '20s and '30s: Shame about the whole Depression thing, but life at the track back then was noble and well-dressed.
In the movie, which stars baby-faced Tobey Maguire, the clothes and the cars were fabulous. It made such a killing at the box office that one might think it would signal a sea change in racing's normally drab off-track betting clientele.
No luck at Portland's downtown dog-and-pony gambling parlour, the Rialto. With Hiroshima-bright fluorescent lights and long, brown Formica tables, the hall resembles a dingy elementary-school cafeteria where the lunch lady's been replaced by a man who takes--and, if you're lucky, gives back--your money.
On the first Friday of the New Year, most of downtown's corporate soldiers head home tired and ragged, hungover from the week's festivities. At the Rialto, it's just another day at the races.
The handful of men (and two women) here are of many ethnicities and in various stages of aging and income. The few dozen screens showcase racetracks from as far away as Australia and as close to home as Portland Meadows. The ambience is friendly, though there's little eye contact with gazes fixed at all times on the televisions. Racing forms, newspapers and coffee cups litter the tables. Topics of conversation range from handicapping advice to the quality of racing in California (it stinks) to the recent "snowstorm."
It's hard to imagine that a movie like Seabiscuit could revolutionize the wardrobes of the patrons at the Rialto.
And why should it? They've probably never heard of Tobey Maguire, and unless he's the jockey on the No. 4 horse in the sixth race at the Santa Anita track, they don't want to know who he is. This is a bunch not so much ignorant of current events as more concerned with whether or not their six-dollar trifecta bet--not to mention their Social Security checks--will pay off or not. Seabiscuit, schmeabiscuit: These guys have gotta see a man about a horse.
Rialto, 529 SW 4th Ave., 228-7605. 11 am-2 am daily. 21+.