This is a 100% true story about the perilous journey of two young horse players who set out on a mission on a snowy winter's day in New York to seek their fame and fortune at the racetrack.
The Epic Journey Begins.
I had been on about a dozen excursions to Aqueduct and Belmont Park by the time I attended seventh grade at St. William the Abbot Catholic School, in Seaford, NY.
But all those outings were with my grandfather and I always wondered what it would be like to go to the track unsupervised.
One day on the playground I was yapping about my vast racetrack experience and a fellow student suggested we cut out of school the very next day and hitchhike the 20 miles to Aqueduct.
I accepted the offer and we met up early the next morning to try to make the first race post time at 12:30 p.m.
This was a super cool and exciting idea but it wasn't planned out very well at all.
We had no food or water, no coats, hats, gloves, or even a sweater, We hadn't thought of bringing a change of clothes, so we were in completely goofy-looking Catholic school attire. And to complicate matters it was starting to hail and snow and we were wet and cold before we even started out to walk to the highway to put our thumbs out.
To give you a glimpse of how delusional two 13-year-olds can be, my friend and I each had six dollars to travel a 40-mile round trip in the snow and attend a full day at the races. We seriously thought we had plenty of money.
We walked and hitchhiked for the first hour but had no takers and we encountered countless setbacks.
We had to stop hitchhiking every time we passed a police car, or one passed us. We also ran into several crazy people, loose and aggressive dogs, and a few mothers who wanted to know why we were hitchhiking in a snowstorm and not in school.
Our perfectly ironed white shirts and maroon pants were fully splattered from the snow/mud mush combination, courtesy of the passing trucks, cars, and buses. Some drivers even tried to splash us on purpose.
Two hours after we set out, we were picked up by a very nice man with a very warm car who was quite entertained by our quest and decided to drive us right up to the gate at Aqueduct.
As my friend and I approached the entrance we were quite disappointed when we realized it was $2 to get in. This would eliminate a third of our bankroll and was not a feasible choice. While discussing our options, we noticed a well-placed tree about 1/8 mile past the finish line and just on the other side of the track apron. We climbed the tree, hopped the fence, and tried to blend in among the crowd.
But two baby-faced, guilty-looking 13-year-olds in Catholic uniforms certainly drew some unneeded attention. There were finger-pointing and whispers but nobody actually questioned us.
We had missed the first race but had plenty of time for the second. We pulled a program out of the garbage discarded by an early loser and studied it.
We both settled on a horse named Elegant Disguise, who would be ridden by Larry Adams. He was the only jockey I knew of at the time and my grandfather said he always brought home some big prices. Elegant Disguise was listed in the program at 30/1 in a six-horse field. The odds fluctuated a bit but he was exactly 30/1 at post time.
We made our way to the window and after a combination of frowns, smirks, and eventually a laugh from the teller, he printed out two $2 win tickets on the number six horse.
We were ecstatic that we had overcome such a rough journey and held our tickets up and cheered each other as the horses loaded.
But our joy was short-lived, as our horse reared and was dead last around the first turn. But like a script from a Hollywood movie, the horse started advancing on the far outside and into contention. As the field hit the stretch, the front runners tired and Larry Adams and Elegant Disguise blew by them at the eighth pole to get up by a length. We were jumping up and down and could hardly contain ourselves.
The horse paid $62.80 and we collected our money without even thinking to tip the teller who let us bet illegally.
As I scraped the change off the counter, I said, "Hey, thanks, buddy!"
"Thanks don't pay the pills, shithead," he replied. "Don't you idiots ever come to my window again or I'll beat you with him," as he pointed to each of us. We didn't put it together that he wanted a tip until after we arrived home.
In addition to our $62.80, we still had $4 from our original $6 wad and decided our mission was accomplished.
The weather had gotten much worse and there was talk of canceling the remaining races, so we headed home.
It was a long and tough journey making it the 20 miles back to Seaford in the bad weather but we both made it home safe, sound, cold, and wet with $66 sweetly tucked away in our socks.
We never got busted by our parents and blamed the mud-covered uniforms on a school bus, which wasn't exactly a lie.
It was the best day ever but little did I know it would be slightly bittersweet. At 13 years old, we felt we had conquered the rigors of NYC as well as the world of horse racing, all from one good day at the track. We would be hooked forever by the intense action of horse racing and the ambiance of the racetrack in general.
We laughed at all the stupid people going to work in the morning at regular jobs. Our plan was to become professional horse players after graduating 8th grade elementary school the very next year and there would be no need to attend jr. high, high school, or college. We thought we would never have to work because we possessed special knowledge that no other mortal human knew. We thought we were gifted.
That day happened over 50 years ago and my friend and I are now 63 years old. We were extremely wrong about the work thing and being gifted and we have both been employed our entire lives. But we've also played the horses throughout the journey and have no regrets.
Some have stated that this winning day was the worst thing that ever could have happened and that we would become degenerate gamblers for life and never own a quarter. There surely could be a small amount of truth to that opinion but my friend and I still think it was the perfect day.
Author: Peter Monaco
Photo: Pixabay (free)