I'm also sure most of us have wagered a tad more than we had planned to during an outing and that usually doesn't work out well either.
This is a true story about a young man's first large wager and the perfect storm that he encountered while navigating the treacherous waters of putting down a four-figure bet.
Let the humbling begin.
The year was 1982 and that would make me 22 years old. I'd like to say I was a quiet and humble sort but at that time I was the exact opposite. I was full of piss and vinegar, vim and vigor, and a few other substances.
I was in between jobs and hitting Belmont Park every day. I had recently discovered that you weren't required to bet on every race and that sitting out contests where you didn't have a strong opinion could produce great dividends.
My new system involved handicapping the entire card and then coming up with my two best bets of the day. If they were 3/1 or better at post time, I'd play them progressively across the board (1st, 2nd, and 3rd).
My daily bets of $20 to win, $40 to place, and $60 to show had made me over $100 a day for the last dozen racing days, just betting two horses a card. If the horse was less than 3/1 at post time, there would be no wager.
It was tough sitting out races and waiting for your horse to run but this system was proven and with the help of my new and exciting friends at the racetrack bar, I suffered through killing the time.
I got my paperwork ready and went through my normal routine before I left the house for the 17.6-mile ride to Belmont, in Elmont NY.
I had my $1,200 in previous winnings stashed under a large Conch shell on a bookcase. I'd normally peel off three hundred and put the rest back and then add to the wad when I got home. But on this day, as I pulled the wad out of the shell, it fell on the floor. I picked it up, looked in the mirror, and for some reason did a little dance while stuffing all $1,200 in my pocket. I remember thinking, "I'll take it just in case I see a good thing and today might be the day. "
I was all charged up and arrived at the track two races before my first runner. I spent an hour or two in the bar and was very excited for my first plunge of the day.
But my excitement turned to disappointment when my 3/1 morning line favorite opened at 9/5 in the first flash on the tote. He never went any higher than 2/1 but he did win easily. I thought of the $1,200 just sitting idle in my pocket and shook my head.
I had to kill time for another few races before my next wager and can safely say I spent way too long in the pub. The more I drank the more I loved my next horse. If I remember correctly, his name was Duplex, or at least that was part of his name. He was from Brazil and had done great things in Group 1 races. He had only lost once in ten outings over there and only had one start in the States where he ran dead last. This would be his second start in the US and his first run at Belmont. I felt he was primed and loaded, he'd love the track and I might get a price because of his last poor effort.
I carefully watched the tote board and with 5 minutes to post, I contemplated my options.
I somehow felt the track owed me for hanging around all day and making me drink too much beer.
I knew this horse would win and it seemed stupid to put down $120 to only win $100 when I could put down $1,200 and make a grand. It seemed like a simple and rational decision, minus the alcohol.
It was set. I would put the wad down on Duplex at odds of 7/2.
As I made my way to the window, I was a mess. I dropped the money on the floor twice and hit my head on the way up. I had trouble getting out the words but I was somehow able to leave the window with a single ticket that read: $200 win, $400 place, $600 show on #6, Duplex.
With a minute left, I made my way to my perch outside near the 1/8 pole. My stomach felt queasy, I was sweating a bit and I felt like I had to go to the bathroom but they were already at the gate, so I couldn't.
My horse broke well enough and was sitting on the outside in fourth as two leaders slugged it out on the front end just as I had predicted. My plan was when these two speedballs backed up, Duplex would come storming past them and win easily. But when the horses appeared in front of me after straightening out on the turn, the two front runners still looked tough and weren't backing up as I had thought. Nonetheless, Duplex was roaring home in the middle of the racetrack, and looked like he was getting to them. After the field roared past me, my view of the finish wasn't the best but it sure looked like he got up on the far outside. If he didn't win, I was sure he ran second and if I was blind, he still got third. I ran inside to see the replay on the monitor and it showed four horses on the line bobbing up and down, and it was a lot closer than I thought. They were heads and noses apart but so far spread apart from one another, that you couldn't tell who won. The replay that was no help seemed to go on forever but they eventually posted the results. Duplex had run fourth. I would find out the next day that Duplex was officially a head, a neck, and a nose from all the marbles.
All I could do was hope for an inquiry but of course, there was none.
I felt awful and headed to the bathroom in a daze and total shock. The people walking by seemed distorted and looked like they were walking in slow motion, just like the race replay I watched 20 times.
When I got to the bathroom, I realized I didn't have to go anymore but splashed some water on my face to wake up for what would be a very long and depressing ride home. As I dried my hands and looked in the mirror I started to cry a little but I stopped when an old guy came in whistling.
He stopped when he saw me drying my eyes. "C'mon, son. It can't be that bad, he said."
"Oh yeah, mister, it's bad. It's really freaking bad," I said as I showed him the ticket.
"$1,200 on one horse," he said while shaking his head. "What the hell were you thinking boy?"
He grabbed my shoulders, looked me in the eye, and said, "Here's what you're gonna do. That race happened a million years ago. There is nothing you can do about it now and you need to forget all about it." He fumbled around his pockets for a bit and came out with a $5 bill. "Here take this," he said, as he stuffed the fin in my top pocket behind my cigarettes. "Get yourself a donut and a cup of coffee on the way home and when you get there forget this day ever happened."
"I couldn't, pal. I just lost $1,200," I said. "I can't take your money but thank you."
"I insist," he said. Please take it. I promise it'll make us both feel better."
I took his $5 and his advice, at least the part about coffee and a donut but I couldn't forget about that race. A million "what ifs" are still in my mind to this day and it's just one of those beats that stay with you forever.
I arrived home sad but got even sadder when I looked at the empty overturned shell that once housed $1,200 less than six hours ago. There would be no dancing in front of the mirror with a wad of cash today and there would be no track outing tomorrow.
Although it should've happened much sooner, it was at this exact moment in time that I realized and fully learned that big bets were surely not for me. It certainly seemed to take all the fun out of horse racing and also took a tremendous toll on the mind, body, and spirit.
And although I think of that day on occasion, and then quickly try to forget about it, I think of that nice man much more often. He went out of his way to try to help soften the blow of a devastating stupid move made by a young nitwit at the racetrack. He didn't know me from a hole in the wall and I never saw him before either. We never even got each other's names but he will be my hero forever.
Author: Peter Monaco
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