Frustrations abound in this life we have chosen

Frustrations abound in this life we have chosen
The daily frustrations of a horseplayer are never-ending and so are our sad tales of woe.

This personal story happened several years ago but this exact scenario plays out every day at every racetrack around the world. The dates, horses, and racetracks change, and the bets may be different but winning still remains elusive, and losing is as constant as the Northern Star.

But like soldiers in the mafia, this is the life we have chosen.

The Dream Begins

The date is August 24, 2015. It's a beautiful day in Saratoga Springs, NY, and there just happens to be a two-day carryover of $500,000 in the Pick-6 pool.

The masses have wagered over 2 million new dollars going after that half-million-dollar pot and dreams of utopia are abundant and with my $32 ticket, I share that dream.

I've done my homework and I'm beyond confident. I liked the card and my picks so much, that I even have delusions of being the only winner and taking down the whole whopping pool of $2.75 million.

The day starts off well, as I bag the first three winners and feel I'm in the zone. There were no big prices to keep the illusion alive of being the sole heir of the prize but a 4/1 and a 5/1 shot in the sequence should provide for a decent payday, should I greet the cashier.

As the card went on, things only got better and I found myself just where I wanted to be. I secured the first five winners and my dream was alive with the second choice in the wagering, a 7/2 shot named Weekend Hottie in the finale. 

I really didn't want to look at the "will pay" prices but with the massive pool, I didn't know if I was looking at getting back $3,000 or $40,000, so I grabbed a glance. If Weekend Hottie wins the last race I would cash for just over $8,000.

Surely not the life-changing score I was dreaming about but definitely a good day's pay for a $32 investment. I tried to get my best Zen face on and I thought of good things. I thought of my family and friends, the children in my life, my love for animals, and what a decent guy I was. All that good stuff MUST count for something and today was the day I'd be getting a small return for my good deeds and life choices. It also wasn't long ago when I helped a little old lady across a very busy street and I also took in 3 stray cats, so why not a bit of sunshine on me? Everything seemed to line up perfectly and not only could I picture it happening, I knew it would happen. My handicapping was definitely sound and my horse was live on the board. This is what we live for as horseplayers.

It was also fabulous that not another human being on the planet knew I was alive with this bet. I knew better than to tell anyone (the kiss of death) and it was heartening to know that particular jinx factor was totally eliminated.

As the gates opened, I thought of how I'd react when my horse won. I'd probably give a good yelp or two and grab the poor bastard next to me and hug him until he threatened me with an official NY beating. I'd definitely do a very awkward dance for a full minute and then, of course, there is the mandatory "victory lap" in which a winning Pick-6 patron must run around the window area in an extremely hyped-up state until the race is made official.

All these thoughts occur in our heads in mere seconds, and then the horseplayer's brain gets back on the race, as mine did. My horse settled sweetly on the rail after the break, behind several speedy types who were all intent on being near the early pace. A good and beautiful thing in a long grass race, or so it would seem.

As the race progressed, I only got happier. The rider, who shall remain nameless, guided the horse a few paths to the outside to keep out of the way of the hopefully retreating leaders.

My horse was out of trouble with a clear run to the finish and if the horse finished up as I predicted, it would be an easy few-length win.

As the field turned for home, I smiled as Weekend Hottie seemed fully loaded and ready to pounce in the middle of the racetrack.

But as the horses got closer, there were some concerns. The jockey wasn't whipping or even pumping the horse. In fact, he wasn't urging her at all and even seemed to be holding her back. The rider still had a decent hold at the 1/8 pole and was slightly standing up in the saddle and in response, Weekend Hottie sulked a bit, lost some momentum and that was that. After 5 horses past him at the sixteenth pole the jock decided to make it look good and let the horse go. He hit the horse a total of three times and the last of those strikes was on the wire. The horse got 4th place, all on his own, probably by accident, and finished only a few lengths behind the winner.

I immediately thought it could've been an injury or an equipment malfunction or maybe even the jockey was hurt. But at that exact moment, my Grandfather's voice echoed through my head, uttering the familiar words that I heard so many times from him at the racetrack: "He don't want nothin."

This term of not wanting anything stems from my early years at the racetrack with my Granddad.

He was the kind of horseplayer who waited days or even weeks for one of his "three-star specials" to run.

We'd get to the track and wait not so patiently for the second coming of Secretariat to compete. The gates would fly open and as the field took order, he'd look at me and moan.

I'd say, "What's the matter, Pop," hoping he wasn't having a heart attack, which was quite common among the old fellows at the NY racetracks at that time. Through his non-heart related sickness, he'd say, "He don't want nothin."

He would then shake his head, sometimes his fist too, and walk dejectedly back towards the clubhouse. 

The race was only half over but Granddad had seen enough.

He eventually explained that sometimes owners, trainers, and/or jockeys, don't want to win with a horse and obviously, the reasons can vary. The horse might be looking at a bigger race down the road and they just want to tighten him up. A horse might be coming off a layoff with an injury and the connections just want to slowly reintroduce him to the races.

But my Grandfather attributed the malady mainly to the connections wanting a bigger price on their horse in the semi-near future, due to the horse's non-winning performance that day.

Weekend Hottie ran mid-pack all the way around the track and finished a very good fourth, considering the questionable ride.

I did have 5 out of 6 winners that day which resulted in a $68 consolation payoff, which got me close to even for the extremely exhausting day. I was of course, disappointed, depressed, and miserable.

It seems I did everything right and yet everything still turned out wrong. There's no doubt at all in my mind, that Weekend Hottie could've run by the three horses that finished in front of her on that day if the jock just let her go in the lane. I'll never know if something was amiss that day or if the connection's intentions were just way different than mine.

There is, of course, no way to handicap or forsee the true aim of the connections for any particular race on any given day and this is yet another blind spot encountered when betting on horses. We all know it comes with the territory but it's still always hard to digest.

But there's no doubt we'll be firing away tomorrow anyway, just in case we can figure out who really wants to win. 

The eternal struggle continues, for this is the life we have chosen.

Author: Peter Monaco 

Photo: Pixaby (free) 

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