Every morning, I used to walk around beautiful River Downs. The scenic river view, the sunshine, and heat that could melt the asphalt. There was a special table near the food court that had some very unique characters. They used to pull three tables together, play the races, and complain worse than old ladies playing bingo. If I would go around and pass out $100 bills, this group would bitch that it wasn’t $500…..
In every mob there is a leader. This gent was tall and mouthy, and overall a very intelligent man. He used to hold court talking about what had happened the day before, and what needed to be fixed. The older crew would sit and listen, and pour over their Daily Racing Form. Instead of being a leader of power, he chose to turn the group into a negative bunch that couldn’t pick a winner in a single horse race. They would pull together and make bets as a group. They would take turns selecting, but all decisions had to go through the boss. When he was a younger man, he used to sit with the young turks and fire away. Over time they went broke, and he found another group of faithful followers. This man could make Secretariat lose a claiming race.
The “Carpenter” was an older player who was quite a nice guy. He didn’t fit the group at first glance, but if you looked closely, he was the quiet guy who laughed at the jokes, and went along with the bets. Not one to bitch, but he would sit silently as the mob ruled. He used to go out and look at the runners in the paddock. He would come back with notes and observations, only to be trumped by the boss. But, he would sit still many times, and watch his horse win while the boss’ horse would run down the drain. Good guy caught in a bad place, but most of the time it beats sitting alone.
The “Ginch” was a guy who acted like he was plugged into the wall. A small man who had a large mouth. He would troll back-and-forth like a shark. He would say about anything, and then look to the boss for approval. Most of the time he didn’t receive his blessing, and would immediately backtrack by saying, “yeah, thats what I meant to say.” Ginchie could make you nervous as he paced all day long. If you looked closely, he would wear a path in the concrete floor going from the window to the boss. I used to feel sorry for this fella’ as he just needed a place to be. You know, after further review I think he was just where he needed to be.
“The bus driver” is a large man who says very little. An excellent handicapper who doesn’t play with the crew often. He just likes to sit at the tables, and listen to the mob yak about racetrack crapola. He goes for lunch at least three times a day, and works to keep his weight at his optimum level. When he is winning, he doesn’t drive the bus. But, when you see that city bus outside, well, I think you can figure that he is on a bad streak. I once bought him lunch on behalf of the track as he could be a very good player. When I came around to sign off the check later that afternoon, he had four lunch specials. I asked the waitress who his guests were, and she calmly told me that he sat alone and ate all day. She also told me that he didn’t make a bet as he was calling his bookie by phone. At the end of the day he never left a tip, and there were no more free lunches.
I usually like to talk about the good characters of the racing world. There are so many good folks, that sometimes you lose track of just how special they are. But, it wouldn’t be the truth if you didn’t tell the whole story. This memory was brought to mind when I took my son to enjoy a day at the races. He loves to go play some video games, and root for the $2 show ticket that I bought him. Upon entering, I tried to walk past the mob when the boss yelled out loudly, “hey, why don’t you just leave your money with us, and you will save yourself some time.” My son looked up at me and asked, “hey dad, who were those guys?” – I told him they were the guys who were going to tell us who was going to lose…