The ease of making a Thoroughbred wager is so simple now, that even a two-year-old could get down a bet. That is now, but once upon a time. You had to know where to get your action down, or at least know someone who would lend a hand.
Every Derby, my dad would get numerous calls from family, friends, and neighbors. They were not calling to see how we were doing, but it was race day and they wanted to get down a few bucks. He was not a bookie but had access to getting down a wager. His Aunt Millie would bet $2 to win and place on a longshot or two, the next door neighbor lady would bet $2 to win on the chalk. He had to write all of this down and travel back out to pay them. I can even remember when my Aunt Millie asked for her 40-cents on her pony. Little did she know that when it was under 60-cents, it was kept, and anything over would be rounded to the next dollar. The old man lost money on change, the gas, and people forgetting to pay. It never failed that when he arrived our relatives would have their bets written down and then hand him another sheet of paper that would have their friends bets. He never complained and somehow he pulled it off every year.
Burkes, the Buffalo Bar, and the Starlight were some of the places I would travel. I was always with dad and we would have lunch, play pinball, or just wait in a backroom while my dad and others would be reading the DRF. Smoky back rooms filled with horse players from every walk. The plumber stood next to the banker, and a $2 player rubbed elbows with $10 bettors. My small town had a bar on every corner and there were plenty of people who would accommodate your wagering needs.
My grandpa, dad, and eventually myself were betting with the same two old men. They had been in business for years, and I was given a $20 per week allowance. All that I had to do was stay out of trouble and do well in school. For me, there couldn’t have been a better life. I had $20 to play with on the “cuff” every week, and my dad would pay it off or collect my riches. Now, after you shake your head in disgust. Was it really that bad of an idea? I wanted to work cutting grass, and go to the races. My dad knew what I loved, and a young man could surely get into bigger trouble running with others.
Looking back, I really had a great time. Times were different, and I don’t think I would ever let my son join in the game. I was raised with a watchful eye, and he knew exactly what I did with my spare time. For me, I couldn’t have asked for more. I didn’t spend my time swilling warm beer in somebody’s car. I just wanted to go to the races with my dad. If I had to do it all over again, I wouldn’t change one thing. I can remember my dad had laid out the newspaper on the kitchen table before he went to work. When I woke up and saw that Lt. Bert had won at Oaklawn Park. That was it for me. I was going to be a fan for life…