Every person who has ever walked through the turnstile gates has a story. Some are sweet and detail days of riches, and others speak of the bad beat of a lifetime. Either way, the stories continue forever. Here is one that I had the pleasure of hearing, and believe it or not they are the stuff that make racing special.
Where in the world would you ever hear a story like this? The days of “Old Latonia” resonate in my mind. I travelled out many times with my Dad, but this dank old track held a million stories. There was the old story of a security guard that still stays in my memory. The 1970’s at Latonia were some of the “dark” days. Things could be a bit murky, and once I started working there years later, I found some to be true. Horses were held, jockeys would report to ride under the influence, and there were a thousand tales of trying to beat the odds.
Jack was a security guard. He always wanted to be a police officer, but he would have never made the height requirement. His detail was the parking and backside areas, and he even bought an old telephone delivery van to make his rounds. He loved the track, but loved to be a part of the action even more. He would come in three hours early everyday, and hung around on the backside talking with trainers, and stirring up investigations.
One day, an older trainer asked him to watch his horse work on a farm. Well, Jack couldn’t have ever said no, because he might have missed something to talk about. The trainer asked Jack to stand at the top of the 1/2 mile homemade oval with two garbage can lids. He said his horse would really run fast when he heard the clanging and banging of the metal lids. He found this out when his horse broke out of his stall during a noisy wind storm.
Well, when the old nag broke in company going two turns on the farm. Jack saw him coming, and started banging and clanging the metal lids like nobody’s business. The horse jumped, and ran like a scalded dog… They were happy, and the talk of entering next week became the talk of the morning. Jack couldn’t wait…
The day had come, and they were racing on a frigid January evening. Jack made his way to the 3/8th’s pole, and parked his van along the rail. Nobody ever questioned the old guy, and figured old “Barney Fife” had a lead on a case. The horses were over a 1/4 mile away, and were getting ready to break from the gate. The field assembled, and were sent on their way as snow was beginning to fall. When the field was getting close, Jack got out of his van, and left his drivers door open to hide the garbage can lids. As the runners came in ear shot, Jack began banging and clanging the lids so hard that he dropped one on the ground. His spooked runner opened up by three lengths, and was gunned down in the stretch as they neared the wire. It was a bad night for Jack as he had bet $20 to win on this nag.
Upon going back to the barn, the trainer was not upset at all. He said Jack had really got him going, and now they had to figure out a way to get someone to hide behind the trees as they turned for home. Well, I don’t know if it was the lost $20, or if Jack had finally woke up. But, he didn’t want to be a part of the garbage can band anymore. The night was coming to a close, and the story would gain power for years to come. The first time I heard it was in the parking office as I was counting the money drop for the night. I laughed until I cried, and the room was his stage for the story of his lifetime. The way he went through the physical motions of banging the lids, and jumping up and down as he did on that night. It was another story that made the old days so intriguing. It would be hard to imagine something like happening today, or would it? Jack has been gone for many years now, but his story still makes us laugh.