About this time each year we toss junk food from the fridge, donate old clothes, and re-up that gym membership that’s been off limits. We all like to start fresh, and stop doing the things that aren’t good for us. For gamblers, we want to get better. No more mistakes that cost us money, and learning to focus on the big picture. With that in mind, I went to sleep on New Year’s Eve and was transported to a place where the pantheon of legendary gamblers watched our every play. I fell to my knees and pleaded for guidance and wisdom… It felt like a Dickens classic, as they told me I was going to be visited by some original players who would give me the answers I had been seeking. I was whisked away in whirlwind and saw crowds of people, horses running, and the cheers from full-packed grandstands.
It suddenly stopped, and I opened a door that was right in front of me. The room was smoke filled. It had the feel of an old time bar where gambling passed the time, and fortunes were won and lost. There was a large poker table that sat in the back corner of the room. I walked slowly to the table to take a seat. As I started to pull my chair back, a deep voice spoke softly, “It’s not only where you sit, it’s who you sit with.” I looked at the man deeply. His face had the look of a weathered roadmap. His wide brimmed hat was tipped to the right, and a well groomed handle-bar mustache covered his mouth.” No matter what your game, always keep in the best of company. If you don’t, it will cause distractions, and fortune can fade away.” He stood up and walked away slowly as I thanked the gambler. I couldn’t help myself, and asked if I may have the answer to one more question. He smiled a wry grin and answered my question without being asked, “Bill Hickok.”
The whirlwind picked up again, and I was tossed and carried thorough a long tunnel. It stopped as suddenly as it began, and I found myself in an old betting parlor in Chicago. It was William “Silver Bill” Riley’s poolroom. You could hear the patrons talking about the races, and the usual excuses that go along with gambling. “Silver Bill” asked me to take a seat. “It won’t be long” he said, as he’s here on time everyday. It was if he could set his watch by his arrival. The door swung open and in walked a dapper man. He looked more like a businessman than a gambler… He slowly took off his overcoat, and ordered a drink to be sent to the table. When the waitress arrived, I saw he was drinking milk. He extended his hand and introduced himself, “George Smith.” ” Mr. Smith, it’s a pleasure to meet you. Thank you for taking your time to meet with me.” I replied. ” Son, lets skip the formalities and get right to task. You may call me Phil; Pittsburgh Phil to my friends… You are here to find out what separates the good and the great. It’s all pretty simple if you think about it, as there are no shortcuts. You have to keep copious notes, follow only a few tracks you are familiar, and be on hand to see the races for yourself.” – For me it made sense. It was the basic fundamental rules that have always held sway. I needed to focus on the rules we all knew, but rarely followed. If you keep your focus limited, and pay close attention, you could find yourself having an edge before making the first wager. He drank his milk and gathered his coat. “Pleasure to meet you, young man. I’m sure we’ll see each other at the races somewhere down the road.”
The winds picked up, and storm clouds surrounded me with lightning and the booming sound of thunder. I couldn’t see anything as I was twirling in darkness. I landed softly on the ground as the sun began to rise high in the sky. It was a perfect day. The blue skies and packed grandstand had the feel of a holiday. I was sitting under a maple tree on a blanket, and there was a picnic basket with the smell of fried chicken. It was the place my family gathered every Memorial Day, and I was here again. I was the only one there when I looked up to see a short stout man walking slowly toward me. He had a Racing Form in hand, and as he neared I could smell the pungent aroma of his Dutch Master cigar. It was my Papaw… He had been gone for many years, and I missed seeing him. We always talked, and I spent many days with he and my dad at the races. Papaw made his way onto the blanket with his slow gait. He stooped, and sat cross-legged and said: “Hello, Number 1.” That was my nickname as I was the first grandchild, and it brought tears to my eyes just hearing it again. “I’ve been watching you over the years, and boy-oh-boy am I proud of you Number 1. You followed your heart and have worked at doing what you love. That’s why I’m here… I’m not one of the greats, I’m just one of the many who wished they had the courage to follow their dreams.” I couldn’t believe my ears as he was there. I can smell his cigar, and watched as the horses were walking to the paddock at River Downs. “I am here to tell you to do what your heart says. Don’t worry about money or being famous. If you are doing what you love, you are the richest man in the world.” I said. “Well, Number 1, I’m off to make a bet. Life is too short for regret, and the only true sorrow is not doing what you love.” I watched as he slowly got up from the ground and quietly walked away. I watched all the way until he walked out of sight. I could still smell his cigar…
I awoke with a burst of energy. I wanted to refocus my efforts, and get started fresh again. There was no sadness in this journey as I feel renewed. I can’t wait to get to the races. The sport that I grew up watching has played a great role in my life. I am lucky no matter the outcome of a wager. I have been doing what I have loved for most of my life, and what greater happiness could a man ever ask? Yes, the dream was a lesson. It showed me that doing what you love is good, but to do it with passion is the greatest achievement. Thank you legendary gamblers of the past. You have awoke a part of me that I was sure was gone. I am sure that 2014 will be a year to remember.