Betting the ponies is more than plunking down a few bucks. Some have control, and enjoy the beauty and pageantry. There are aggressive punters who seek to make the big score, and there are bettors who take it a little too far, and it can make a tough story. I made a stop at the race book after work, and wanted to make a bet or two. I ran into two good friends, and after an hour in the betting parlor. I wouldn’t look at things the same.
Buddy was rolling. He is the type of guy who could find a handful of diamonds in a sewer pipe. But that is Buddy. He has a great job, a brand new home, and a wife that men could only dream of having. His life looks perfect, and if you watched for more than 10 minutes, you may find yourself wanting to take his place.
Ray is a salesman, and he is really good. If there was a picture of a natural in the dictionary, you would see his picture. His new car, smooth fitting suits, and $10,000 watch would have you wanting to know his secret. “Ray-Ray” has some bad luck. He once had a horse who was on top by ten at the 16th pole at 12-1. He stood up and started snapping his fingers with his signature “that’s my boy,” and his runner veered right and jumped over the rail. Ray likes every race, every game, and runs out to bet the high denomination slots if there is more than 10 minutes between races. Money doesn’t seem like a problem, as he makes it faster than they print it.
Ed – I’m a lucky guy. I have never been a rich man, or will my face appear in Forbes. But that’s alright by me. When I was young, I thought a job in the racing industry sounded like a dream come true. If you have read any of my past works, you know that I consider myself a pretty lucky guy. I have an incredible teenage son, and the opportunity to take part in the game I love. I don’t have a big 401k, or will my name be slated for a (G-1) race with Derby implications. I look at things a little different, and count the wonderful people I have met, friends I have made, and exciting moments I’ve witnessed.
Three guys sit down in a race book and start handicapping. If that doesn’t have the start of a million jokes, I don’t know if I have heard one. On this day we all agreed to meet up and play a couple races. But, this day would be different. Ray was complaining to me that Buddy was killing them. “He wins, and then his phone will ring. It’s his old lady, and I get to count the number of times they say, ‘I love you’. I hate it, Ed… Has it always been like this?”
Ray leaves his seat to hit the ATM, and go up and make a bet. Buddy grabs me with a big hug and gives me a big squeeze. “Good to see you, Eddie. How are things here at the track? I hope they are treating you right.” It was Buddy all around, and he is the kind of guy who leaves the room a better place when he goes home. “Luck favors the bold, and fortune finds those who happy.” Buddy is a natural as well, and he is a lucky man. “Ed, I wanted to ask you about Ray. Has he always had a problem? He seems on edge, and can’t sit still.” “Bud, I don’t know if he has a problem, but he is definitely a different sort. He is him, and you are you. He doesn’t see things the way you do, and that is fine. – Why don’t we put a pick-four together?” – “O.K., Ed. Let’s make a good ticket, and then I have to go home and have dinner.”
Ray comes back to the table, and is steaming from a bad beat. We asked him if he wanted to get in on the bet, and he said “you guys could get Secretariat beat.” The ticket was created, and Buddy went up and made the bet. That alone gave us an edge, as Buddy has the Midas touch. Ray was firing away, and were getting ready to watch the first race. Ray said he was going to stay and have a few beers. The runners were loading in the gate, and Buddy gave me the fist bump and wished me luck. Ray looked over at us and asked if he could buy our $100 ticket for $20 before they broke the gate. “I am just trying to give you guys a chance to keep some money in your pocket.” As the runners stormed home in the stretch, our 8-1 shot was drawing away. Ray exclaimed an “F-Bomb” and said he was going to bet that one. Buddy left promptly and said he would call me later to see how much we won (That made our odds go to 6-5 on the Midas touch factor). I soon followed, and Ray stayed behind.
At 9:45 p.m., I received a call. I had forgot about the bet as my son and I were watching a college football game. Buddy said there is 5 minutes to post, and we have five runners from the 12 starters. “Ed, we have some nice payoffs if we get lucky” (Now we are even money on the Buddy-meter). I turned on the race, and we watched our runner win. The smallest ticket came home and the ticket paid $750. We started making plans for the next weekend, and agreed to meet and put together a ticket after 6 p.m. This way he could take his wife to dinner, and stop out later. Ray called me the next day and asked if “goof-ball” hit his ticket. “Yeah, we got lucky and won $750.” He didn’t say much, and told me we were lucky. I agreed, and he said he had some calls to make. “We’ll catch up soon, my man.”
As I drove home, I thought of the two men I have known forever. I’m no saint, and I do and say goofy things as well. But I couldn’t believe how much we’ve all changed. It wasn’t just them, it was me too. We had grown apart, and the agreed upon meeting time was a nod to the past. I thought we’d be those three old guys sitting together and playing the races every day. Maybe we will, but right now we seem farther apart than having anything in common. But that is life. Sometimes there is a happy ending that makes your heart feel warm. But there are others that leave you feeling a little sour. For something that was more fun that the law allowed, had turned into a task or a job. We had travelled to far away tracks, borrowed money off each other a thousand times, and had more laughs than a circus. But that was then, and it is certainly different now. I hope someday we’ll rekindle the friendship flame and find those three seats with our names. That would make me a happy handicapper and a lucky guy. But even with the Midas touch of Buddy, I don’t even think Ray would make a bet on this longshot.