The Magic Words of Winning

I was watching the Keeneland signal bouncing back-and-forth between Belmont Park. I was doing pretty good, and overall there were no complaints. – An old friend stopped by to chat. He has worked in racing for longer than most have been alive. He sat right down and we start talking about the old days. Good days, bad days, and the ones that got away. Just talking horses and passing the time. – I handed him my program, and he looks at me like I handed him a snake. ” It’s been ten years since I looked at one of these.”


This gent was a hard core gambler. No names required. Who knows, he may be reading this one tonight. – “You start the day with $40 bucks. You hold $10 for lunch, and the rest would be going on a runner to kick off the day. – Hell, you hit three in a row, and you’re in tall cotton for the day.” – He knew all too well the grind required for horse players. It is a higher degree of the gambling education you can’t pay for and you’ll never learn it in night school. – I remember when Monarchos won the Kentucky Derby. – It was the 127th running of the Kentucky Derby, and for horse players this is like Christmas and your birthday wrapped in a big burrito. “Big Daddy” loved Monarchos, and came in early loving him, and took all his small winners during the day and doubled up his wager for the big race. – It was the second fastest Derby in the history of the race,  paying a sweet $23 to win. You can bet dollars to donuts he had every type of wager going. There wasn’t a full discloser, but I had heard from a clerk who cashed his tickets it was over $23,000. – Not a bad day’s work, and he went into a hibernation of sorts. In the race track world, you’ll never be surprised to see how many friends you have with a huge winner.

The years rolled by with the same action. A little this and that, good days and bad days. – He did everything under the sun, was a hard worker and a sharp man. – The 127th Derby was a very good day for my friend, and as usual he went underground betting in the shadows. I guess some like to gab about the big win, but he went by the old football adage; ” say little when you lose, and say less when you win.” – He did just that as I would see him all around the track betting on floors where there were self bet terminals for groups where he could bet in privacy. Surely nothing wrong with keeping to yourself, by the end of the day he was tapped and found me to borrow $20. – What would $20 do that $23,000 could not ?

Fast forward in time, and we both have a little more grey hair and surprisingly he looked better than he did 15-years-ago. – ” I was looking over the runners and found a run back at Belmont Park. I love this angle and he was a sweet 20-1. I decided to play a nice pick-three keeping him as a single and see if I could strike gold. – The first one hit paying $20, my big runner won just like I had hoped and he paid $32 to win. The final leg brought in my big chalker to pay $3.80. – The $1 pick-three paid $1,980. Not bad, and I sure wished there was a 50-cent wager at the time. My wife who didn’t care much for gambling wanted to ride over with me and collect the ticket and we would go out to dinner.- It was at the time the clerk was paying out my winnings that I had what alcoholics refer to as a “moment of clarity.” – I was already getting ready to hold $900 back and put into play the next day and explain to my novice wife I was mistaken about the payoff and hand her the entire amount of $1,000. – Then like a right cross to my chin, I had a sick feeling. Why would I want to blow this money ? – I won with my wits and a great deal of racing luck, but yet I was willing to blow most of it back.”

It’s been ten years since he has been to the windows, and he has a picture perfect memory knowing which horses run well and which riders are hot. – He is around the game all day long and practically knows all tracks and who is doing well. – At this time, he just up and quit. He started working out, lost weight and looks great. He said he couldn’t control himself, and was glad to have put it down. – The irony is that with the explosion of casinos in the area his wife started casually playing the slots. Casually turns into a regular, and regular turns into problems. – She calls him and tells him about the big winner she had and he always says; ” bring it home, stop and buy a couch, go shopping, or just put it in the bank for another day.” – As advice goes, ” fools won’t heed it and wise men don’t need it.” – He doesn’t ride her too much as he knows the “bug” that bites. You win,  and you think the day is just beginning.


After watching two races together, I ask him the $1 million dollar question. – What do you think the secret of winning is all about. – He smiled and it turned into a chuckle. Easy, he said. Just follow these rules and you’ll enjoy gambling more everyday.

1. – When you take $50, $100, or whatever to bet and you lose. – Quit. No ATM’s, loans, and don’t go back with the bill money – Scared money never wins.

2. – Enjoy the ride, but know when to stop. Set a goal, and if you reach this number, get up and make the walk to the car. The first 100 steps will be full of regret to keep playing, but as you pull away with the money in your pocket it is one of the best feelings in the world.

3. – Don’t bet horses without doing your homework. Stick to your plan and know when to call it a day.

4. – The real big wins come very rarely, and be smart enough to put some back, give it to your better half, or buy something.

5. – Casino wagering is fast, and is like electronic heroin. – I don’t like the drug analogy, but it works the same receptors in the brain as the drug. – That type of gambling is just too damn fast, and it goes quicker than you see. You have $400 one minute, and you’re down to $20 the next.

6. – You have to think you can win. If you don’t who will ?

7. – Never take bill money, grocery money, gas money, or monies earmarked for life. Gambling or gaming is for entertainment and nothing more.

8. – If you enjoy the game, try and play alone or with very few others. The big group never yields a big win unless you all pull together. – Never gamble with those who don’t like to see others win.

9. – Don’t grind out the day. I wasted more time in my life and missed so much. – I can’t bring it back, but I’ll relish the time I have left with gratitude.

10 – The most important rule to winning is attitude. Get up early, be ready, and take your time limiting distractions. This will help you about 70%, and the rest is up to you. – Employ some restraint, and keep a journal of wins and losses. It will keep you grounded and you’ll learn to be a better player. – There is no magic system, mojo magic powder, or a ritual dance. – Just control. When you lose it, quit and come back another day.


He shook my hand and got up to head home. – ” I’m turning in for today. The wife is going out with friends to the casino, and I’m going home to take the dog a long walk and watch some baseball.” – I thought about our conversation, and even though we are long time friends, I never asked why he quit. There is a limit to gamblers, and the smart ones know when not to cross the boundaries. – I left before the last race, where I came back to three horses to close out a pick four. I wanted to get home and hear about my son’s day at school. – One of the best moves in awhile, and later after he went to bed I looked up the race and watched it run. – I hit the wager, and turned off my computer. – Tomorrow is another day according to my friend. – As I sit here handicapping a late pick-four wager at Belmont. I think back to my friend’s words. – Not many loved gambling like he did, and it was time well spent with my old friend. – I can say one thing for sure. He is a happier man, and as long as keeps his words. He’ll always retire the biggest winner I know.