People You Meet ‘Long the Way

Coffee is steaming on the kitchen table. Birds are fighting over the seeds on the post outside, and the sun is starting to burn off the morning fog. The prefect way to start your morning. I look at results, stories and promising runners. The usual goings on of the morning turns into a Zen-like moment of quiet. – I used to get up gobble down something full of sugar and turn on the tube. I would try and read, but there are just so many things you can do at one time. This took me back to conversations long ago. Where my hair was thick and brown and my love affair with the sport of kings was just beginning.

Paul was a hard-core handicapper. Maybe that sounds a bit tough and gives you the vision of a man who bet every race offered. Far from the truth, as he would arrive late at the track and catch the last four races on the card. He lived in the same small town of Ludlow; as in most small towns he knew my entire family. Paul worked as an auditor in Cincinnati, and did some bookmaking on the side. The kind of low key bookie that flew under the radar except for the guys who called him for action. – He was known as “The Fox” by his friends and longtime acquaintances, and was a father and husband from our little town. – He used to see me at the track. Fellas like us would arrive after they stop charging for parking and the admission gates were open. – Funny thing about gamblers as they don’t mind betting $10 on a race, but try and peel that $2 out of pocket for the admission turnstiles and they would’ve rather gone home. – Fox used to see me betting. I would have a nice winner or three from the four races and we would talk about who we had after the race. Gamblers are a cagey sort and tipping your hand prior to the race was off limits. – I had just scored a very nice hit with $20 to win and place on a horse who paid $22. That was $220 on the win end alone and time has faded the place price. – After watching me go through a bad streak going 0 for 4 two nights in a row, he offered some sage like advice that comes from people who’ve felt the same. – ” Eddie, you like playing the horses and there is nothing wrong with that. You make good money, but when you bet $40 a race and lose, it won’t be long until you’ll be making less trips. Nothing wrong with coming every night for a single young man, but you may want to drop your bet amounts.” – Simple words from a far from simple man. His words of wisdom helped me gauge my betting plan. Thanks, Fox. I still use it today when I’m making wagers. When a 19-year-old young man learned to throttle back his wagers to stay alive, this was a sign that the learning process was growing along with a lifetime gambling education.

Dad has always played speed. Myself, I loved the closer. Two handicappers with completely separate styles. – The shorter the race the better according to my Dad. – He wouldn’t play the top-notch riders, and would find the low percentage jockeys looking for the big score. – For me the closer offered a plan to make up ground even with a compromised beginning. His speed runners would jump to the front and in his own words give him his money’s worth. He loved to use the phrase ” Catch me if you can.” – Words that may have hearkened from days as an all-star athlete. The kind of kid who would play from sun up to sundown. He honed his skills by playing with much older kids, and the younger player would soon become better than the older kids. – Catch me if you can were his words in action. Not only did it describe the small wager, but a declaration of his life. – I learned to keep an open mind from this style, and I keep an eye on the long-shot runner with the small percentage rider. When I see one jump to the front it takes me back to the guy who would run down the stretch chasing the horses. – It was as much about racing as it was his life. – “Catch me if you can.”

My Grandpa was a small-time bettor who always looked for a long-shot. If he took $25 to the races, he would’ve $18 bet in the Daily-Double. There were not as many exotic bets back then, and the DD was a staple of the gambler. – He met my Grandmother at the races at old Latonia Race Course. – There were some big horses who ran there over the years: Black Gold, Seabiscuit, and a long-shot named Wishing Ring who on June 17, 1912 paid a record breaking payoff to this day of $1,185.50 for a $2 win bet. They just picked out their horses and bet their two dollars on it. – He married my grandmother in the Carroll County courthouse on the way to the Kentucky Derby in 1938. The winner was Lawrin with Eddie Arcaro in the irons. I still have the program from that happy day in my racing cabinet. It’s the center piece, and when the cabinet is lit is shows the program in pristine order.  – He never employed complex betting strategies and was just a fan of the action.  – His words of wisdom were more than just having lunch. – “If you’re hungry at the track, go ahead and get yourself a hot dog.” – This was his way of putting things in perspective. If you had money to bet, don’t walk around hankering for a bite to eat. This was his simple logic of doing the right thing and it must have been hard. He loved to bet the big prices and also had a penchant for eating. Sometimes the truth lays just behind the words. – It’s all about priorities.