After I bought a ten-dollar ticket on one that would need more help than I could offer, my suggestion being get the lead and hope to stay there, a woman sat beside me in the grandstand and said she was the teller's mother.
"Which teller?" I said.
It was the teller I had given the 30-1 horse to. "You bought her a two-dollar ticket on the long shot."
She said it had happened season before last.
A man joined us.
It was the woman's nephew.
Who could forget a 30-1 horse. "But buying people tickets, I must have had one beer too many," I said.
"Well then drink up," the nephew said.
"We need another long shot," the woman said, handing me her program to mark. "Bad."
Somebody was ill. Somebody lost a job. Bad luck had been snapping at their heels for as long as anybody could remember, and sometimes connecting.
"I never came close to hitting a 30-1 shot," the nephew said.
I told them that I had stopped in for a few races to relax and check for a track bias on the way home. I showed them my Form, which was outlined with question marks. I didn't like anybody in the next race.
"Did you bet somebody?" the woman asked.
I had done that. "Just to see if I had been driving around lucky without even knowing it." Though in this town, on these streets, being in one piece was pretty lucky at face value.
I showed them my ten-dollar win ticket on the horse that was 10-1.
"Is that your system?" the nephew asked. "Betting how much the odds were on the board?"
I said this bet was no part of any system. It was simply a case of playing the best rider on a lousy horse and hoping the rest of them got lost. And playing the 10-1 horse was a more healthy alternative than a cheeseburger and fries.
They put their money together and came up with $48 to bet on my pick here because I had hit one two years ago.
This horse with the good rider but the sloppy form broke slow as a senior in a junk heap at a red light, then closed hard for second.
"You should have told us to place it," the boy said, bringing to mind the word play plot of "The Sting," place it or bet it to place?
I said the horse should win next time out.
"We won't have next time out money," the nephew said.
"We needed this one," the woman said.
Another chatty time, this at Churchill Downs, I sat at a private table with some important locals including politicians who knew which direction the jockey faced on a horse but not much else.
But what did they need to know. They had their own personal expert. That was supposed to have been me.
After a quick spin through the Form, one of them said, "This is too hard."
"You tell us what to bet," somebody else said.
One of them had a Wishful Thinker's Roll, which is a wad of small bills with a hundred on top.
Having to socialize and make conversation and bet real money of your own can be tortuous. A person had to decide just how rude he could be, and when to run off to bet in the middle of a drawn-out story. I tipped a waiter $20 to make some bets for me on one occasion.
I tried to explain that horse racing handicapping wasn't like a parlor game. It required total concentration. Often you had to wait for a race, like a card counter at poker, and hope that your skill paid off.
"We're not here for the long haul," one of them said.
"We'll give you some money," another of them said. "And you can double it."
Cash was actually placed in a salad bowl.
I cost this well-bred company $600 and had to hit the last two races and a show parlay to do that.
Several at the table said they had never seen somebody so excited about losing.
"Can we write this off?" one of them asked.
The answer was probably not.
"Who got our money?"
A single mother with three kids and three jobs.
Was I going to apologize for being so bad?
They'd take casinos over this any day.
And this is why horse players sit alone in corners at the races.