Off track propositions

The woman in front of me in line had a single $20 place ticket on a horse that did in fact finish second.

Here's how that happened.

The horse barely broke. Then it shot forward as though late for dinner and took the lead by a couple or three. Then it remembered who it was and fell back to fourth. Then three of them went looking for fresh air on the turn for home and drifted wide. The horse that the woman had put $20 to show on got to the rail, for support it almost seemed, and finished second half a length ahead of one who probably wondered what all the weaving was about.

The horse paid a fat $10 to place, a hundred bucks on the woman's bet.

American Pharoah is running so well that proposition bets have entered the conversation.

Would you take a field bet against him in Saratoga? At the Breeder's Cup Classic?

You can find a lot of prop bets around the bar.

Here's a memorable beyond the windows bet.

Somebody I know had some serious money on a 30-1 horse. Anything from $5 on up is serious on that long a shot. My friend had about $40 invested in a number of ways, including on the win. The 30-1 horse came hard and late on the outside, as animals carrying those odds are wont to do. It caught and might have passed the cheap leading speed at the wire, an animal that appeared to be running into the teeth of a hurricane the last 50 yards. You could see the amazing finish coming and could have flipped on the Photo light from the last furlong on in. Little is more amazing than a photo finish in a horse race covering more than a mile. Two horses are seldom dead-even anywhere around the track except at the finish. Finishes like this defy reason. And something like it, photo finishes, happen all the time. One is stopping. One is flourishing. And sometimes they finish at exactly the same instant. You'd think a hole-in-one would be easier to accomplish than putting the noses of two gigantic animals exactly together at the finish line. I can't recall the last time I saw a dead heat in a 100-meter human race on a track. Have swimmers going much slower at shorter distances, ever tied? Yet horses dead-heat with what seems like regularity, given the difficulty of the occasion. Two noses, seemingly moving in different directions, even-Steven after running more than a mile: A moderate miracle?

The live camera is not always on the finish line. The live camera is often up the track a few yards and favors the horse nearest the camera, the horse on the outside.

My friend thought his 30-1 horse won. I thought it won. Its jockey thought it won. The track announcer said it was too close to call, but only after thinking it over for a few seconds, which sounds like an eternity in a horse race call.

"I think the inside horse nose-wiggled him," some guy said.

My friend reacted as though the one with the inside opinion had called him a lousy horse player.

He doubled up his fist and said he'd bet fifty dollars that his horse won the race.

Horse race track fights resemble sumo encounters without quite so much weight. Guys grab one another and fall and roll. One horse player gets the other in a headlock and holds on until security arrives.

The person who thought the inside horse won said nothing to the prop bet offer of fifty bucks.

"A hundred then," my friend said, "says I won."

It's like anybody who would bet against the finish of a great pick of yours is disparaging your family and the SUV it rode in on. I have experienced the rush of anger that accompanies this statement on a Photo, "I think you lost," and once threw a diet soft drink at somebody who said it, and fortunately missed. Somebody who thinks you lost the Photo hopes you lost; if you can't win, don't let that guy win either, because he should have said something before the race.

"Okay, you're on," the person who thought the inside horse won said, placing five twenty-dollar bills on the counter.

The inside horse did in fact win the Photo. It won by the better part of one inch.

I can still see that image frozen in time, as if to say: Hello there. It's bad Karma calling on all those who had the outside horse at 30-1.

My friend actually took a swing at the guy who beat him out of a hundred bucks without even having glanced at the Form, missing by a considerable distance and breaking a beer glass, which also cost him.

Making the brilliant handicapping pick cost him more than $150.

Getting back to American Pharoah Saturday at the Toga party, he figures to go off at what, 1-2? It would probably take a gentleman's-type field bet to attract any serious money to be bet against him. A field bet is all against one. The Travers field at even money? The only rap against AP is that he hasn't put up a monstrous Beyer number yet. Like that matters. Walking home lowers speed figures. The average Beyer number is taken far too seriously and as such is self-deflating because it is over-bet. And the top Beyer number wins less than its fair share of big races, even at odds-on. It's risky to put a number on an animal with more heart than IQ. To bet against AP in any kind of wager would be to blame him for winning with a slower figure than what some pinhead thought he should have won by. He runs up front and has shown the tendency to go plenty fast enough.

The Breeder's Cup Classic is another matter. If he wins in upstate New York, he'll go off at what in the Breeders' Cup at Keeneland, even money? That will be a two-month layoff on the nose. That's quite a while against top-flight older horses. Would I take the field at even money against Pharoah in Kentucky? Probably. That type of off-track wager was put to me by somebody far from gentlemanly. But a field bet would wind up with only a couple or three horses with chances to win. And it would likely take that type of lopsided proposition to beat him.