A big, hearty hi-ho to all you racing fans. C'mon our for a day of thoroughbred thrills.
See the rent money finish eight lengths back! Marvel at the dollar hot dogs and the peeling plaster! You say you lost? Well, brother, you aren't the first. But think of it this way - you would have spent just as much for a nice dinner out, right?
Ah, the lure and logic of the race track. Home of incurables. Land of a thousand hopes, ifs and excuses.
The stock market is safer. The odds at blackjack are better. But still, they come to the track, in three-piece suits just as often as in windbreakers with their names stitched over the left breast. And always - scientifically or rashly, sooner or later - they lose.
Horseplayers in the Washington area have had a tough winter, and not just because their wallets got thinner. In case you missed it, it was cold. So cold that Bowie canceled racing four times. On other days, they should have. Racing went on in the face of all reason, through snow, sluch and frozenness.
But came the last Friday of February, and suddenly, it was warm. Surely a 70-degree day would bring out a large bunch of Washingtonians. It did - more than 7,000 of them. Here is who some of them were and what they did: A loser
Three minutes until post time for the second race. The lines at the betting windows begin to lengthen. But two young men are still standing calmly, 40 feet from the nearest ticket puncher. They identify themselves as American University students. If either is 20, I'll eat my hat.
Herb is calculating spped ratings. This is done with a pencil, charts, and a copy of a newspaper listing past performances. Randy is watching. This is his first visit to a track, so Randy is watching with awe.
"This guy is something," Randy says of Herb. "Won a grand out here last week." No, Herb interjects, it was only $900. "But that's still big bread," says Randy, who looks like he'd love a little himself.
One minute to post. Herb is satisfied. "Let's try the five and the two." he says. And off he goes to get his bet down in time.
Of course the order of finish is 1-4-7. As the horses cross the finish line, Randy gives Herb a look of incredulity, mixed with anger. "Well," says Herb, "there's seven races to go." The quarrel
Since when do 35 cents cause an argument at the race track? Since Friday, Feb. 25.
A young couple has just arrived. He is holding a program and studying the odds board. She is angry.
"What am I supposed to use?" yells she at he, snatching for the program. "I just don't believe you!"
Heads snap around. Voices are seldon raised at the track unless three horses are head to head in the stretch.
"OK, Shelly, you win," says the young man, testify. He returns to the program stand to buy her one of her very own. He slams a quarter and dime down so hard that all the other coins on the stand jump. The paddock
The paddock is a small walking ring where the jockeys saddle up before each race. It is the closest a fan can get to the men and beasts who will determine his fortunes, and many take advantage of the opportunity. They hope not only to see if a certain horse is about to break his leg, but perhaps to overhear a whisper of strategy pass between trainer and jockey.
Here, for what it wasn't worth, is what was hearable before the fourth race:
Jockey Chris McCarron to his outrider: "I just wish I could get a little more sleep."
Jockey William J. Passmore to a dark brown filly named Fred's Dottie: "Whoooop. Whip, whip. Whup." By the fence
Pete Peterson is swarthy, thin and sweaty. He is also unbelievably foul-mouthed. Throughout the fifth race, he curses the horses, the jockeys and the fates, nonstop. He spreads it around so evenly that you can't even tell which horse he has bet on.
Peterson bites off a little more than he can chew when he shouts an ethnic slur at a jockey who has just finished second. A fan, of the same extraction as the jockey, takes exception. It is five minutes before Peterson and the other man agree not to disagree.
"What the heckk" says Peterson, after the other man has finally left. "I paid my money. I got a right to yell, don't I?" A guard
Riley Wheeler is dressed as a security guard, but she is really a diplomat. She is assigned to "guard" the $50 cashier's window in the clubhouse. What she mostly does is smooth the way to the window for the Bowie high rollers.
"I just watch to see if there are any problems," she said. "Nothing much ever happens - except people smile a lot." A veteran
The man says he has been coming to Bowie for 40 years, "ever since it was just a little place in the pines." He says, without shame, that he has lost $100,000 there over the years. "But it's been worth it," the man says. "I've had a lot of fun."
Just then, a friend comes by. The friend asks how the veteran is doing. "Pretty good," the veteran says. The other man frowns. "When you say pretty good, you really mean lousy, don't you?" The veteran smiles. The two men know the euphemisms of the track, and they know each other. A winner!
The ninth race features the "triple." If you pick the first three finishers in exact order, you win a bundle. It is therefore not hard to figure out why Curly Campona is dancing a jig in the upper grandstand as everyone else is leaving.
Campona is almost incoherent. "Oh, wow!" he says, about nine times. Then he begins counting $100 bills again, to convince himself.
Campona has just won $900.60 on a $6 bet. His friend suggests that he cool it with the flashing of the money. There might be robbers with good ears around who will follow him to the parking lot. But this is Curly's big score - "my alltime biggest ever" - and he is flying.
"There's only two ways to go at the track, you suckers." he shouts at the departing throng." Curly's preference for the moment is obvious.
Of course, he will be back. And so will the less lucky. The dream is to be Curly for a day, and who knows which day it'll be?