Nhat Nyuyen had spend five minutes studying the program, five minutes doodling figures on it and two minutes staring into space. Suddendly, he looked out into the West Virginia and said: "That one."
You mean that horse cantering along the backstreatch? You mean the number six horse, Jim's Angel, is going to win the fourth race on a Saturday night at the Charles Town Turf Club?
"Yes, that one. That's the one," said Nguyen, as he bobbed his with emphatic certainty.
"He has to be the one, because he standing in the east, because his color is orange and the time is right."
Cynics take note: About three minutes later, Jim's Angel was four lengths in front of everything else on four feet. He won "breezing," as they like to say at the track. More to the point, he paid $12.60 to win.
Nguyen smiled, accepted some stray congratulations and immediately began to study the fifth race. It was another routine handicapping triumph for him -- and for a horoscope discipline called Tu Vi.
Nhat Nguyen and Tu Vi are Vietnamese. While the traditional precepts of Tu Vi have never left Vietnam, Nguyen left in a fishing boat a little more than four years ago, just before the country fell to the North Vietnamese.
He brought with him 12 years of Tu Vi training, which qualified him in his home town of Danang to tell fortuens, offer advice, soothe emotional upsets and treat physical ailments with acupunture.
About a year after he arrived in Alexandria, where he lives with his wife, Net, and 2 1/2-year-old daughter, Yen, a friend took Nguyen to the races. "I love it right away," Nguyen says.
But thanks to Tu Vi, Nguyen has not seen his love -- or his walet -- fall into the trap that claims so many other bettors.
With Tu Vi, Nhat Nguyen claims to win at the races consistently. By no means every visit, and by no means every race. Just conistently, over the long run.
Not that Nguyen attends consistently. Maybe once every six months, tops. He says he is too busy with jobs -- two fulltime (keypunch operator at Northern Virginia Community College during the day, therapist at Fairfax Hospital at night) and one parttime (distributor of Amyway products).
Nor is Net Nguyen anxious for her husband to become "gambling guy," as she disdainfully calls it.
But Nguyen has at least as much gumption as cash. He entered a contest the Washington Post was conducting to pick a new harness racing handicapper. Nguyen wasn't chosen, but his "Asian foreteller" method attracted plenty of attention.
It also attracted a doubter.
A test was aranged over the phone. Nguyen and his wife would be the guest of the doubter on a Saturday night. The doubter would be whatever Nguyen told him to bet. The doubter would absorb all the losses Nguyen would rake in all the profits, if any.
Nguyen was pessimistic from the start. He had been born in 1940, the Year of the Dragon, and this Saturday was the Day of the Snake. In the symbolic language of Tu Vi, that was about as poor an omen as you could find.
Besides, according to Tu Vi, the only hours of this day in which Nguyen could expect to be "hot" at the mutuel windows were between 8 and 10 p. m. And the fact that Charles Town lay northwest of Alexandria was extremely unfavorable, according to Nguyen, because the symbol for the day and the symbol for the direction east were identical.
Still, 15 minutes after he arrived at the track, Nguyen looked like a genius with his bet on Jim's Angel. And now Nguyen was backing Pachouli in the fifth, "but only a little. I don't have real good feeling about him."
No wonder. Pachouli finished about 20th. So did Spring Jenny in the sixth and Admiral's Sweetie in the seventh, in each case without Nguyen's wholehearted blessing.
The doubter was beginning to feel justified.
It was after 10 p. m. now -- out of the "hot" zone -- so Nguyen agreed to stay for just one more race. That was all right with the doubter. He was behind $29, and counting.
Nguyen said he liked No. 4, Plenty Color, in the eighth race.
Dutifully, the doubter bet $2 on Plenty Color, at 6-1. When he got back, Nguyen asked which way the men's room was. He was told to go up the stairs. He went down. But maybe he had simply misunderstood.
Off the horses went, and around the far turn, Plenty Color took off like a Ferrari. He won by six lengths.
At which point, Nhat Nguyen reached into his pocket and placed $20 worth of winning tickets in the doubter's hand. The bathroom mission had in fact been a betting mission.
"How much I win?" Nguyen asked, rather matter-of-factly. The answer: $93.
"All I do is use my eyes and my brain," said Nhat Nguyen, as he walked through the parking lot, counting his wad of bills again. "My eyes, my brain, and what I know from my country."