It came straight from the horse's mouth. A wide-open, unrestricted yawn.
Doc's Interpreter, a chocolate-brown colt relegated to one of the last stalls in the pre-race stables, didn't care that a hundred yards away crowds of would-be millionaires, clutching $2 wagers and pencilled race forms, were shoving their way toward the finish line. His only interest was in tossing off the bothersome, itchy blanket.
What difference did it make to him? He wasn't racing the Big One.
The Big One -- the 26th running of the William E. Miller Memorial, Maryland harness racers' answer to the Kentucky Derby -- drew an excited crowd of more than 8,000 at Rosecroft Raceway Saturday evening.
The rooters -- whether dressed in black tie and sipping champagne in the directors' dining room or just swigging Miller's in the grandstand -- queued up, race after race, to wager more than $700,000, $300,000 higher than the average nightly take.
The larger-than-usual "handle," harness racing lingo for the amount of money bet, reflected a larger-than-usual nightly attendance for the 85-night harness season.
The red-and-white striped raceway in Oxon Hill generally pulls about 4,000 regulars to watch the horses draw red-faced drivers and two-wheeled sulkies around the slate-colored track.
But Saturday was different. It was the Big One, the race named for Rosecroft's founder. It was an Event.
It was a night for families whose children spent most of the evening inside eating hotdogs and plunking quarters into flashing pinball machines.
It was a night for lovers, and for less than amorous couples bickering over who chose the last fiasco.
It was a night for hardcore gamblers who clustered tightly around the television monitors in the lobby, tossing wads of ill-chosen exactas to the linoleum floor, waiting for the final change in odds before placing a bet.
And, as always, it was a night for first-timers who used less than scientific methods of selecting the next lucky horse.
"Well, you see," said Susan Saffran, explaining how she had picked her first winner, "I skimmed the program and noticed that in the fifth race a horse of Mattapan, Mass., was running. I was raised there, so it seemed like a semi-reasonable choice."
While Saffran was scanning the next race's draw, her husband Dave, a former New Yorker, scurried off to place his bet on Ata Carrie Air -- the only horse in the sixth race bred in his home state.
Not everyone used a method quite as whimsical as that of the Saffrans.
Laura Greenberg, an anthropologist with the Smithsonian, arrived at the clubhouse with a racing form she'd bought earlier at a newsstand in the District. It was carefully marked with green pencil.
Greenberg had devised her own odds system: Noting whether the standardbreds' racing times had increased consistently, how often they raced during the year, and comparing the overall times. If her odds varied by a large amount from the given favorite, she had decided that her choice was worth betting on.
"Greenberg, however, wasn't cashing in any winning tickets because, after she reached the track, "I decided not to stick with the system."
tBut by the sixth race, three horses chosen by the Greenberg method had crossed the finish line in first place.
There were even a few individuals who insisted they came to watch and not to gamble.
One man, R. T. Nelson, claimed he came for an "educational experience.
Nelson, a teacher at Benjamin D. Foulois Junior High School in Morningside and a man whose physique suggests log lifting rather than pencil pushing, said he would be better equipped to understand his pupils after the evening's outing.
"Next time I have a kid acting up in class," Nelson said as the last race was announced, "I will remember what I saw this evening and be more sympathetic to the kids' problems."
"These people -- their parents -- have been jumping up and down like clowns all night."