Other people might have felt a twinge of depression if they had been in Sandford's shoes last week. "I was so broke," he said, "that I didn't go out of the house for four days, and the best thing I had to eat was a box of Cheese Doodles."
But Sandford managed to maintain an air of cheerful optimism. Not only does he have ample experience in dealing with adversity, but he also knew this time that his financial salvation was imminent. The instrument of this salvation was going to be a harness horse named Southcote Garth.
Sanford's fiscal woes had begun thawing at Aqueduct, where he is (even by the usual standards of racetrack characters) considered somewhat idiosyncratic. For example, many acquaintances know him by different names. Three friends may pass him and say "Hi, Bernie," "Hi, Sandford," "Hi, Larry" and he will acknowledge them all.
Whoever he is, Sandford is indisputably a gambling degenerate, and since coming to Florida last month he has disbursed his bankroll at Hialeah as well as assorted dog tracks and jaialai establishments. But harness racing is the game he knows and loves the best, and it was at Pompano Park that he discovered Southcote Garth.
On paper, the pacer looked to be a hapless animal. In every one of his recent races he had gone off at odds of 20 to 1 and lost by at least 15 lengths. A 4-year-old, he had earned only $1,100 in his career. But Sandford ascribed the apparent ineptitude of the horse to the ineptitude of his trainer and driver, Steve Sokoloff.
"Whenever Sokoloff drove, the horse was practically jumping up and down and falling all over himself," Sandford said. But after his most recent jumping-up-and-down performance, Southcote Garth had been claimed by a capable driver-trainer, Mark O'Mara. Sandford could hear opportunity knocking.
"I waited a week and a half for the horse," he said, " and when he was entered in the 12th race at Pompano, I knew I had a winner. All I needed was money. I went to my aunt and told her I needed money for a new set of tires. I went to another friend and told him I had a paycheck and was waiting for it to clear at the bank. I got a friend of mine to borrow from a friend of his and told him he'd give it back the next day. Of course, if the horse lost. . ."
Sandford and his friend decided that they would bet $600 to win on Southcote Garth. They would put the rest of their capital into trifectas, using a rival named Bandury Belcount in all their combinations.
Sandford drove to Pompano with his fresh bankroll and sat through the early races on the card in high excitement. Before the sixth race, he noticed that the odds on the toteboard had stopped changing, and the lines at the betting windows were not moving at all. Then he heard the announcement:
"Ladies and gentlemen due to a computer malfunction there will be no wagering on the remaining races tonight. You are invited to stay and watch the rest of the program."
Within a few minutes the Pompana grandstand had empied as if a bomb threat had been announced. Sandford sat there almost paralyzed, waiting to see what would transpire in the last race. But he thought these developments might be a blessing in disguise.
"It's hard to believe that the one time in your life that a computer breaks down is the night you've got your bet of the year," Sandford lamented. "But I thought that maybe O'Mara was thinking the same thing. Maybe he wanted to cash a bet, too, and so he was going to stiff the horse so he could get even bigger odds the next time."
Southcote Garth went to the lead immediately, whizzing through a quarter in 29 1/9 seconds and the half-mile in a minute flat. "Great!" Sandford exclaimed. "He's burning himself out!"
In fact, Southcote Garth was burning out all the horses who tried to run with him.After three-quarters of a mile, Sandford noted ruefully, "The driver could have stopped to eat a sandwich and still won."
Soughcote Garth cruised home by five lengths in 2:04 4/5, a full four seconds faster than he had ever run in his life. Danbury Belcount was second and the horse who would have been the longest shot in the field was third Sandford's planned trifectas would have been worth a fortune. Sandford calculated how many thousands of dollars he might have won, then turned around and drove back home to his Cheese Doodles.