Pete Axthelm, Newsweek's resident gambling degenerate, made an exciting discovery at Miami Beach Dog Track the other night: a new way to lose a bet.
Axthelm liked a dog named Pay Off Now (perhaps because he had heard bookmakers utter the phrase to often) and played him in an assortment of trifecta combinations. The dog broke well, lay in third place as he raced down the straightaway the first time, and looked ready to surge to the lead.
But has the field reached the clubhouse turn, chaos erupted. Instead of running down the backstretch and continuing the finish line, all the dogs suddenly veered off the course. The lure had malfunctioned and stopped too soon, and the dogs had stopped in their tracks. Pay Off Now stood there now with the rest of them, yapping at the mechanical rabbit, instead of carrying Axthelm's wagers to victory. The event had to be declared "no race," and all bets were refunded.
Axthelm's gloom over missing a potential winner was mitigated the next day when he got to tell the tale to his cronies at Gulstream Park. While horse players consider it tacky to recount their financial triumphs, they relate tales of woe with enthusiasm.
Harvey Pack listened to Axthelm's story with sympathy but couldn't resist trying to top it. "I'll tell you a real hard-luck story," he said.
"A friend of mine was at Monmouth one day and loved two horses on the grass in the last race. So he bet a cold $400 exacta at the advance-wagering window before he drove home. On the way, he got the results on his car radio. wHis top horse won and paid $10.20. His other horse ran second and paid $12.50 to place. But the radio didn't give the exacta payoff.
"The guy figured it had to be worth at least $100," Pack said, "which mean't he'd won at least $20,000. So he stepped on the gas, got home, called Monmouth, and asked the operator what the exacta paid.
"'Sir,' she said, 'the last race was taken off the grass and exacta wagering was canceled. If you have exacta tickets, you will get all your money refunded.'"
Pack's listeners applauded his story. Then Jim Packer asked, "Have you ever heard of anybody betting a horse who wins a race and gets the purse money, but still loses the bet?"
Everybody thought about the proposition and concluded that this was a virtual impossibility.
"It happened to me at Delaware Park in the mid-'60s," Packer said. "I bet across the board on a horse named Wintersweet at 14 to 1 in a steeplechase race, and when he won, it was going to be a big score for me. Right after the race the stewards posted inquiry signs, but I knew my horse had not interfered with anybody and I wasn't too worried.
"Well, all the numbers on the toteboard started blinking and they kept blinking for about 40 minutes. It must have been the longest inquiry in history and the crowd was going crazy. Finally the board went blank, the numbers of the first three finishers came down and up went three totally different numbers. Now the crowd really went crazy.
"After the start of the race," Packer explained, "a person was assigned to move a post to mark the steeplechase course, but he forgot to do it. The first eight finishers went the wrong way and only a couple of stragglers in the field actually completed the course properly. They made the ninth-place finisher the winner.
"Two weeks later, the owner appealed the disqualification and they awarded the purse to the original winner, Wintersweet. I got nothing, of course. Can you top that?"