When a horse named Facilitate ran one day in Florida this winter, I began thinking immediately that he and I had a date with destiny.
The 5-year-old claiming horse had the sort of credentials that gamblers fantasize about. He had displayed great ability and gameness, and yet his record looked so dismal on paper that his odds were going to be enormous.
Facilitate came into a race at Hialeah March 3 with a streak of seven out-of-the-money finishes. He had lost these races by an average of a dozen lengths. For some reason, I detected a glimmer of virtue in his record, made a token bet on him and so watched him very closely on the track. I could hardly believe what I saw.
In the early stages of the race, Facilitate lay within striking distance of the leaders, and on the backstretch he began to make a powerful move. He looked as if he were going to surge to the lead, until another horse suddenly dropped in front of him. Jockey John Oldham had to yank Facilitate's reins, losing at least five lengths and dropping out of contention.
But Facilitate wasn't finished. Oldham now swung him to the outside of the pack for running room, and the horse lost ground all the way around the turn. But when he straightened out into the stretch and regained momentum, he accelerated as if he were a stakes horse rather than a $15,000 claimer.
He finished fifth, beaten by seven lengths, but I had no doubt that he was the superior horse in the field. And that field had run exceptionally fast. The next day my enthusiasm for Facilitate increased further. The footnotes for the Daily Racing Form's chart of the race made to mention at all of the trouble Facilitate had encountered. Most horse players would have no clue to his virtues. And Facilitate's odds would be the stuff that dreams are made of.
I do not ordinarily become obsessed by individual horses, but I was obsessed by Facilitate. I kept running in my mind that incredible race he had run, and speculating what the next move of his trainer would be. I studied the races on the upcoming schedule at Gulfstream Park looking for the right spot for him, envisioning the greatest windfall of my gambling life.
Each day when the entries were published for one of the races that would suit Facilitate, I would seize them eagerly -- but I never saw his name. What was the trainer doing? Had the horse been hurt?
I was sitting in the press box at Gulfstream, mulling over this very subject, when Bernie Dickman of the Miami News asked me a question that made me wonder if he were gifted with psychic powers.
"Do you know anything about a horse named Facilitate?" he asked.
I wasn't about to tip my hand, especially to a handicapper for a newspaper. "I'm not sure. Didn't he run here a couple weeks ago?" I asked. n
"Yeah," Dickman said. "I thought I saw him get into a lot of trouble in the race and I've been waiting to bet on him. Well, I do a radio show on Saturday night when I give the race results for all the out-of-town tracks and . . . take a look at this."
My heart sank as Dickman handed me a page from the United Press International race-result wire, on which he had circled a couple of times. It said:
Ninth Beulah: Facilitate $30.80.
The horse of my dreams has been shipped to Beulah Park, a Godforsaken track near Columbus, Ohio, and had beaten the best horses on the ground at odds of more than 14 to 1. The Eastern Racing Form does not carry the entries for Beulah. And besides, if you're ship is going to come in, who would think to look for it in Columbus, Ohio?