Horse players can be very unforgiving of people who tout them off a winner or otherwise cost them a bet. And so my circle of race track cronies has been acting a bit cool toward me lately, just because of a little matter of $92,000.
But even if my erstwhile friends aren't speaking to me, I have one slight consolation. The error of omission of which I was guilty should have earned me the eternal gratitude of an anonymous Cuban horse player somewhere in Miami.
Throughout the Hialeah meeting, my friends and I had been obsessed by the Pic Six, the gimmick requiring bettors to select the winners of the third through eighth races. When no one hit it, half the pool would be carried over until the next day and the jackpot was building to a substantial level last week.
Under such circumstances, our group would scrutinize every entrant in every race; if a member of our syndicate happened to be friendly with the owner or trainer of a pivotal horse, he would be assigned to ferret out whatever information he could. So as we looked over a maiden race in the Pic Six, my friend Mark Hopkins pointed out a first-time starter trained by Leon Blusiewicz, the Marylander about whom I recently had written a column.
"Could you find out about the horse?" Mark asked.
"I could," I said. "But why bother?" I looked at the dismal workouts of No More Blues--a half mile in 51 seconds, and the like--and concluded that the filly probably had no ability. "Besides," I told Mark, "I know what Blusiewicz will say. He'll say he likes her--he likes all his horses--and that'll just confuse us. Let's go with our figure horses in the race."
We invested $1,000 in the Pic Six and hit the first three winners, bringing us to the maiden race. Our choice, Intrepid Heroine, was the favorite, but No More Blues was getting surprising support at the windows. I saw Blusiewicz as he left the paddock after saddling the filly and asked, "What's with this horse?"
He took me aside and said, quietly, "She's a cinch."
"But what about those workouts?" I asked.
"If I'd let the clockers see what this filly could do, she'd be 3 to 5," the trainer said.
I blanched. "I wish I'd known this before the Pic Six," I said.
"Why didn't you ask me?" Blusiewicz said.
I watched the race with a sense of doom, and as Intrepid Heroine battled No More Blues for the early lead I heard Blusiewicz shouting, "She's toying with them!" He was right. Almost as soon as No More Blues crossed the wire an easy winner, my fellow Pic Six investors were reminding me that I had shirked my duty.
An hour later we learned how expensive a shirk it was. Our horses won the last two events in the Pic Six and nobody at the track had a perfect ticket. If we had used No More Blues, we would have collected about $91,000. Instead, the Pic Six still was alive. "Don't worry," I said bravely. "We'll get it tomorrow."
We invested $2,000, keying on a couple of standout figure horses and using all the plausible contenders in the other races. After hitting the first four winners, we stood alone with a horse named Recusant in the next race. But if he won, we were home. We had five of the seven horses in the final race of the Pic Six--the only ones who could conceivably win.
Tensely, we watched as Recusant stalked the early pacesetters, swung outside entering the stretch and won going away. After trying all season, we were finally going to win the Pic Six.
Newsweek columnist Pete Axthelm cautioned us not to offend the Goddess of Wagering and utter words like "cinch," and "can't lose," but we were in that position.
Of the two horses we hadn't covered in the last race, Glen Helen was a grass specialist who never had picked up her feet on the main track; Annie Aaron hadn't managed to finish better than sixth against similar opposition all year.
After savoring all the possibilities for half an hour, we watched a race that was competitive until the favorite, Cherry Deb, seized command turning for home. She opened a two-length lead and was less than a furlong away from getting me off the hook for the No More Blues debacle, when she stopped accelerating. In the final yards, the longshot Annie Aaron blew past her and blew us out of the Pic Six that we couldn't lose.
Axthelm had been watching this disaster from the clubhouse and, as is his wont, immediately headed for the clubhouse bar. Standing next to him was a little Cuban who held a winning ticket on the Pic Six. Axthelm glanced at the ticket and saw that the man had invested a total of $16, but had managed to use Annie Aaron.
The winner remained surprisingly calm until the result was official and the track announcer disclosed that the Pic Six had paid $109,308.20.
Then he shouted: "I'm poor no more!"
How could anyone begrudge a little man such a great triumph?