Ring Lardner wrote that there are a thousand ways to lose a horse race, and I think I've experienced them all this winter. I have been the victim of excruciating photo finishes, disqualifications, inept jockeys -- the full gamut of a typical horseplayer's woes.
But I pride myself on my resiliency. On Saturday, when a Canadian film crew was conducting interviews on the sport, I had a chance to expound on my philosophy.
"If you're a horseplayer," I told the interviewer, "you have to accept the fact that bad breaks come with the territory. Even when I got disqualified out of $74,000 one day this winter, I just belted down a few Jack Daniels and forgot about it the next day. The worst thing a gambler can ever do is to let tough losses warp his mental attitude."
Little did I realize that by nightfall my attitude would be irreparably warped, my spirits thoroughly crushed; all because of a single atrocity committed by a jockey.
I had gone to Gulfstream Park full of confidence that I was about to revive my fortunes. The fifth race was filled with faint-hearted, one-dimensional speed horses. The most talented entry was also the only credible stretch-runner, My Friend Fran.
I could envision that the race was going to develop perfectly for her. The favorite, a Woody Stephens filly named Ship N Shore, has a tendency to bolt to the outside fence, and she was breaking from post position one. She figured to carry the other speed horses wide and leave ample room for My Friend Fran to rally on the rail.
When My Friend Fran went to the post at 9-to-2 odds, I wagered with gusto, and then watched the race develop just as I had envisioned.
Ship N Shore went to the lead, raced the other speed horses into defeat and drifted wide as she turned into the stretch. As she did, My Friend Fran's jockey Dave Penna moved along the inside and drew abreast of the leader. The race was as good as over.
Penna had not yet used his whip or even pushed his mount vigorously. As he moved in front of Ship N Shore, he put his whip away, sat almost motionless and struck a pose like Eddie Arcaro winning the Belmont on Citation. There was just one problem. Penna hadn't bothered to notice that there was a filly named Cannonball Miss who was flying down the middle of the stretch.
When the photo finish disclosed that Cannonball Miss had caught the napping Penna in the last stride, I began to envision the next day's headline: "Journalist Held in Jockey Murder". I also foresaw the headlines that would say "Jockey Killer Goes Free", because no jury of my peers could conclude that throttling David Penna was anything but justifiable homicide.
My fantasies of revenge were interrupted when a Toronto newspaperman offered his condolences and said, "I think I know what happened to you.
"That Canadian television crew had interviewed Penna just before the race, and they had their camera at the finish line filming him on My Friend Fran. I know Penna, and he's kind of a vain guy. In the stretch drive, he was probably just striking a pose for the camera."
Make that 1,001 ways to lose a horse race.