The guy calling this race really sucks at it in a major way.
Is there any Sunday of the year sweeter than the first Sunday in May when the top errand on your list is to return to the track and cash in your winning Derby tickets? No, not really.
I actually made it the whole way to the morning of Derby Day without hearing any substantial clues about what the word on the street was about the field and now that the day was here I needed to settle on my bets, my cunning plan was to go for trifectas. You pick three horses to win, place and show. There are other things you can do with your bets and I was planning on boxing mine, which means that if your three horses finish in the top three in any order, you win. The only horse info that had managed to filter through was that the favorite had just been scratched. He was number thirteen, which is one of my favorite numbers, but I usually go against the favorite, though with boxed trifecta bets, favorites can turn out all right in the final analysis.
Moment of Truth time, Saturday morning I sat down with a Sharpie and a piece of cardboard and started messing with my numbers. Ones, threes and fives had figured prominently in my car repair bill so I felt strongly I had to use those. So well had I avoided the horse news that it did not even register that this was the 135th running until after I had placed my bets and was looking at the derby t-shirts. I wonder if I would have discounted those numbers if I had realized that before I bet? Kind of like how the first pancake or crepe of the batch always comes out fucked up. That's what makes it all so maddening, sure the signs are all there, it's reading them correctly that's the trick. As my dear, dear friend Garry Cook used to say...It's always too late, and THEN you realize...Truer today than ever. In hindsight, I would say the fact that 135 had so caught my eye was a sign that I should bet this year for sure, not necessarily a sign that those would be the winning numbers.
Honestly, I can't even remember my roundabout logic in picking my other numbers, four were Kennie Mae related, one came from the numbers on a run of records. I ended up with eight 4$ boxed trifecta combinations. You do the math. A crane flew over my path on the way to the track and for some reason the number 8 popped in to my head.
The road that leads to Rockingham Park winds down and to the left when you get off the highway. I pulled all the way over to the left lane and as I drew nearer to the turn into the track I hugged the rail closer and closer, thinking that this is how a horse must feel hugging the rail and riding it into the turn down the homestretch and then I was around the corner and into the parking lot, but not before the number 28 jumped out at me from a sign above the highway. I pulled into a space and some hasty perfecta bets were cobbled together using ones, twos and eights.
At the window, I read off the first eight bets and the teller took my note for the four perfecta bets to enter them. At the last second I asked for 5$ to win on number eight. Unusual for me to place a win bet. Bets to win are like a toy bet, not even really worth it to bother, you never make much off it, it's the exotics that give you the really nice pay-outs. Hedging my bets, as it were. It didn't occur to me then that I was making a thirteenth bet, but if it had, I would have been tickled because, I do like thirteen. If I had thought longer on it and realized that five dollars plus horse number eight equals thirteen I would have been further pleased. The five-eight combo didn't even ring a bell as the birthday of my Tuscan grandmother. A fleeting thought of Eight Belles passed through my head, poor girl, but mostly I was thinking that I had just spent two hundred and thirteen dollars on one horse race. It was madness.
As I left the track, I flash backed to the big red-headed guy I had overheard telling one clerk that it was Dunkirk's day. I kind of hoped he was wrong, because I only had one combo with his name on it. Oh well, a quick stop at the packie and I was home to dig in and enjoy the race.
It took me a little bit of time to sort out my bets and make some charts and familiarize myself with which horses I had bet on. My list broke down to fourteen horses. Fourteen out of nineteen, it would be impossible to keep track of all my combinations during a two minute race so I just decided to have a big ass bottle of beer and watch. I had a fistful of bets and a good part of my strategy depended upon a tiny gelding whose name, Mine That Bird, I didn't even know when I placed my bets. A horse who had been bought for less than ten grand and had been hauled to Kentucky by pick-up truck. It turned out to be a great race and my guy won, but in the end I was very reluctant to believe that my number had come up.
The length of time the jockey rode my winner around afterward make me really nervous thinking something was wrong. I had forgotten that Mine That Bird's trainer had a broken ankle and had insisted on walking his horse to the starting gate, refusing to use a wheelchair or other assistance. Now, he was walking to the winner's circle on his crutches and it was taking some time. I think I love this guy. When an announcer shoved a mic in his face asking a question about his ankle and winning the Derby, without slowing down, he made the snarkiest remark about how now maybe people will stop asking him about his fucking foot!
Fifty to one odds. Nice. The cruelest cut, and isn't there always one, is that the place and show horses finished at nearly the same time. Separated by a nose. If the show horse had placed, one of my perfecta bets would have paid out to the tune of over four grand. Big sigh. Still, coming out fifty bucks ahead is pretty damn good for me. At least it covers the cost of a good bottle of Kentucky bourbon.