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Monday, December 5, 2011
Updated: February 16, 5:02 PM ET
Happy holidays

By Jay Cronley
Special to ESPN.com

The holidays can be a time of stress and depression, mindless gifts with the nametags left blank, stacked on a table by the front door, in case somebody drops off something at your house at the last moment; overspending on people you don't know so well or care for that much; running late; trying to think of ways to get out of boring engagements.

Except at the horse races.

True, the Christmas tree just inside the front entrance may be rusty. And somebody poked a hole in an empty gift box or two to see if anything had been in there. And some of the elves might need to mix in a sit up. But the Christmas season is the best time of the year to be at a race track or simulcast joint because of what's given there, best wishes in the truest sense, bets.

Being a writer for this site, I get a lot of losing tickets for Christmas, as thanks for the good times, the lucky tips during the year, or the stories about my having lost more than they lost.

There's no nicer gesture than giving the best that you have to offer, which at the race track is hope for the future, a ticket on a horse or two. I have never seen two people happier than after a holiday exchange whereby a $5 ticket on the late Double is tucked under a coaster with best seasonal wishes included. What's a person to do with a five-dollar bill besides tip somebody? A $5 ticket on a 25-1 Double payoff, now there's a gift with some backbone to it.

So the other day at the simulcast joint, a man approached with a beer in one hand and a ticket in the other, wished me happy holidays and tucked a little something in my front shirt pocket, a ticket. After giving the gift of his opinion of skill, and the real gift of optimism, he went to one side and stood smiling, somebody who was obviously proud of what he had just done.

It was a ten-buck win ticket on a 3-1 horse.

Of the tickets given as presents over the holiday season, I can't recall a winner.

Until now: As is the case at numerous tracks off the beaten and well scrutinized path, this horse was bet down after the race started and wound up with the odds of around 5-2. It won by several lengths as I cheered fondly, and the man who had given the gift of wisdom stood nodding, as though there had been no doubt of the outcome.

The payoff was around $35.

I waved the ticket at the man who had given it.

He waved his right hand back.

I went to thank him again and ask how much he had on it.

He said that I was welcome and that he had nothing on it.

Why had he nothing on the horse himself?

The question didn't need to be asked because the answer might have been he didn't have the money.

My winning and his having nothing was not in the spirit of the season.

At the very least he had to get the price of the good ticket back, plus ten percent of the pot, a total of $14.

And if he didn't agree to that, I'd go buy him a ticket that would probably lose and then where would we be.

A great holiday time was had by two.

Write to Jay at jaycronley@yahoo.com.