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Tuesday, August 27, 2013
Oops

By Jay Cronley
Special to ESPN.com

She talked me out of Will Take Charge in the Travers.

She was smart and attractive and made it sound like betting Will Take Charge would have been like having a basket of cheese fries -- would be bad for my health. She made it sound like the bet would have been bad for my reputation, the sometimes smooth horse race operator, and all.

She had grown up in and around the business, a relative having had owned race horses, and with respect to the Travers, she quoted stats about Mr. Lukas being little more than a figurehead at Saratoga, these days only attracting wagers from the senior set, the same way the females bet on jockey Rosie Napravnik.

I thought I knew that Verrazano couldn't walk a mile and a quarter, that Orb had been off too long to jump back and swim with the cigar boats, and that the training mornings sounded like a basketball court with all the bouncing between the rails.

And still she talked me out of Will Take Charge.

Flashbacks:

A cowboy had me by the throat. Then I had him in a headlock. Then nobody had anybody. Then we had each other and were rolling on a previously tidy front lawn of a house a block from Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs. My wife had issued the trilogy of How Much questions, "How much are you behind?," "How much did you just bet?," and "How much do we have left in the bank?" And she had left after the fifth race to go sit in the car. The cowboy had won my money. Or so it seemed. An argument ensued over handicapping skills. The wrestling match took place beside where my wife sat in the passenger seat of our car. A nearby cop blew a siren on his squad car, ending the show.

Losing, being abandoned, getting a black eye, just another date at the horse races.

Another time I took to the races a sharp and attractive woman from a prominent family. She loved to drink and gamble. To her, one for the road meant one for the road in and one for the road out. She knew of horse racing and its terminology and threw around $20 exacta boxes like they were paper airplanes. We had a great time, laughing and almost breaking even. I got glances from the regulars suggesting this was one of my luckier days. It was with great regret, then, when she called three days later from the psycho wing at a nearby hospital. She asked if I could find the time to pay her a visit and bring along a good book. I said sure. She was pale and reserved and was in line for major rehab work. We had several nice visits at the wing. But it was never the same. Being the last one seen before a person checked into a mental facility, such an occurrence can take the steam out of a relationship.

Back to the present:

After Will Take Charge won the photo and the money, the one who talked me out of the horse said, "Oops."

Oops isn't what you say when you drop money.

Oops is what you say when you drop a tea bag.

After you have let yourself get talked out of a horse, you have never cheered harder than you do in hoping it loses; when it wins at a fantastic price, the party is pretty much over.

This particular outing ended with a handshake and the thought: thanks for less than nothing.

You might think that a horse race track or simulcast joint would a good place to meet somebody, usually a single male. But exactly what kind of single person, that's the key question. Most race track relationships seem to involve people in the business, trainers, owners, jockeys. Serious bettors aren't always good risks on the dating charts.

Over time, the horse races become something like a tree house, a clubhouse, a semi-private place for members only where its own language is spoken, its own jokes made and enjoyed, where the financial transactions are kept deep in a pocket.

It's something like the fine Snickers commercials. You're not yourself when you're with a date or a spouse at the horse races.