Commentary

Losers win

Updated: June 24, 2013, 3:38 PM ET
By Jay Cronley | Special to ESPN.com

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The biggest single race win I ever had occurred on a rainy day at Will Rogers Downs. Will Rogers was an Oklahoma humorist and philosopher and was beloved by the regular people because he picked on lousy politicians. He was born outside Claremore, which used to be a small town pretty much on its own but has by now blended into a Tulsa bedroom community. Will Rogers was quoted as having said that he never met a man he didn't like. It stands to reason the same would go for horses, thus the name of the track just outside his home town.

The day I won all the money, it looked like Lake Will Rogers out there.

This was before widespread off-track wagering and home-betting. You pretty much had to be on site to make a bet, or wager with an off-track guy with a nickname and wonder if you would ever see any money you were owed.

I made $60-some worth of trifectas bets on two horses from New Mexico that had lousy dry track form, and a couple of local horses with short prices and decent local stats, the first two to win and place, the others to run third. Why the New Mexico horses? Well, they could walk all right and sometimes there was something about horses coming from thin air locales. What was there about horses materializing out of thin air? Who knows. It sounded halfway logical at the time. And these two New Mexico horses had memories of speed. One went off at 30-1, the other at almost that.

It wasn't even close.

It was eerie.

I watched the race from the Will Rogers Downs Jockey Club, which was packed, not with jockeys or former jockeys, but with people jockeying for position at the betting windows or beer spigot.

The New Mexico horse with the highest odds popped out of the gate and took the lead and won by about a time zone, that much daylight. The other New Mexico horse was a simple second. One of my local yokels showed. I'm not a big suite sports fan, sit in some wood and leather room sipping cocktails with muted sounds coming from the poor people outside; thanks anyhow, I'll take the masses. I like to cheer at the horse races when a big win is possible. But there was no need to ask the rider to please stay on here.

The payoff was many thousands of dollars. They didn't come close to having enough money at the Jockey Club windows to pay me. They had to dig around for the rest downstairs. There was so much cash, I put it in brown grocery bags and then I hired a security guard and paid him $50 to walk me about a block to my car at the slightly rural setting. Whereas the people upstairs were very happy for me and the big win -- one guy had his picture taken with one of my tickets -- downstairs racetrack people oftentimes handle their beer much worse.

The most I ever lost occurred over a weekend in York, England.

As Scotland is the birthplace of golf, with a lack of trees having to be a contributing factor, a person has to figure that England is the home of turf racing, the elegant Aubrey Hepburn trying not to cuss at her horse in "My Fair Lady."

If collecting race tracks is a hobby, why not collect one of the most historic?

The weekend in York featured a festival of turf races coming at the horse player from a variety of angles, hills, dales, chutes, perhaps even gates. Who knew what they were doing way over there at the starts of some of those races.

Reserved seating at this track happened upstairs in a big room full of tables with family-style handicapping reminiscent of family-style dining in the heartland, pass the chips and inside tips if you wouldn't mind.

Little was private.

The accents were so pointed and severe, I couldn't tell what they were saying about me.

Not to make excuses, but I was severely restricted by a lack of familiar handicapping tools. On the way into the facility, I accumulated a bunch of single-page racing information, wildly random numbers with indecipherable meanings. There was no neat text comprised of organized past performances. Riding styles seemed appropriately foreign -- jockeys jumping all over the place as though bothered by bees. What I understood best was the ale.

My pounds were pounded.

I lost everything. I lost every bet made on every race. I lost all my money but what remained at the tail-end of a credit card credit line. Painfully still, this assault on the senses transpired at the beginning of a ten-day tour of Europe.

I'll have the grilled cheese please.

I was accused of walking around James Herriot Country like a zombie. And with good reason, all I could afford was the post card and a simple sandwich.

The losing streak was of such proportions that the British horse players at my table in York got together and offered to pay my way, room and board in a decent nearby bed and breakfast, if I would stay over another night and return to the races and give them my picks.

Stories about losing are more fun aren't they.