Act like you've been there

Here's the way cheering at the horse races works: The more you cheer during a race, the more you're apt to celebrate if you win.

Cheering is not always an exercise in self-indulgence. Look at Seattle. The pro football stadium is like a horn of plenty. Sound goes where it is aimed, at the opposing quarterback's temples. This cheering epicenter of the sports world has redefined the home field advantage. Now it's a home frequency advantage that's worth five points.

Cheering when money is involved is a slightly different situation because the winner is often in a loser's face.

Celebrating money wins is often considered uncool, except in the TV commercials where perfectly dressed and gorgeously born people jump up and down at the rail and at the quarter slot machines on cue from the director: Cut. Let's do it again. And this time you people need to kick your heels up a little higher, okay?

Winning has to be fun. If you don't show pleasure over a victory, it means you're way behind or are expecting to be there soon.

In real life, people spin right through $600 triple-bar slot machine hits, and they handicap right past $500 trifectas, thinking: Two more of those and I'm even for the week.

A friend of mine named Peter, a Long Island Italian, taught me that cheering could make a horse run better. It happened at the live races. We had gone in together on a ticket involving a 15-1 horse whose victory would have necessitated our leaving the track with a security guard to protect the bag of cash on the walk to the car. Our horse was a stalker that made a powerful move into second on the backside. Peter began talking to the horse right out of the gate and coaxed it around the first turn in perfect fashion. When most people watch a race, there comes a point when the fun kicks in, when you think you have a real chance to win a lot of money. To most, this is when the cheering starts. The best trainers in the world are able to stand stoically during a race until the cheering point is reached. Then, when they think they have a chance to win, they are apt to rip the mink right off the shoulders of a 90-year owner, or knock the hair piece off her hubby, in rooting a horse home, network camera or no network camera. My cheering point has always been on the far turn for home. If a rider uses the whip too early, it's usually uphill from there.

As I stood frozen with slightly more fear than hope, our 15-1 horse caught the leader turning for home and the two of them alternated noses to the wire, Peter screaming and twisting his body like the parent of a wrestler at the state tournament finals.

We lost the photo.

I'll never forget what happened next.

Peter turned to me, his face painted with anguish, and said, "Why didn't you cheer harder?"

He was right. It was my fault we lost that day. It's bad karma not to believe in your bet. Not taking a rotten loss personally is a good way to start a losing streak.

Winning has to be fun. If you don't show pleasure over a victory, it means you're way behind or are expecting to be there soon.
Who hasn't looked down his or her nose at somebody cheering wildly when a 2-1 horse pays off on a $5 win bet and beats you out of something special? But who knows, maybe the ten-spot meant something to the person who won the bet. Had I put $500 on the 2-1 horse, I'd have been right in there hugging it out with them.

Some say, about cheering and winning and celebrating, that you're supposed to act like you've been there.

Well, when it comes to $100 horses, I've been there. I was there the night at the simulcast joint when I told everybody still there that a 50-1 shot actually had a chance in a non-winners of two in that it was healthy and everybody else appeared otherwise. The track was under water. The horse was one of those owner-trainer deals. The jockey's record suggested that he could have been related to the owner-trainer. After the horse went from last to first and won by half a lake, I went table-hopping, jumping from table to table while announcing that this had been one of the greatest picks in the history of handicapping.

Having been there makes me want to go back even more.