It was the last race of the day and I had a sure thing betting on Hop-Scotch, or so I thought. But perhaps I should back up a bit. You see it’s pretty unusual to find me at a racetrack at all. I’ve never been into horseracing nor betting, and these seem to be about the only two reasons to go to a racetrack.
Oh sure, I’ve heard of tracks advertising other games and activities to drive traffic, and also promoting their dining experience. But why would anyone drag themselves out of their basement to go to a racetrack to play video games? The dining idea was probably the better of the two. In fact, that was the reason for my one and only previous attendance at a racetrack. Some social coordinator at work had decided that one of our office team-building experiences should be lunch at a racetrack. And I have to admit it wasn’t a bad lunch, and an interesting experience. Still, it was clearly not interesting enough to get me to go back.
Until today, that is. You see last Thursday evening I wandered over to my neighbor Louie’s place to see what he was up to. As I approached I could hear an excited voice admonishing someone to “make sure ya don’t miss out on this one!” It turned out the receiver of this advice was Louie and the admonisher was his Uncle Joe. I had only met Uncle Joe once before but I knew he drove a pretty nice Mercedes, was always dressed well and seemed to always be ‘just back from-’ or ‘just heading off to-‘ Las Vegas. Money never seemed to be a problem with Uncle Joe.
“Miss out on what?” I asked as I turned into the garage. From the reactions of Louie and Uncle Joe, you’d think I’d caught them in the midst of burying some hidden treasure. They were all “oh, nothing, nothing” and feeble attempts to change the subject. But I kept coming back to what Louie shouldn’t miss out on. To make a long-story short, I finally got out of them Uncle Joe’s insider tip that Hop-Scotch in the final race the next Sunday was a sure bet to win. And was such a long shot, the payout would be huge. Well, what with the engine on my 14 year-old Caravan making really strange noises and my son’s hockey fees coming up soon, tight money had been a real concern around my head for the last few weeks. So the thought of a quick cash infusion was music to my ears.
And that’s how I found myself hanging around the racetrack on Sunday afternoon waiting for the final race. It was a strange world to me. All these people laying down big money, cries of disappointment from many overshadowed by the happy cheers of a very few. But in either case, they all headed back to the booth to put down more money on the next race. But not me. My head was filled with the lessons of prudent money-management drilled into me by my Scottish father – and at the very bottom of the long list of bad things to do with money was to throw it away gambling. I didn’t even buy lottery tickets for crying out loud. Yet here I was with a thousand bucks advanced off my credit card, clutched in an envelope in my inside coat pocket. Well it had been until I went up to a teller a few minutes ago and placed it all on Hop-Scotch to Place. “To place” means to come either first or second. I wasn’t THAT confident in Uncle Joe’s prescience to bet it all on a win.
I was just coming out of the washroom located behind the betting teller’s booths when I thought I overheard a familiar voice saying “Last race, 50 on Big Laughter to win”.
Oh my God! That’s Uncle Joe’s voice! I’m sure of it. What the hell! “Big Laughter to win”??? What about Hop-Scotch you scoundrel? I was dumb-struck. I couldn’t move. I’d just put down 1000 bucks I didn’t actually possess on an expert’s tip on a race where the freakin’ expert just bet on another horse! This can’t be happening.
By the time, I was able to get my body in gear again, Uncle Joe must have moved out of range. I hustled around the corner in search of him but he was nowhere to be found. I brought out my ticket and scanned the back for the Terms of Sale. ‘No Refunds’ was written in big black letters across the bottom. For the first time, I looked above the ticket booths and saw the same warning writ large: No Refunds. From the rigid freezing my muscles had attained a few minutes before, they now transformed into spaghetti. I was hollowed out. I felt so weak I thought I might collapse. The moment I had been waiting for arrived as the announcement came over the loudspeakers: the final race was about to run.
But I barely heard it. All I could hear was the internal voice of my father admonishing me never to gamble. How could I be so stupid! And how would I tell my wife that not only were we going to have to scramble to borrow money for a new car and maybe for our son’s hockey fees, and new bigger-sized equipment he’d have grown into; but also, oh yeah, our next MasterCard bill is going to have another $1000 on it. I slumped over into a nearby bench and held my head in my hands.
I stayed that way so long that I barely noticed the roar of the crowd behind me as the race started, the excited clamoring of the play-by-play announcer as the race progressed or his final exclamation of the winner. It was only when happy betters rushed back in to the booths to collect their winnings that I seemed to become aware of my surroundings again. And there in the middle of the line-up in front of me was Uncle Joe.
I staggered over to him. How could you, you bastard!” “Oh ya, you can’t miss with Hop-Scotch, you said”. “What the hell!?”
I was just getting warmed up when he interrupted me. “There you are! I was looking for you.” He claimed – the lying cheat.
“Ya I was going to tell you I had an even better tip”, he claimed. Can you believe this guy? What a bugger. “Still, second place isn’t bad. You did bet on Hop-Scotch to show didn’t ya?”
“Second place?” I murmured. “To show?”
“Ya, Hop-Scotch to show. That’s what I told ya. Second place qualifies to show”, he said.
“No I didn’t bet to show,” I said.
“Oh you didn’t? Well that’s too bad. Even ‘to show’ is going to be a good payout for Hop-Scotch” said Uncle Joe.
“No I didn’t bet to show” I admitted. “I bet to place”.
Uncle Joe’s eyes widened. “You bet Hop-Scotch to place?”, he asked excitedly. “He did place! That’s a 14 to 1 payout! Not as good as my other tip ‘Big Laughter’, but still pretty good!”
Yes it was pretty good. And so my visions of disaster melted away. And while it wasn’t the big payout Uncle Joe took, it was just fine for me. Mind you, I don’t think my stomach could take that churn again. And that’s why that remains my one and only experience betting on “the ponies”.
© 2017 Quentin Andrews