At the racetrack, a system means everything

March 08, 1998|By Dave Barry | Dave Barry,Knight Ridder/Tribune

AS A PARENT, I believe it is my responsibility to help my son develop the skills he will need to become a responsible and productive member of society. So I took him to the horse races.

Specifically, I took him to Gulfstream Park, a very nice track in Hallandale, Fla., where you can bet on horses and feel comfortable wearing clothing styles dating back upward of 45 years. You remember during the Disco Age, when men wore clingy pants in highly unnatural colors and patterns, so that the wearer looked as though he had been wading naked to his waist in a massive toxic polyester spill, and it dried on his body? Those pants are still the height of style at the racetrack. We are talking about an older crowd, including guys who, at some point in their betting careers, bet on a Trifecta involving Spartacus.

I enjoy the racetrack crowd. It's a more sociable group than you might think. I'm generally shy, but when I go to the track, I often find myself having conversations with strangers. I'll be standing idly near a bank of TV monitors showing horses racing -- possibly at this track; possibly at some other track; possibly in races that took place in 1973 -- and a man standing next to me will suddenly yank his cigar out of his mouth, turn to me, and say: "Can you believe that?"

"No!" I'll say.

"What the [bad word] is he doing?" the man will say. "He's [bad word] crazy!"

"I'll say!" I'll say, wondering whom we're talking about. A horse? A jockey? Newt Gingrich?

"You're [bad word] right he's [bad word] crazy!" the man will say, glad to have encountered somebody else who knows what's going on. Then he'll walk away, still talking, leaving behind no clues except a small puddle of cigar drool.

I began the process of educating my son, Rob, by showing him how to pick a horse to bet on. The key is to have a system. I use what is known as a "two-step" system, as follows (you might want to write this down):

1. I look at a list of the various horses.

2. I pick one.

Using this system, I selected a horse named "Yield To Maturity," which seemed appropriate because it's something that people are always urging me to do. After I placed the bet, we went into the grandstands to watch the race. Tension mounted as post time drew near, and then the announcement came over the loudspeaker: "They're off!"

"Come on, Yield to Maturity!" I shouted.

"Where are the horses?" asked Rob.

"I don't know," I had to admit. One of the problems with horse racing is that key parts of the race take place several miles away, so that even if you can find the horses, they look like a herd of stampeding squirrels. I think the sport would be better if the horses stayed directly in front of the grandstand, perhaps on a treadmill.

Eventually the horses showed up, and although I specifically yelled at Yield To Maturity to win, he (or possibly she) did not. What's worse, he (or possibly she) did not look the least bit upset about losing. In fact, none of the horses seemed to take the race seriously. Laughing and pooping, they trotted gaily off the track and headed for the horse locker room to call their brokers. They're all into conservative mutual funds.

Next I took Rob outside to show him how to "look over" the horses that would be running in the next race.

"What are we looking for?" asked Rob.

"Humps," I said. A hump indicates to the shrewd bettor that the horse is actually a camel, which means it will run slower than the horses. Or possibly faster; I can never remember which.

At this point Rob decided -- and this is exactly the problem with young people today; they don't want to learn anything -- that he was going to ignore my system and pick his own horses by (get this!) studying the racing form. I told him this was a waste of time, because the so-called "racing form" in truth has nothing to do with racing: It's a means by which espionage agents send each other messages in secret code. Here's an actual quote from the form that Rob was studying:

"Magic Way has the highest Beyer in the field, which is a nice starting point at the maiden level." Right! And the Presbyterian mollusk wears linen jodhpurs!

While Rob was frittering away his time trying to decipher gibberish, I implemented another proven wagering system, known as the "bet on most of the horses in the race system." Perhaps you think that it is impossible to bet on six horses in an eight-horse race and still not win any money. Perhaps you are an idiot.

I will not beat around the bush. When the day was over, I had picked no winning horses, no placing horses and no showing horses. I had picked horses that, if you were to cut them open -- and don't let me stand in your way -- would have turned out to be powered by pairs of seriously obese men walking backward. Rob had picked three winning horses and ended up making money. He thinks this could be a good career path. I just hope, if he becomes wealthy, that he remembers who showed him the ropes.

Pub Date: 3/08/98

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