Mother had a winning streak with her hunches

Betting: There was a logic to the choices she made at the track -- and they paid off.

May 15, 1999|By Jacques Kelly

I CAN SEE my mother now, a Lucky Strike in one hand, her telephone finger working the dial. She's saying aloud: "L-I-B -- nine-four-hundred." Then, "Press box."

That was the number of Pimlico Race Track and the press box was where my father worked -- and where he can still be found on many afternoons.

His phone rang there in the late morning of Wednesday, May 8, 1946, three days before the running of that year's Preakness.

"Do you have $6?" my mother asked from her social worker's desk in downtown Baltimore. She had a hunch that needed playing.

My father, then a Sun sports reporter, said he could probably scare that much up.

She wanted to place three, $2 show bets -- the most conservative kind of wager. Her picks, though, were anything but conservative -- horses that nobody thought had a chance of winning.

Their names were Black Tea, Butler, and Gimpy Girl -- a trio of horses that would etch themselves into family history.

I can only guess why mother, who died nearly six years ago, picked these names. She loved racetracks. She loved a spring day there with her friends. She loved the clubhouse food, the characters. She loved to pick horses, collect a few dollars and go home with the pleasure of having spent a fine spring Maryland afternoon.

That day, however, she spent her day at her desk.

As for horses, she relied upon name associations and hunches. I'll take a guess that she put her $2 on Black Tea because she detested tea in any form. She was black coffee all the way. Her mother, with whom she lived, made gallons of tea -- and it was often dark. I can see the two of them squabbling over the beverage.

Butler is easy. The horse Butler was named for the village of Butler in Baltimore County on the Falls Road. My mother's great friend and frequent guest at the track was Bertha Hollander, whose sister Rosamond Wiesberger and husband Siegfried (proprietor of the legendary Peabody Bookshop and Bier Stube) lived near Butler.

Gimpy Girl was not a name you'd ordinarily give a horse expected to charge down the track. But my mother loved life's ironies and underdogs. I can see why she put her $2 on that horse.

Pimlico was muddy that Wednesday. There had been heavy rains the day before, but it was Preakness Week, and that didn't stop 17,764 from showing up that day. The weather was clear by the third race, when Black Tea -- in the No. 11 post position (on the outside, hardly a great spot) took off.

According to that day's Associated Press chart, Black Tea "held on gamely" and won. She paid $7.80 to show.

The next race, the fourth of the day, saw Butler win. He paid an astounding $93.20 to win and $13.20 to show. (Butler was an amazing horse owned by Herbert Hammond, a Mount Washington grocer. He was still racing at age 12 and made $99,962 in the 29 races he won.)

By this time, a Sun printer wandered into the press box and asked my father if he could recommend a horse. My father, in utter disbelief at my mother's streak of luck, replied, "I have a horse that cannot lose. Bet on Gimpy Girl."

The printer, whose name has been lost, went back to The Sun's Baltimore and Charles streets building where he spread the word that Joe Kelly had a horse that couldn't lose. Elevator operators, city editors, compositors and ad salesmen ran to the office bookie, an employee of the Daily Record legal paper, and put their money on Gimpy Girl.

The eighth race comes up. Gimpy Girl broke from the sixth post position and "withstood a long drive to be up in the final strides." She paid $28.60 to win, $10.40 to place and $7 to show. My father bet her across the board and collected $46 on that race alone.

Everybody celebrated that day except the bookie, who went home broke, but not before asking my father to tip him off in advance if he had any more horses that could not lose.

Pub Date: 5/15/99

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