[It’s Derby Week here in the Jungle, and what better way to celebrate that to dress in all our finery, pour a couple of Mint Juleps in silver cups and head off to the county fair race track where an exuberant woman spills red wine on your new shirt. Thank you SB J. (Mendocino Bonobos) for this story. SB SM]
“And they’re off … “
For the sake of posterity, I record the following events as the single most outstanding example of dumb luck I’ve ever had the misfortune to experience.
It all began one summer afternoon, when I noticed in the newspaper that the racetrack was open at the county fairgrounds. Later that afternoon I casually asked my boss if he’d ever seen a horse race. He replied that he had not, adding that he’d had exceptionally poor results his entire life when betting on events of chance.
This display of innocence provoked me to spout fabulous tales of the exciting and colorful spectacle of big-time horse racing. I proceeded to non-stop brag of the ease of winning money at the track, when one knew how to properly interpret the statistics in the racing form newspaper, such as I knew. He remained dubious. I patiently explained that the people who study the data win the money lost by the suckers who bet on hunches, superstition, and hearsay. The horse and the track, naturally, take a small percentage of the exchange as sort of an entertainment and brokerage fee.
My boss warned me again about his poor luck at gambling, but I could sense that he saw merit in my argument, so I insisted, adding that he wouldn’t even have to wager. He replied that it wouldn’t matter, he would still bring bad luck to the event. Yet I felt all the more compelled to prevail upon him.
*** one week later ***
Despite my repeated urging, the boss drove too slowly to arrive in time for the daily double, which I had perfectly predicted and which paid enormously. I continued studying the fact sheets as we stood in the painfully long and slow entrance line to the fairgrounds. Three brightly clothed young women with stylish hats in front of us chattered and giggled incessantly about this being their first time at the track – how naughty, and all that rot. I pointed them out to my boss as perfect examples of the people who would be paying us for this afternoon’s sport.
The confusion of these women fishing through their purses when they finally made it to the ticket booth caused me to miss betting on my best pick of the day – a 23-to-1 shot who proceeded to win the race and pay the highest return of the entire meet.
At last we sat in the grandstands and prepared for the next race. I explained my statistical decision-making process to my curious boss, as he watched the entrants parade toward the starting gate. The noisy young women were seated directly behind us, clucking on about how much they liked the gray horse because it was a different color than the others. I showed my boss the facts, which unmistakably pointed the old gray nag toward the dog-food factory.
I made my pick and advised my boss, “Bet to win. It’s the only way to make money here. We didn’t come to break even.”
We each got win tickets, returned to our seats, and watched our horse lead all the way around the track, only to stumble and be nosed out in a photo-finish by the gray. The women behind us were ecstatic, and collected handsomely on their once-in-a-lifetime quirk. “Probably hyped with drugs,” I conjectured, failing to clarify that I was referring to the gray horse and not the women.
My boss suggested that it might be prudent if we didn’t wager on the next race; a suggestion which I promptly dismissed. The women, against my outspoken advice, decided on the horsey with the name that reminded them of some mutual friend of theirs. “Besides”, they insisted on telling me, “the jockey is wearing blue”. Sure thing, lady.
Our horse was making its bid, just as I predicted, moving up through the middle of the pack in the backstretch, when — with God as my witness — he dropped from sight. The horses behind him leaped over the fallen steed and finished the race in disarray.
The women jumped up and screamed over their second straight stroke of absolute blind luck, knocking a cup of red wine onto the back of my new shirt.
Somehow I managed to restrain my temper, until I overheard the women decide to take their substantial winnings and leave. I cannot imagine that any conscientious gambler would have survived such a moment without serious consideration of justifiable homicide.
The next race was an obvious fix, won by a certain refugee from the glue factory. As I was tearing up my tickets I heard the familiar screams of women from somewhere down near the finish line.
My boss was keeping wisely silent, and even – as I recall — had the good sense to suggest that we call it a day. But I had two races left to recoup my exceptional losses. I bet half my remaining week’s salary on the surest favorite of the day, who answered the starting bell by bucking its jockey ten feet into the air and going on to win the race handily without a rider, thereby being disqualified.
In the final race, and once again in plain sight of the Almighty, my horse turned into the homestretch numerous lengths in front of the nearest contender, suddenly slowed to a trot as the pack raced by, and casually walked off the track without finishing the race, with the jockey madly screaming in its ear and jumping wildly up and down in the saddle, to no avail. The crowd fell momentarily silent at the spectacle.
It was a long, quiet ride home, although all the way I could hear my boss’s telepathic mantra “I told you so”.
I have been to the races many times over the years. I will probably venture to return there again someday, but certainly not in the company of my boss.
And I expect never again to be witness to such a calamitous run of dumb luck. But it will be forevermore my strict policy to seek and follow the advice of any group of first-time women I may be fortunate enough to eavesdrop upon.