b Papa Dog's Blog: Horses and Other Critters

Papa Dog's Blog

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Saturday, January 22, 2005

Horses and Other Critters

My dad plays the ponies these days – specifically, harness racing – and that’s become one of the regular topics of my Saturday morning calls. I sent him a copy of Seabiscuit last year after I read it myself. I don’t know if that’s what inspired him to take up pari-mutuel betting or if it was just one of those confluences of ideas ready to happen. Something in the air.

There’s something to the synchronicity angle, I suppose. In December, right around the time we first started talking about his little wagers, Ambrose blew through town, somewhat more subdued than in past visits, but still the little whirligig of plans for things we just have to do. Uncharacteristically, a lot of this revolved around wagering on animal contests. He was in a lather to see Warren Oates in Monte Hellman’s Cockfighter, for example, something we’d been frustrated in attempts to do in visits past. We managed this time, and it was a really fine example of a 1970s drive-in art movie, something that sadly will probably never exist again. It may well have been Warren Oates’ finest performance, and there aren’t going to be any more of those, either (unless Lord Olivier’s appearance in that Cap’n Billy’s Whiz Bang movie is a harbinger of things to come).

Ambrose’s other big plan was to take an outing to Golden Gate Fields. He had recently learned of the East Bay’s best-known racetrack in something or other he read about Neal Cassady, who apparently used to bet on horses there. Surprisingly, he had even managed to retain in his memory something very close to the correct name of the place, so I knew what he was talking about when he started expounding. Ambrose was astonished to discover that not only had I heard of the place, but I knew where it was. I’m hoping he doesn’t ever discover that, say, Gregory Corso used to go to football games. I don’t want to see his jaw drop and that maniacal glint come into his eyes when I tell him that, yes, in fact, I did know that Oakland has a Coliseum.

Anyway, we never did get to the track. Ambrose had showed up at a time when I was particularly busy at work, and between that and fatherhood, there wasn’t a lot of time left over for jaunts to the races. The idea had a certain seedy appeal to me, but the time just wasn’t there. When he took off to points south, we made tentative plans for an outing on his return trip. Unfortunately, he ran late getting back, showing up the day before we were leaving for Santa Barbara. Apparently it was not meant to be.

I made the mistake of mentioning this to my dad, and now every time we talk he asks if I’ve gotten to the track yet. I don’t have the heart to say that although I’m a keen gambler, I really don’t much care for wagers that force you to look at the Sports section (or, as I like to call it, “the recycle section”). Still, his enthusiasm was infectious. He was eager for me to try out his system, which involved – if I have it right – spreading money on quinellas and maybe trifectas where there’s a not-too-crowded field with a heavy favourite to win. Say there are six horses running – you place five quinella bets with the favourite to win and each of the other horses to show. Assuming the favourite comes through, at least one of these bets wins, and if the second-place horse has long enough odds, you make a profit. I’m a complete racetrack ignoramus, but it sounded like a halfway workable system to me. He’d been playing mostly little two-dollar bets, but had built up a kitty of five hundred dollars when a series of long shots came through for him.

That was in the high-flying days around Ho Ho time. When I talked to him this morning, he admitted he’d had a few reversals since then and his kitty had dwindled away to nothing. My mom holds the purse strings in the house – probably a good thing – and my dad has always had to seek alternative means of capitalisation whenever he wants to buy a lottery ticket or put two dollars down on Turkey Lou Pickle to show. Now he’s hoarding pop bottles for the redemption value, so he’ll have a stake when the new season starts in the summer. I guess that’s all I really need to know about the system.


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