Other than his family and business and reading Zane Grey novels, dad had one other passion. Horse racing. He loved when he had a free Saturday and the ponies were running either at Aqueduct or Belmont Park and once in awhile I would go along for an afternoon of racing.
I enjoyed it when we went to the track. I adored the beautiful horses – and I loved the “Soup Bar.” For seventy-five cents you could get a large bowl of Chicken Gumbo soup and for a dollar a large bowl of Manhattan Style Clam Chowder. Both soups were accompanied by a warm roll and two generous pats of butter. Dad and I would always have a bowl of soup before the first race.
Dad approached betting on horse races as a business. He had started with a bankroll of two hundred dollars, but he had added to it through his winnings and it was now over five hundred. Twenty percent of his winnings were added to his bankroll and the rest went to pay for the family’s expenses.
When we got to the track we would sit in the “cheap seats” in the grandstand, purchase a program and in the program dad would record our expenses. (The cost of the soup we ate would be added in). Dad had purchased the “Daily Telegraph,” the paper that contained the past performances of the horses who were scheduled to race, the night before and done his computations. (This was his “system”).
Dad was rigorous in applying the system. He had developed it over many years, using pure math to formulate the horses on which he would make his wagers. At this evolution (it’s final one) he would wager on three horses in each of the races he had chosen to bet.
When there wasn’t enough statistical data for him to formulate his selections, we would sit out that race. On a typical Saturday we would only place bets on five or six of the nine races that were run at the track.
His goal was simple. To get a return of between ten to twenty percent of the amount of his bankroll at each track outing. (So with his bankroll now at five hundred dollars – a profit of fifty to one hundred dollars after expenses was the goal). We met this goal every time that I went with him – except for one occasion.
As I said, he approached these outings as a business and in the interest of good money management would never commit more than five percent of his bankroll to any particular race. We had bet three horses in each of five races – and had yet to cash a ticket. We were out almost one hundred twenty-five dollars. Total disaster. I had never seen this happen before. And I could tell dad was upset – not so much at the loss – but at second guessing the system that had brought him this far.
It was time for the running of the ninth and last race. Dad put away his paper and said, “You know – I don’t know if my math is off or what’s going on – but I’m going to leave it to you to pick one horse for this race. We’ll bet ten dollars on whichever one you want.” I wasn’t sure that I wanted this responsibility.
The horses appeared on the track for the post parade. There was a beautiful roan horse that was passing before us. He pranced with a very lively gait. I said, “Let’s bet on Number Four.” (As it happened, this horse was one of the three that dad would have bet had he followed his system).
As I looked up at the tote board in the track’s infield, I realized that the horse, Keep Pitching was so poorly thought of that the odds on a winning ticket would pay 64-1. I couldn’t help feel that I was about to contribute to our loss that day. But dad went up to the $5 Win window and purchased our tickets. Then he went to the $2 Win window and bought another ticket. He handed me this ticket and said it was mine.
The horses were put in their stalls in the starting gate and the short six furlong race began. Although having decent position among the field of horses, Keep Pitching was tied up in a pack of five horses and couldn’t break free. After two furlongs it looked very bleak.
Then Keep Pitching broke from the pack and was in fourth place. There were two furlongs left in the race. He kept gaining ground on the leaders and suddenly was in third, then second. As Keep Pitching and the other horse came spinning out of the turn, they were head to head and they stayed that way all the way to the finish line. Photo Finish the tote board advised – and the announcer, Fred Capossela (one of the all time great race callers) announced, “Hold all tickets.”
Because our seats were a little in front of the finish line, it was impossible for us to know which of the two horses had won the race. But “Cappy” made the announcement after a few minutes of nail-biting, “The stewards have reviewed the tape and the winner is number four, Keep Pitching.”
Keep Pitching went off the board at 70-1 and dad cashed in his ten dollar bet for over seven hundred dollars and my ticket for one hundred forty. Dad had cleared over five hundred fifty dollars for the day – even after all the losers and our soup. It was his best day ever at the track. (And mine too).
I appreciate that those of you have been following along have come to expect some point or moral to these posts. While I have simply tried to relate a simple afternoon at the track, if there is a moral it is this:
Even though you’ve done all the right things sometimes you get an undesired result. That’s life. But you have to hang in there – and “Keep Pitching.”