The American Dilemma and How We Can Fix It

Posts tagged ‘horse racing’


Every so often I get sucked into the manufactured hoopla of the day – and yesterday was one of those days.  It was Derby Day for the 141st time.  I used to enjoy the races until I saw one at Belmont in New York in which one of the horses broke his leg during the course of the race and was destroyed.  That soured me on the Sport of Kings.  But from time to time I have watched a leg of the Triple Crown and with nothing more important to do, I tuned in yesterday.

I had attended one of these events in person – the 100th running.  I had some friends who lived in the Cherokee Park area of Louisville who had kindly invited a friend and me to spend the weekend with them in their home.  It was a festive day indeed, with the ladies wearing outrageously bright, large hats and the mint juleps being poured with abandon.

Unfortunately, perhaps it’s a Yankee thing, but bourbon and I don’t agree.  I think it might be the high sugar content of the liquor – but even a small quantity makes me extremely ill.  But when you’re at Derby Day it’s an unwritten rule that you are expected to go with the flow.  So I accepted the julep after making an appropriate protestation and sipped at it very slowly.  And in the course of many hours at Churchill Downs sipped many more.  The result, of course, was predictable.  To borrow a phrase from Sir Winston, “I was drunk; I was horribly drunk; I was disgustingly drunk.”

Fortunately, or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it, I was able to hold on to the bourbon in my stomach throughout the Derby and the other races after which we returned to my friends’ home.  I teetered to the lavatory in my room and knew that I had to relieve myself of all those mint juleps.  Unfortunately, I was so blotto that I couldn’t distinguish between the toilet (which had water in it) and the aquarium which also had water in it and a fair number of salt water fish.  So I inadvertently lifted up the cover to the tank, thinking it was the toilet lid, and out came spilling many mint juleps.  The result was that I felt a bit better but the alcohol was toxic to the fish – all of whom I killed in this process.

That was the last time that I received an invitation to attend the Derby.  Actually, that was also the last time I heard from these friends.  Alas.

Back in the days when Dad and I would attend the races, I remember that there were some outstanding jockeys.  The names Eddie Arcaro and Willie Shoemaker come to mind.  And as I watched the hour long pre-Derby show, I was struck at how things had changed.  Back in the fifties and sixties, the vast majority of the jockeys were Anglos (although that is a term that wasn’t in common use at the time).  At this year’s Derby, I would guess that at least three quarters of them riding in the big race were Hispanic.

And this, of course, started me thinking.  Is the real reason for Obama’s non-policy on immigration and a refusal to tighten the southern border merely a ploy to get more future jockeys into the country?  Is he merely distracting the public’s eye with his golf games when he really is a horse racing aficionado?  While I don’t have a definitive answer to that question it is something to think about.

We are now all familiar with the term “vetting” as it applies to politics.  Simply stated, it means that the prospective candidate’s background has been thoroughly reviewed (though I’ve never been clear by whom) and that there aren’t any nasty little bits of past history which would disqualify her or him from the office for which they are either running or to which they might be appointed.  The term actually comes from horse racing.  Veterinarians were supposed to examine horses to make sure that they had not been given any illegal substances which would enhance their performance.

This first thought naturally led me to a second thought.  Thanks to our veterinarians and technology, we now have the ability to “chip” our dogs and cats so that if they get lost, there is a record of the person to whom they belong so that they can be returned.  It’s a simple and virtually painless process.  So that thought led me to a third thought.

How hard would it be not only to have an identification chip but to have a GPS chip implanted in our pets.  Rather than wait for someone to turn Hondo or Tinkerbell in, we would be able to determine where they were and go right out and bring them home.  And if it works for our pets, why not do the same for those who immigrate to the country illegally?

Statistically, we know that eighty per cent of those who come into the country through our southern border do not show up at their scheduled immigration hearing and just blend invisibly into the population at large.  We could fix that problem with the use of a chip such as the one I have described.  Don’t show up at your hearing and you get picked up and sent back to whence you came.  “Hasta la vista, Baby.”

We have always and should continue to welcome people to the United States who want to make a better way of life for themselves and their families.  And we should actively develop an immigration policy which favors people with special skills that would benefit the country and its people.  But seriously, how many jockeys do we really need?


Sometimes I put up a post that I think is one of the best things that I have written only to find the response from you, my audience, is about as deafening as the silence of a tomb.  Other times I put up a post that I like but don’t think will get much response, only to find it is exceptionally popular.

The latter is the case for the post, “My Tomato Plant.”  As it garnered a lot of interest I thought I would give you an update to let you know how things are going.  Of course, if you have been following along for any period of time, getting directly to the point is not my style.  But bear with me – we will make it there.

One of dad’s avocations was handicapping thoroughbred racing.  He enjoyed the excitement of watching these magnificent animals challenge each other and introduced me to the sport when I was around ten years old.  But beyond the thrill of watching them race I learned that he utilized this as a way to supplement his income.  Dad had developed a system – and that system generally worked.

When he was not out of town on business and the horses were racing either at Aqueduct or Belmont Park, on many a Saturday he would take me to enjoy a day at the races.  There was a ritual involved with the day.

First stop – White Castle to pick up a few sliders each.  (Of course, we never told mom about that as she considered it junk food).  And then when we got to the track we would each have a bowl of Chicken Gumbo Soup served with a large roll and a couple pats of butter (fifty cents) or if dad had a few winners we might upgrade to the Manhattan Style Clam Chowder (sixty cents).

Dad was very disciplined in his wagering.  He would only risk a small percentage of the bankroll he had accumulated on the races he had decided to bet.  And he adhered strictly to his mathematical formula – not feeling compelled to bet every race but only those in which he felt he had a mathematical advantage.

The net result was that a typical day might involve an outlay of around one hundred dollars and a net profit (even after White Castle, soup and the gas he had burned getting us to and back from the track) of around thirty dollars.  Dad kept rigorous account of his expenses and deducted them as a “cost of doing business” when he analyzed the results of his system.

Now this might not sound like a lot of money to you but let me put thirty dollars into the perspective of the time.  Thirty dollars would buy three hundred comic books or six hundred candy bars.  Thirty dollars would pay for dad’s carfare on the subway to and back from work for twenty weeks.  A high quality premium lipstick cost one dollar.  And thirty dollars would pay nearly one quarter of our month’s rent on the apartment.

I remember going with him one Saturday and everything that could go wrong did go wrong.  Two of the horses on which dad had wagered had won their races and then been disqualified by the Stewards for jostling other horses.  We hadn’t had a winner all day and I could tell that dad was questioning his handicapping abilities and feeling frustrated.  We weren’t going to bet the eighth race and that left us only the ninth to try to recover from what had been a very disappointing day financially.

The eighth race had finished and dad turned to me.  He folded  up his racing form and put it in his pocket and said, “Things aren’t working out today.  There are days like that.  So why don’t you pick our horse for the ninth race?”

I wasn’t sure I wanted that responsibility.  In fact, I was sure that I didn’t.  But I thought if dad had enough confidence in me to try to pick a winner I was going to do that.  (Of course, my “system” was picking the prettiest horse in the race who wore the nicest colors).

Ten minutes before the race the horses came out on the track for the post parade.  The number four horse was a beautiful grey.  He was wearing colors of emerald green and white and held his head high as he pranced in front of us.  “Number four, Daddy,” I said.

“OK.  Number four it is.”

Dad went off to place our bet and it was at that point that I looked up at the tote board.  The horse I had selected was the longest shot in the race – ultimately going off at 32-1.  My heart sank as I realized that I had sealed our fate of having a losing day.

The race began and our horse got off to a good start but was being challenged by  the favorite which was a beautiful chestnut mare.  The two horses dominated the race and it was obvious that, barring anything unusual, one of these two would be the winner.  The announcer, Fred Capacella did his usual superb job of calling the race and heightening the excitement of the audience.

It came down to the stretch, the two horses battling each other, gaining and losing advantage, and then they crossed the finish line – a photo finish.

“Ladies and gentlemen, hold all tickets,” Mr. Capacella said over the loud speaker system.  My heart was pounding.  I thought the other horse had won – but I couldn’t tell from where we were sitting, a little before the finish line.

When the Stewards finished their review, they put up the four horse as the winner.  We had won – and despite a terrible day took home a net profit of $3.25 after deducting all expenses.

Getting back to my tomato plant, there are still fifteen fruit on it and she is doing her best given the weather we’ve had.  These tomatoes are smaller than the first crop which I attribute to the 110 degree plus weather we endured for a week which coincided with the formation of the fruit.  One is beginning to ripen and is only twice the size of a cherry tomato.  Others on the vine are still green and appear to be growing and are much larger.  So I am sticking to my discipline of giving her filtered water morning and evening and offering her a few kind words at each feeding.  We’re both trying to do our part.

By the way, the reason that I devoted most of this post to our day at the races was that it taught me an important lesson both about life and tomato growing.

The name of the horse I selected in the ninth race was, “Keep Pitching.”


 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.”


Tag Cloud