Five Dollars on Number Three

I’ve been to a horse race before. In 2014, I drove to the Belmont to see California Chrome win the Triple Crown. I was very prepared, showing up in a dress and a large floppy hat, which I understood to be the racetrack essentials. I quickly found a place next to the track that I could claim as my own. Well… If I had a blanket, I could have claimed it as my own, but I didn’t. However, I quickly made friends with some guys from New York that thought it was amazing that I threw the word “Ya’ll” into regular conversation. They shared their blanket, and taught me how to make the most of a day at the track. I even placed a few bets, but with 100k people at the track that day, I didn’t have a chance to look at the horses in the paddock and make really informed betting decisions.

Watching a few horse races on television, I have thought that if I had a chance to really look at the horses, then place a bet, I might be able to have a chance. I can tell if a horse is lame, and that has to account for something, right? There’s a lot you can tell about a horse at the walk, so I wanted to see if I was actually any good.

So, on a Sunday morning in New Jersey, with threats of tropical weather, I headed off to Monmouth Park. I didn’t bring my big floppy hat to New Jersey (it has been missed) and I worried about wearing a dress with the potential for wind (there was no wind) so I was dressed like a normal person, like the hundreds of people there for the barbecue festival, beer tasting, and live music rather than the races.

I bought a program and sat near the paddocks while I looked it over. There were horses! With fun names! But the rest of the information wasn’t how I planned to make my bets. I wanted to look at the beasts, and see which ones I thought would be fast.

One consistent thing at race tracks: Tiny jockey statues.

One consistent thing at race tracks: Tiny jockey statues.

Finally, it was time for the first race. The handlers walked the horses around the paddock, and I could easily tell that one of them looked better than the others. Good hocks, not off (so many of them looked not quite right in the hind), a little excited, and I just had a gut feeling. So I decided to bet on Number Three.

Nervous, but a little excited, I went to the machines that my boys at the Belmont taught me to use. I spent a minute trying to figure out where to insert my money, only to realize you had to insert a voucher, where you buy somewhere else. Where? Not there. The minutes to race time were ticking away. I was so nervous that I wouldn’t be able to put my money on Number Three!

So I went inside, to the actual betting windows.

In 2001, I had a summer internship in Oklahoma. The other intern was a girl from Kentucky. She complained about two things at racetracks: that mint juleps are actually disgusting, and that so many people go to betting windows having no idea how to place a bet. So before going up to the window, I looked in my program, which had very clear directions for how to make a bet. There’s an order – you have to give specific information regarding the track, the race, your pick, how much you are betting… or, crap, was it the finishing place then how much you are betting? There’s a lot to have straight, and I really didn’t want to get it wrong. Number Three was going to be a winner, and I didn’t want to mess it up.

The betting window tuned out to be painless, probably because there were so few people at the track. Probably, also, because it was obvious that I was placing my bet for the first race, and not at some other track, and, well, I gave enough information to put $5 on Number Three to come in first, second, or third. (That’s “$5 on Number Three to Show,” by the way).

Then came the hard part, watching the race, waiting to see if I was any good at picking winners. It was gut-wrenching. The horses came out, I watched them move again. I wondered if I made the right decision, because that one in blue looked really nice. Then I realized that Number Three was the horse in blue, and patted myself on the back for being consistent.

I honestly don't even know if Number Three is in this picture.

I honestly don’t even know if Number Three is in this picture.

The bells rang, the horses were off, and I jumped up and down as I watched the monitor. The announcer explained that… horses with names were in certain places. I rushed to look at my program – it turns out that Number Three had a name! He was doing well! I jumped up and down some more, and watched him finish in third place.

Having no idea how to read the screens with the odds, I wondered what my winnings would be as I walked back to the lady that took my bet, who smiled and congratulated me on my $15 of winnings, which I put right back into horses for the rest of the day, without winning anything else. Honestly, it only lasted about three more races. It was stressful!

But Number Three, he was exciting.

1 Comment

  • Great post and straight to the point. I am not sure if this is truly the best place to ask but do you people have any thoughts on where to employ some professional writers? Thank you 🙂