Hang around the Downs long enough and you’ll hear them all — the excuses, the braggadocio and other verbal atrocities that are just flat-out infuriating to anyone within earshot. Here’s a short glossary of things I’ve often heard that should never be repeated:
• “I told you so!” Pretty much, no one enjoys hearing this in any walk of life. Thus, its ubiquity at the racetrack baffles me. We all know you knew who was going to win before the race actually occurred. I’m just wondering why you only invested five bucks. Thanks in advance for not using your omniscience for personal gain.
• “I would have had the (insert wager type here), if only (insert hypothetical scenario here). . . .” How does that saying go about the aunt being your uncle if not for some anatomical differences? Same thing here. And furthermore, you might need a little remediation in the laws of probability. Hitting two-thirds of the trifecta only means you were roughly 66.3 percent correct. The track is full of people who hit three-quarters of the superfecta, five of six in the pick-six, etc. Don’t be the person annoyingly reminding everyone of your near windfall.
• “I was going to bet (insert winning horse/horses here), but. . . .” One question: Who or what kept you from doing it? Barring an act of God, an empty wallet or someone physically preventing you from betting, I’ve never wrapped my head around this one either. As much as I’d like to, we can’t even blame the window dominators and dawdlers for this one. The track is full of windows and, if you really had a keen opinion, you wouldn’t have put yourself in a position to get “shut out.”
• “I had that one!” Maybe I’m being too harsh here. Nothing wrong with a mere mention of a score, but I’m talking about the guy who always has “that one.” You could be talking about the 1954 Cheltenham Gold Cup and there will always be some schmoe at the track willing to let you know that he “had that one.”
• “This (expletive) is fixed!” My personal favorite is the cunning racetrack sleuth who deduces and proclaims that racing and larceny are synonymous. Evidence? Check their growing stash of losing tickets.
Three Things You Should Never Do at the Track
If you buy the cliché about actions speaking louder than words, pay particular attention to this section. Racetrack histrionics can be comical, but more often than not they’re just plain embarrassing. I’ve taken the liberty of ranking them in order of annoyance:
#1: Blame the jockey every time your horse loses.
First and foremost, these guys are highly skilled professionals risking life and limb to guide thousand-pound animals around an oval while traveling more than 40 miles per hour alongside other thousand-pound animals. The job is tough. Jockeys make mistakes, but split-second decisions in heavy traffic are an inherent part of the game. Sometimes it’s even OK to blame a race on jockey error — just not every time.
#2: Fashion a whip from your rolled-up program.
Whether it’s your first or 500th trip to the track, you know exactly what I’m talking about. Who initiated this nursery-school charade? Picture this scene: Grown man/woman standing in a very public place at the track, watching the race live or on a television monitor. During the later stages of the race, said bettor gets excited and, rolled-up program in hand, begins compulsively smacking his/her hip or another body part, imitating the jockey’s whipping motion. I hate to be a killjoy, but could anything be more juvenile? Cheer your horse, scream until your lungs burst, but leave the whipping to the 100-pound men and women on horseback.
#3: Get your bet from the bathroom tip guy.
I wish I had all the money back I used to bet on “inside information.” Everyone claims to know a trainer, jockey, owner, horse breeder or groom who invariably passes along the goods. For reasons I can’t pretend to understand, this type of info usually gets disseminated in the men’s room. Sometimes the tips take place during idle chatter; other times they’re passed conspiratorially. “So-and-so told me the 5 can’t lose the next race” always gets the heart racing — particularly when delivered in a hushed tone or with the support of a cupped hand. These guys might actually know someone, or they might not. They may even hear things. Mostly, though, the bathroom tip doesn’t pan out. The best I ever heard? “Son, the only experts in this game have four legs.”
Illustration by Cat Scott