There are two things I don't understand: physics and horse racing. Make that four: computer technology and money. Five: ice hockey.
My wife and I went to Hollywood Park the other day with our friends, Duke and Shirley Russell, and their friend, Jack Dunn.
We had gone to the races only three or four times in our lives, and always before, through mysticism, necromancy and sheer luck, we had won.
It was a sunny day with a cool breeze off the ocean. Duke had obtained a clubhouse box just above the finish line. The infield was pretty with its ornamental pools and rock grottoes and beds of red flowers. Beyond it stood a fringe of palm and eucalyptus trees. It was Southern California at its finest.
Dunn, a track habitue, had written out a set of instructions for us neophytes: "Don't buy a racing form unless you know how to read it. They cost too much and take the fun out of picking the horses by name, color, jockey and such. . . ."
It was advice we understood. All around us people were bent over racing forms, figuring the races. It seemed such a waste of time and effort. Nobody could figure out a horse race. If the people who sold tips knew which horses were going to win, all they would have to do would be to place their bets and get rich.
Dunn explained all the sophisticated bets we could make--how we could pick all nine races and win $500,000, or pick six, or pick three, or pick the daily double, or pick an exacta--the first and second horses in any race.
We started out poorly. My wife picked nine, going for the jackpot, and washed out in the first race. I decided to go for the daily double--Irish Illusion in the first race, Teddy Bear Hug in the second. I liked Irish Illusion because everything is illusion anyway, and Teddy Bear Hug sounded cute.
Irish Illusion won but Teddy Bear Hug ran fourth, which is what I should have expected with a cute name like that. I also bet $2 to win on Tellem Ben, because I know a young woman named Tellem. I should have known a gelding with a woman's name was a bad bet. He ran seventh.
Russell had $2 on Irish Illusion to win and collected $4.20. It was the only bet any of us won all day. Even Jack Dunn struck out, which proves that being an expert doesn't help.
A race-track crowd is like no other. Somehow they all look like race-track people. Their clothing is either scrungy or flamboyant; mostly they look as if they had dressed to work in the garage. It isn't Ascot.
"Why do these people all look the same?" my wife asked.
"Have you looked at us?" I asked her.
She was wearing a loose knit cotton sweater covered with French bicycle racing terms, white trousers, bright yellow stockings and mustard-yellow shoes. I was wearing blue slacks and a gaudy blue plaid jacket with a white canvas hat I had bought in Venice, Italy. Except that we didn't have racing forms, we fit in.
After the second race I got a large draft beer. It cost $2.30. "No matter," I thought. "I'll make it back in the next race."
In the third race I picked High Regards to win, Varennes to place, in an exacta. High Regards was second, but Varennes ran next to last. I don't know how my wife bet. She wouldn't tell me. Secrecy is a part of her method.
I realized that in betting the exactas, I was betting on the horses with better odds, reasoning that the possibility of long shots winning and placing in the same race was nil. I was giving up my touch for picking long shots.
We stayed only through the sixth race. None of my long shots paid off. Before we left, though, my wife bet $2 to win on Lady Annabelle in the seventh race. Annabelle is my cousin's name--the one who stayed with me after my heart surgery--and the name sounded like a good omen.
"Ought to be a sure thing," I agreed.
The next morning we looked at the charts in The Times and found that Lady Annabelle had run fourth.
We don't blame her.