Duke's Cup ran out of the money and Green's Leader won the race, which meant that Bender was now out $84 and dead in the Pick Six. He no longer felt quite so lucky, but there were still five races to go, and he informed me that he had never been a whiz in the early races anyway. He stuck his rolled-up form into his pocket and wandered back into the grandstand area. He was soon joined by Beverly, a cocktail waitress at a poker club in Gardena; Harris, another insurance salesman; Wally, a pensioned high-school administrator, and Hugh, the former owner of a failed savings and loan who lived with his mother in a Pasadena mansion.
The friends did not greet each other with an excess of joy because there wasn't a winner in the group. To make conversation, Bender asked Beverly why she had failed to put in an appearance all week. "I was in Vegas," Beverly explained, "with Willie." Everybody nodded. Willie, a real-estate tycoon, had been Beverly's boyfriend for several years, ever since he'd picked her up one afternoon in the Santa Anita clubhouse. Willie was married to a woman who looked, according to Harris, like someone who'd "been hit in the mouth with a mashie." But he had no intention of getting a divorce, so he and Beverly got together once or twice a week and took occasional "business" trips. Nobody liked Willie, who was arrogant and considered Beverly's track pals a bunch of losers, but he was tolerated because everyone liked Beverly. She had wonderful legs and a great laugh, like the whoop of an amorous loon.
Silence reigned momentarily as the comrades studied their tout sheets. It was broken by the arrival of Morris, a rich doctor who specializes in treating the ailments of elderly housewives who are even wealthier than he is. He informed the group that he had so far won every race. Furthermore, he couldn't understand how Bender and his friends could have failed to pick each race as accurately as he had. "That last one was easy," he said. "With McCarron up, how could he lose? And 3 to 1 was a great price on that horse."
He was swept away on a backwash of loathing. "Someday I'm going to kick him very hard in the shins," Bender said, but Wally soothed him. "Don't let Morris get to you," he said. "He hasn't had a loser since 1966." That's because Morris never bets less than five or six horses in every race, which means that he can come out of a day with six winners and a net loss. Still, it was aggravating to have to listen to him.
Bender decided to pass on the fifth race, a sprint for 2-year-old maiden fillies that figured to be won by an odds-on favorite. The last time Bender bet on a green 2-year-old going off at that kind of price was back in the Nixon era, and he was not going to make that mistake again. He watched the favorite romp home on a TV monitor, then turned his attention to the sixth, another distance race on the turf. And now, at last, he came up with a winner.
Seattle Symphony, Bender's selection, scored for him at $19.20 for every $2 of the $10 he wagered, making Bender a tiny winner on the day. Best of all, Bender had picked the horse himself, without asking for or listening to anyone else's opinion. From the statistics in his form, he had guessed that the horse would run well on the grass. I suggested that he might consider sticking to his own picks in the future, and Bender agreed with me, but no sooner had he begun to look at the seventh than he was accosted by Snaps, one of the more aggressive of the grandstand touts.
Snaps makes a living by acquiring information he then passes on to players who presumably will reward him if his tips win. He's a jumpy little man who wears garish sports jackets with ballpoints and odd bits of paper stuffed into his pockets. He has thin gray hair, watery brown eyes and seems to be in motion even when he's standing still, as if afraid someone may be gaining on him. He leaned in toward Bender and glanced quickly around, then whispered, "Big Wheels Rollin is money in the bank. I got that from a friend of the owner not 10 minutes ago!" And he scurried away after another potential client.
"You know, I was going to bet that horse," Bender said, "but now I wouldn't touch him with a 10-foot pole." He went to the window and bet $20 to win on Dark Ice, the favorite.
Big Wheels Rollin won, paying $13.40, while Dark Ice finished third. Bender was beside himself. "How could that be?" he said. "I was gonna bet him and then, just because Snaps liked him too, I backed off him. There's no justice, none, in horse racing or anything else. How do you like that?"
I didn't like it much either, because I had also bet on Dark Ice, but I had to agree with Bender on the subject of justice. As we were standing there, commiserating with each other, Harris appeared beside us, frothing with rage. "Did you see that?" he said. "That f---in' Gary Stevens pulled the favorite, wouldn't let him run a step, the little crook!"