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He's riding his luck at Santa Anita Park

When you're playing the horses, you've got to know when to hold 'em and when to fold 'em.

January 23, 2013|Chris Erskine
  • Losing tickets are scattered on the ground at Santa Anita Park.
Losing tickets are scattered on the ground at Santa Anita Park. (Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles…)

Day at the races, Santa Anita:

First race. Starter allowance for 3-year-old fillies who are a little conflicted and (supposedly) never dated. On the first turn, my horse goes into labor, then rallies to finish fourth. Good sign. Karma. I claim the foal just in case. Because that's how winners roll.

Second race. Stakes race for California-sired maidens who have never once been kissed. After betting, I get lost looking for a bathroom, then accidentally wander out onto the track and — amid a cloud of dust and confusion — finish second. More good karma.

Third race. Love this bug-eyed horse by the name of Niagara Falls, ridden by Julien Leparoux, who I think starred in one of the Pink Panther movies. Or was once mayor of Montreal. Bet him to win, because that's how winners roll. With Leparoux aboard, Niagara Falls finishes second.

I'm now a mere 15 bucks down on the day. Good start.

Fourth race. Pick Six begins. In order to more quickly lose $60, several of us pool our money. Savvy, right?

Hey, that's how winners roll.

Just before post, my buddy Craig talks about a case he once tried where one of the jurors was lead singer for the Squirrel Nut Zippers. I've never heard of the Squirrel Nut Zippers. But then I've never heard of most things.

At the last minute, I place an impulse bet — the 2 horse to win. When he reaches the starting gate, I realize the 2 horse is actually a zebra.

Nowhere in the program does it mention this.

Fifth race. I shred my racing form into a nice salad, then turn to freaky number combos, betting $5 on the 5 horse in the fifth race. Lucky Fitz, who races with blinkers off, zigs when he should've zagged, and winds up eating ice cream from a street vendor under an Arcadia overpass. Vanilla, I think, though track stewards later say it might've been peppermint.

Good horse, though. Definitely worth keeping an eye on.

Sixth race. The last of the Marx Brothers, track bugler Jay Cohen, stops by our table in the FrontRunner. "Tough times for the Chicago mob," Cohen reports. "The other day they had to lay off six judges."

There are no customers having birthdays to serenade, so we ask Cohen what song he plays for people getting divorced. Without hesitating, he launches into "Happy Days Are Here Again."


Seventh race. I can't decide between making another wager or getting a colonoscopy.

Wisely, I choose the colonoscopy. Cohen serenades me. The guy won't go away. Turns out he's now part of my health coverage.

Eighth race. Back at the table, I order something called the "picnic platter," full of creamy cheeses and leathery processed meats. Good but not filling. So I order the shrimp tacos. My buddy Mike orders the leg of lamb. When it arrives, I recognize the lamb.

"I bet him in the sixth race," I say.

"Better on turf," says Mike.

"Baaaaaaaaa," says my buddy Craig.

Ninth race. Needing to stretch my legs, I stroll down to the paddock, which might be my favorite place in all the world — the perfect park, almost British in the way it blends green benches and shade and shrubbery. If they sold crypts in the paddock, I would buy two — one for me, one for my winnings.

Chat with Fred Scaler, a veteran owner sucking on a cigar the size of a canoe. Tells me he once hit a Pick 6 for $335,000, but is gradually getting out of the business. I would too.

Chat with longtime horse player Mark Funk, who says he stayed an extra race to watch jockey Gary Stevens, now 184 years old, go by aboard Mywayorthecauseway. How ironic.

Chat with Laffit Pincay, the winningest jock of all time, now retired, who says he'd like to ride one more race, "just one more, that's all."

Wouldn't everyone.

10th race: Turns out there is no 10th race. It's now just me and one of those waiters who won't let your iced tea go down, no matter what. Every time you sip — boom, he's back, refilling your iced tea. This never happens with beer or Bloody Marys, by the way. Just iced tea. I tip him $20 for the effort.

Because that's how winners roll.

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