Monday, August 12, 2013


Sometimes You Lose Even When You Win


I stare at my reflection—warped and contorted—on the black cover to my Weber grill. The veggies steam within packets of foil and the burgers sizzle to a purely succulent medium. I think of two questions:

1. Why am I not in my car heading back to Saratoga Race Course?

2. Why had my father-in-law’s statement ‘I’m the luckiest man alive’ really come back to bite us?

But, really, why am I not in my car heading back to Saratoga Race Course?

Originally I had intended to write something about Calvin Borel and his wonderful induction into the Hall of Fame, which I may reserve some words come the closing bell, then again, maybe not. But in this moment I sit and stare blankly, on the edge of a decision I know I won’t make.

A few hours earlier Mrs. Carryover and I took her parents to the track as we usually do when they visit in the summer. We even got our Fourstardave bobble head figurines. My father-in-law bought a Racing Form and I helped him out and gave him some opinions. I started a Pick 3 wheel. He nearly hit the tri and I was alive with a 3-1 horse on the first leg. Nice. We’ll take it.

Next leg, I give him some opinions and he’s one horse off from hitting the tri again. I too am one horse out of order in the tri, but I hit the second leg of the Pick 3 with a 6-1. Feeling pretty good as we head into the Adirondack. I’ve got the favorite, Fiftyshadesofgold, at 1-4, and Thank You Marylou, at 8-1. Will-pays for $1 are $31 and $450.

I looked at the race and told him I liked the 2 (Fiftyshades), the 3 (Thank You Marylou), and the 5 (Designer Legs). He ran off and placed a $2 tri box and I glued myself to the fence to watch from atop the stretch.

The race went off and I looked through the binoculars and saw Who’s In Town and Hop the Sixth berating Fiftyshadesofgold during a 21 and 3 quarter mile, while my Thank You Marylou came running. She loomed large in my glasses and charged down the center of the track. Who’s In Town squeezed through and won. I pressed my forehead to the fence. Then I looked up.

Galloping, limping, without a rider, right in front of me some 20 yards, was Charming Hour. Her right front was snapped to the bone. It swung like a wind chime and she kept on going, worse, and worse, and worse. I put my hands over Mrs. Carryover’s eyes, but she looked anyway. Where were the outriders to put a stop to this? My stomach still turns at the memory of that near-disembodied foreleg. It’s the worst injury I’ve ever seen.

My father-in-law said, “Let’s go,” and we left. He was mad. He loves animals. He felt someone was to blame for the horse breaking down. I told him that her trainer, Ken McPeek, was a great horseman and these things happen. He was mad at the jockey, as if John Velazquez could have done something. I said he could very well be on the way to the hospital. We just didn’t know. I hadn’t seen my father-in-law at the time, but he took his ticket from the Adirondack, crumpled it in a ball, and tossed it onto the back of a golf cart as we exited the grounds.

We were left with a haunting visual of horse racing’s bad breaks. Again, my father-in-law loves animals and he wanted to blame somebody. He wanted to punch the jockey in the face. We told him there was nothing he could do, but he was upset. We all were. I sent a tweet to Ken McPeek, though he has no idea who I am, to say I was sorry about his horse. I trolled Facebook while in the car and in one thread someone said something to the effect, “I can’t believe they took Who’s In Town down.”

What?

I thought, for an instant, that the ticket in my wallet might reflect Fiftyshadesofgold or Thank You Marylou on top. I pulled up the results and saw that Thank You Marylou was second. Followed by Fiftyshades. Designer Legs was awarded first. 5-3-2.

“Uh, who did you have for your tri box?” I asked.

“The 2, the 3, and the 5,” my father-in-law said.

“And you boxed them?”

“Yeah, why?”

“Do you still have your ticket?”

“No, I threw it out.”

“You hit the tri … And you don’t know want to know how much it paid.”

“Now you have to tell us!” said Mrs. Carryover.

“$412. Did you have it for $1 or $2?” I asked.

“$2,” he said.

“$412 then.”

We were quiet for what felt like 30 minutes, though it was close to 30 seconds. My mother-in-law made like she wanted to punch him in the back of the head. My father-in-law just started laughing. We all started laughing because sometimes even when you win, you lose.

I asked where exactly he threw the ticket and we thought about turning around. We thought there was a chance the cart might still be there. Then we just resigned ourselves to my near-win (a euphemism for loss) and his win that lay on the back of a golf cart unbeknownst to its driver.

I stare at my reflection, hunched over in that horse-racing-degenerate posture that defines the near-triumphs and the wins that aren’t wins after all. My keys are over there and I think that in 25 minutes, if I’m lucky, I may find the golf cart still there and a crumpled piece of UnitedTote paper worth $412 resting in the bed.

We sit down to a delicious dinner and pay homage to Charming Hour. We laugh and say we’ll never forget this, how $412 gets away, and how this game and this track is the genesis of a generation of memory and narrative.

“I knew you saying you were the luckiest man in the world yesterday would bite us,” I say.

He looks at us between bites of his hamburger and says, “I still am.”

Written by Brendan O'Meara

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