A couple hundred miles north of San Francisco, I spotted the sign pointing east to Reno.
"What do you think?" I said. "The lamb chops can wait?"
Pat said OK, and I turned off at the next exit, and we caught the Reno interchange going north. We had been to the self-described "Biggest Little City in the World" before, so it was a chance to visit our money.
Just outside the racebook, in a glass case, is a copy of a painting depicting Shoemaker's winning ride aboard Ferdinand in the 1986 Kentucky Derby. I was there, too. Also in the case is a pair of goggles Shoemaker wore that day, and a couple of his riding caps.
The Harrah's sportsbook is festooned with NFL jerseys, one signed by Dan Marino and another by Jerry Rice. There's a painting of Mike Tyson, connecting with a right hand against Razor Ruddock during one of their bouts in 1991. The referee is Mills Lane, a former district judge in Reno.
I bet on a 2-year-old colt called L'll Charlie Rose in the first at Santa Anita. I'll have to find out whether the horse is named after Charlie Rose, Alydar's exercise rider. L'll Charlie Rose finished fourth in a four-horse field, and I stepped outside, to 2nd Street, for some fresh air. The door to the street is right next to the racebook. There was a succession of businesses across the street: Super Pawn ("Money To Loan. . . Instant Cash. . . Guns"); the Go-Fer Market (they never close); a Vietnamese noodle joint (no lamb chops on the menu); and, a drum roll please, Doc Holliday's Saloon. I went back inside to the racebook, bet Santa Anita's second and with 22 minutes to post, headed for Doc Holliday's. I mean, geez, if you were in Reno and had a chance to drink a beer at Doc Holliday's Saloon and didn't go, could you ever forgive yourself?
At Holliday's, with 21 minutes to kill, I looked at the memorabilia on the walls (Doc bore no resemblance to Victor Mature), ordered that beer and played video poker at the bar. One of my first hands was a pair of aces and a pair of eights. Aces and eights--the dead man's hand. While I pondered the inner meaning of drawing aces and eights at Doc Holliday's Saloon, it hit me that I had the wrong gunslinger. Wild Bill Hickok was holding the dead man's hand the day he was killed. Holliday died from consumption.
Down the street from Harrah's is Club Cal-Neva, one of Reno's oldest institutions. "Voted No. 1 Sportsbook," the sign outside read. I had to investigate. They still post the race results by hand on a big board. Not many racebooks do that anymore. Another one is the Barbary Coast in Las Vegas. (The Barbary has been sold, to Harrah's, and the name's been changed, but out of respect, just like with the Breeders' Cup Distaff, I refuse to call it anything but the Barbary).
A few blocks from Harrah's, on Virginia Street, once stood another Reno fixture, Fitzgeralds' casino. In Las Vegas, casinos struggle, in Reno they actually go out of business. "Where Downtown Reno Comes Alive," used to be Fitzgeralds' slogan. Now, taped to the front door, is a crudely written message: "We're now closed. Good luck." Still embedded in the cornerstone at the old Fitzgeralds is what's said to be a piece of the original Blarney Stone. The Sons of Erin, North Nevada chapter, gave it to Fitzgeralds in 1988.
We opened the drapes in our room on the 22nd floor, and there was a breathtaking panorama: The new ballpark of the Reno Aces, the city's year-old Pacific Coast League franchise. It was as though we could reach down and touch it. "It looks something like Camden Yards," my wife Pat said. It also has a little "Field of Dreams" quality to it. I went over to the ballpark's gift shop, still open although the season was over, and bought a team yearbook for $5. One of the Aces' players was Ruben Gotay. "Might be Julio Gotay's son," I thought. Julio Gotay, a journeyman infielder, played in the early 1960s for my old team, the St. Louis Cardinals.
It turns out that Ruben Gotay is Julio Gotay's nephew. The only year Julio Gotay played regularly in the big leagues, he committed 25 errors for the 1962 Cardinals. The Cardinals' general manager was Bing Devine, and Gotay was still with the club in 1963. "To err is Gotay, to forgive is Devine," they used to say in St. Loo.