Monday, August 02, 2010
LOS ANGELES, August 3, 2010--Sunday was a fine time to have been at Del Mar. A No. 3 won the first race. A No. 3 won the second race. A No. 3 won the third race. Students of betting arcana reached nirvana. They cashed the third race, the Holy Ghost number. Then a No. 7 won the fourth race. A No. 7 won the fifth race. Exponents of the Holy Ghost betting system had to wait until the seventh race for the third No. 7 to come in, and may have been forlorn that the $2 payoff was paltry, but then another No. 7, Smiling Tiger in the Bing Crosby Stakes, won the eighth race. Smiling Tiger was the Amen horse. For the uninitiated, explanations will follow. Smiling Tiger paid $17.80 for a deuce.
I always get guilty writing about odd-ball betting systems that fly in the faces of serious handicappers. Here somebody's in a Philadelphia basement computing by candlelight the Beyer numbers for every horse in every race at every race track, and I'm talking Holy Ghost. I once mentioned the Holy Ghost to the eponymous Andy Beyer and he didn't speak to me for six months. I got back in by mentioning to Andy that he was once a z-pattern devotee.
The Holy Ghost system is simple enough: When the same number wins twice on the card, you bet that number, er, religiously, the rest of the day. Maybe you have to be Catholic to fathom the name of the system, so I'll spell it out: Third number, ergo Father, Son and Holy Ghost. The late Rick Talley, when he wrote columns for the Chicago Tribune, tipped me on the Amen angle. "After the Holy Ghost hits," Talley said, "you play the same number for another hit. The fourth number. Father, Son, Holy Ghost, Amen."
Don't tut-tut me, gentle readers. Like many racetrackers, I only remember the good times with the Holy Ghost, but there were days that turned horribly wrong as well.
One year at the Kentucky Derby, the first nine races were won by only three numbers. I wonder if it's ever happened before: A triple Holy Ghost, and all of the key winners were longshots. Pooh-poohers of the Holy Ghost system were asking me to sign their programs by the end of the day.
But the Holy Ghost giveth, the Holy Ghost taketh away. The day of the 1980 Belmont, the No. 3 won two races early on the card. The race before the Belmont, the No. 3 was a gate scratch. I got a refund for my ticket, but as the Belmont itself approached, it mistakenly stuck in my mind that the Holy Ghost had already come in.
As they were loading the horses for the Belmont, it hit me that the Holy Ghost was still alive, and I wasn't covered. I raced to the betting windows in the press box, but was shut out. All the way around, I rooted against Temperence Hill. His $2 win price was $108.80. I wasn't writing the Belmont that year, I had taken a byroad into the PR dodge, but if I had been covering, tears would have submerged my keyboard.
Misspent Holy Ghosts reared their ugly heads again at the Breeders' Cup at Santa Anita in 1993. A pair of No. 11s had already won as the Classic loomed. "What is this horse doing in this race?" I had written about Arcangues in that day's Los Angeles Times. The French horse with the bad back was No. 11, and he won by two lengths and paid $269.20, still a Breeders' Cup record. My journalistic reputation be damned, I turned to a colleague and said, "My wife just cashed a $650 bet." Pat and I usually split a $5 bet on the Holy Ghost.
We met afterwards, and Pat was virtually inconsolable. "I asked, and nobody was sure if two number elevens had won before," she said, her voice trailing off. I paid for her dinner anyway.
Harvey Pack, a funny man and co-author of "May the Horse Be With You: Pack At the Track," wrote in the book about both the Holy Ghost and Ecuador betting systems. The Ecuador system revolves around the same jockey winning two races. To be faithful to the Ecuador, you bet that jockey's mounts the rest of the day.
Pack gave pre-race handicapping seminars called the Paddock Club at the New York tracks. One day at Saratoga he told his audience: "If by some miracle today, in a later race, the same horse qualifies as both the Ghost and the Ecuador, you are permitted to leave the track, go to the Adirondack Trust on Broadway, rob it, and get back in time for this big score."
Pack said his audience was agape. "They spent the rest of the day looking for Ghosts and Ecuadors," Pack said. Somewhere, Andy Beyer was cringing.