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The Wonderful World of Wagering
Readers share their best betting tales
by Dean A. Hoffman
Betting is what makes the wheels of harness racing go around, and the people who put their dollars and their faith on the noses of trotters and pacers are the most essential element of the sport's success. Without them, the sport would wither.
In my August column, I told a story about a particularly memorable--and lucrative--bet that I cashed a few years back. I've bet and lost far more often than I've bet and won but, like golf shots, you only remember the good ones.
I challenged other Hoof Beats readers to share their favorite betting stories, and I was gratified at the response. They came from many different areas, and we've printed a selection of them here for you to enjoy.
A Lesson Learned
This event happened approximately 25 years ago at Scarborough Downs. I can't remember the exact date or the names of the horses, but I will always remember what happened that night.
My son Jim was 8 years old, and he often would come with me to the races. I always would let him handicap one race, and I would place a $2 win ticket on the horse of his choice. He usually did pretty well with his picks, and relished the money he made from his bet.
This night Jim picked a favorite, and I bet a $2 win ticket for him. Right at the start, his pick made a break and fell 20 lengths behind the field. Thinking that he had no chance for a win, Jim threw his ticket on the ground. I picked it up.
Lo and behold, his horse not only catches the field at the half, but comes roaring down the stretch and wins the race.
Jim is jumping up and down with happiness and says "Dad, go cash my ticket!"
I told him to give me the ticket, and I would get his winnings. He said, "You have my ticket."
I said, "No, I found a ticket on the ground."
He said that it was his ticket. I said that it was my ticket now and told him never to throw a ticket away until the race is official. To teach him that lesson, I never gave him the winnings from that ticket.
As Paul Harvey would say, "Now the rest of the story."
I placed a $20 wager to win on a horse in the final race of the evening. The horse won.
"Great!" I thought. Nice to go home with a little more money than I came with.
What's that? The "Objection" light is flashing.
Everybody knows that the longer it takes the judges to review an objection, the more likely it is that the objection will be upheld. Well, being the last race and long after the time that I should have had an 8-year-old boy home, this objection took as long to review as any I'd ever seen.
Knowing that it was late, and I was going to be lectured about keeping a child out so late, after about 15 minutes of watching my number flashing on the board, I said to my son, "Let's go. They're going to take my horse down."
He said we should wait. I again said that we were leaving. I told him that when it took that long to review the infraction, the judges would take the horse down. Jim said, "OK, give me the ticket."
I did, and we slowly headed for the exit when they finally posted the race official. The finish placing was left standing. I said, "Quick, give me my ticket so we can cash and get out of here."
Jim said, "You don't have a win ticket; I do. Please cash it for me."
I started to argue with him, but thought, "What's good for the goose is good for the gander."
At least one of us went home a winner that night.
It was a summer evening at Yonkers Raceway almost 20 years ago. The filly I owned was way overmatched in the last race that night, but I was enjoying the evening watching the races from the paddock.
The eighth race was just getting underway when the assistant trainer for a very good small stable grabbed me by the shoulder and said, "Listen! Get over to the grandstand and bet my horse to win in this race."
He yelled, "Number five," as he shoved $200 into my hand.
I ran over to the grandstand just as the track announcer declared, "The marshal calls the pacers."
My delight in getting there on time quickly turned to despair when I saw the endless lines of last-minute bettors. I knew that trying to cut in line with a minute to post at Yonkers could land me in the hospital, but I had to try.
Gently, I tapped a fellow on the arm who was ready to place a wager and desperately asked, "Could I get in front of you?"
Startled, he backed up and, like the Red Sea parting, he let me go in front of him. The heathens behind us screamed in disgust. After betting the trainer's $200 and all of the money I had in my pocket on the horse, I turned to this kind soul and told him, "Bet the five!"
Outside, I watched in amazement as that little five horse pulled first-over and blew the field away. He paid $18 to win.
I found that wonderful man by the finish line after the race. I asked, "Did you bet him?"
He apologized and said, "No, this is only the second time I have ever been to the track, and I was intimidated by everyone yelling at me for letting you in line."
I quickly pulled out a $100 bill to thank him for his kindness. He said it wasn't necessary, but I insisted that he take it. He then asked, "How did you know the horse was going to win?"
I told him that it was no divine intervention; I just had great information from the paddock. I told him the real miracle was finding him, probably the only person at the track who would have let me in line.
As we shook hands and said goodbye, I told him that I would look for him at the track in the near future. He said that coming to the track was fun, but he didn't know when he could get away. He did invite me to join him for services at his church any Sunday.
"You see," he said, "I happen to be an ordained minister."
One Sickening Decision
People have asked me how and when I ever got involved with horses. It happened one night at The Meadowlands. Our horse Armbro Tyson was in a $100,000 claiming race, because I didn't want to chance him being claimed at $75,000.
It was the first time that my daughter and her husband had ever attended racing at the Big M. Before the race, my husband returned to the club house from the paddock full of gloom. Armbro Tyson's regular driver wasn't available. The horse had post 10 due to such a high claiming price, and his odds were 50-1. Jimmy Doherty was named to drive. Jimmy said he would see what he could do, as he had never driven the horse.
Unknown to us, my son-in-law had $500 in his pocket from the guys at his office to bet the horse. At the three-quarter pole, Tyson was ninth. Then Jimmy took him to the outside.
Well, <I>Sports Eye<I> didn't call Armbro Tyson the "homestretch terror" for nothing, and he lived up to his name with a come-from-behind win in the last quarter. He paid $102 to win.
As we excitedly hurried to the winners circle for the photo, my son-in-law was missing. My daughter said that he was in the rest room throwing up. It seems as though he didn't bet the horse as instructed. She had one $2 win ticket.
That was exactly how and when I fell in love with Armbro Tyson and got involved with horses.
Déjà Vu All Over Again
About 10 years ago at Rosecroft Raceway, I was a novice and knew absolutely nothing about how or what to bet. As we were walking into the track, an elderly gentleman asked if I had a program. I didn't at that point, so he offered an extra that he had. That became my program for the evening, and everyone else purchased their own.
We met a friend who was a frequent visitor at Rosecroft, and he gave us all of the inside scoop on the horses, breeding, drivers, etc. At the conclusion of the sixth, our friend commented that he couldn't imagine why the number four horse finished second in the race. I had picked that horse and bet $2 to show on him. He asked me to explain why I would do that after everything he had taught me that night.
Imagine how surprised we all were, when I showed everyone the horse's winning record, only to find out that the "nice elderly gentleman" had given me a program that was from the previous week, and I was looking at the wrong horse!
Ah, the lessons we learn as a new bettor!
Oxon Hill, Md.
Keep the 'Flag' Flying
One of the first good horses I ever owned was a pacer by the name of Flag Carrier. He wasn't great, but he took a mark of 1:58.1 back when 2:00 still meant something, and made more than $50,000 in his career. Plus, he was awfully cute, which meant that my wife liked him a lot too.
The neatest thing about Flag was that he was "bettable." You could tell when he was feeling good. If you had him classified right, he was as near a "sure thing" as you can get.
One summer, Flag was not in good form, and we couldn't figure out what was bothering him. I brought him home to our farm for a little R&R. After just a few days home, he popped an abscess out of the bottom of his foot. After that, he was 100-percent sound.
As an owner and part-time trainer, I liked to drive once in a while, so I called my trainer (Skip DeMull) and asked if he minded if I took Flag to an overnight at a fair and drove him myself. He said fine.
Flag had made too much money to fit any cheap overnight condition, so he was entered in the free-for-all pace. It seemed like there were several invitational horses entered, and we drew the 12-hole.
Going out for the race, my wife gave me her usual instructions: "Don't fall off!"
As the gate swung open, I was just looking for a way to angle over to the rail. By the time we got to the quarter, we were dead last. We were still last as they turned up the backstretch the final time. I tipped Flag out, and he started to fly past horses.
By the top of the stretch we were eighth, and Flag kept on digging. We ended up fifth, about six lengths behind the winner.
I felt pretty good just getting a check, and Flag had raced as well as anyone could expect, especially given who was driving him.
After that adventure, it was time to return Flag to Skip DeMull and the pari-mutuel races. By finishing fifth at the fair, Flag had dropped some money off his last few starts and fit a cheap condition at Sports Creek--a condition that he should win for fun.
We entered him, and I was ready to place a pretty fair wager on him. The morning of the race, Skip called to say that Flag had a little colic. We scratched him.
Now we're running up against the 30-day qualifying rule, and our time would run out before that cheap condition came up again. I told Skip, "Why don't you jump him up in class just to get him in within 30 days?"
We had to bump him up two classes in order to get him in. Here's the scenario as Flag Carrier enters the race: We've got a horse who's been off form for some time; he finished fifth in a fair race with an amateur driver; then he is scratched sick; then is moved up two classes.
Sounds like a sure thing, doesn't it?
I couldn't make it to Sports Creek that night, so on the day of the race I gave Skip $50 and said, "Put it on his nose to win."
Skip says, "Are you sure you don't want to back it up with a place bet?"
I said, "No way. Flag is going to win."
You can probably guess the end of the story. Skip sailed Flag right to the top, and he won the race with ease. He paid $52 for a $2 win wager.
What is even more remarkable, he paid $48 to place, because nobody had backed him up.
S. Lyon, Mich.
A Gift Horse
Back in the summer of 1989, when I was recovering from open heart surgery, I made it a point to watch each of my horses when they raced at Blue Bonnets Raceway. I bet $20 across-the-board each time, whether I thought they had a chance or not.
One day I had to refuel my car, and I arrived too late to watch Toutoune Fontaine in an overnight race. I did, however, listen to the call of the race from the parking lot and heard her win wire-to-wire.
I was moving very slow in those days and didn't even reach the winner's circle on time for the photo. I looked at the tote board to see that my horse had just won at 80-1 odds. My $20 across bet would have returned just under $2,300. The winner's share of the race was probably about $2,500 and I only owned a third of that horse.
That's not all. Earlier that year, my birthday gift to my niece was a $2 win bet every time one of my horses raced that year. Not only did I lose out on $2,300 by missing my own bet, but I also had to give my niece Brenda just over $162 the next day.
St. Laurent, Quebec
'It Pays to Say Hello'
I was at The Meadowlands one night in the late '80s and saw a famous owner in line in front of me. I introduced myself to him, and we got to chatting. Just as I said goodbye, he told me he had a trotter in to go a couple of nights later. He said that the horse had some work done on him and was training real good.
I tipped my friends about the horse, but he looked so bad in the program that they didn't want to bet him. I took a shot and put $20 to win on him.
The race went off, and the front runner is off by himself in the middle of the stretch. Here comes the trotter this guy told me about. Ray Remmen was driving him. I'm sick that I didn't bet him to place. He was 25-1.
All of a sudden the horse on the lead makes a break. I'm praying maybe my horse can get close enough to be lapped-on. He was flying at the end. It looked like he might have reached the other horse.
They put his number up. He paid $57.20.
It pays to say hello to people.
Hold All Tickets
Back in the late 1970s at Liberty Bell Park, I had my last $2 on an exacta that finished third and fourth on the board. Then the number of the second place horse started to flash. Moments later the number of the first place horse started to flash.
After what seemed like an eternity, the winner was disqualified for interference at the start of the race, and the second-place horse was set down for interference in the stretch.
Boy, was I happy when they put up my numbers! And you should've seen the scramble for tickets on the floor.
Staten Island, N.Y.
Dream a Little Dream
They often say dreams do come true, and it can happen to you. That was the case on April 9, 1998. I owned a horse by the name of Secluded's Warrior who was in the last race at Freehold Raceway. He drew post eight, and I realized when the entries were drawn that we had very little shot.
The night before the scheduled race, I had a dream that the Warrior swept the field at the three-quarter pole and went on to win by 10 lengths.
That afternoon I scooted on down to Orlando Jai Lai Race Book to make a small wager based on my dream. I was not too far off that dream, though Secluded's Warrior only won by a head.
The winning mutual returned $64.80. The trifecta returned $454. I walked out of the race book with almost $6,000. My biggest score ever!
Better to be Lucky Than Good
I was a regular at Scioto Downs while attending The Ohio State University about 20 years ago. It was a hot August night, and a group of us went to the track. In a race for medium- priced claimers, there was no clear favorite, but there was a 30-1 longshot.
Since there was no strong favorite, I decided to put a couple of bucks on this longshot.
As the field turned for home, my horse was a distance behind the first five horses. About mid-stretch, the front horse went offstride, and caused a major wreck. No one was hurt, but the top five horses were involved in the accident. My horse was far enough back that he went around the pileup and won. He paid $72 to win.
The funny part of the story was not that my longshot won. A couple of elderly women were standing by me down on the rail, and they heard my excitement over winning. These two women followed me to the betting windows the rest of the night. They were convinced that I had some inside information.
I tried to tell them that it was just luck, but they were sure I wasn't telling the truth. I don't remember cashing another ticket that night. By the last race, I think the women finally believed me about it just being luck.