I was talking with my friend Jack yesterday. We were lamenting the loss of thoroughbred horse racing in Virginia.
Jack became a horseplayer on a summer afternoon in 1975. He'd been caught smoking under the Seaside Heights boardwalk the day before. As punishment, his dad banned him from the beach for two days. So to enforce the penalty (Jack’s mom was a pushover), Dad dragged him off to Monmouth Park for the afternoon. Some punishment. Jack found his life’s passion at age 12.
Jack’s the kind of guy who wears boots, jeans and a cowboy hat even when it’s 90 degrees out. If he needs to dress up, he puts on a tie. He's never spent a single overnight on a farm. He also knows more about race horses, pedigrees, past performances, tendencies and so on than anyone else I have ever known.
“I really miss going out to Colonial Downs,” I said. “I always enjoy hanging out there with Kim and whoever else watching those horses run. It gets me all juiced up.”
He said, “If the track and the owners would just sign a damn contract, they’d open up the OTBs and we could at least go place some bets in town.” We were sitting in the shade on my back patio. He yawned and put his feet up on the table and I went to get us two more beers from the beer shed.
When I came back he said, “You really ought to think about picking up your game and learning how to make real bets. That two dollar nonsense is a waste of time.”
“Jack," I said, "An old Wall Street guy once told me any business deal that includes three or more people also includes at least one sucker. If you can’t easily identify the sucker, it’s probably you. Consider a bet on a horse race as a business deal. It definitely has more than three participants, so who’s the sucker?”
“Well, first you got the jockeys. A bunch of high energy highly competitive kids. They all know each other, like each other, hate each other, hang out together, run around with each other's sisters, brothers, wives, girlfriends, boyfriends, whatever. Their actions, inactions, motivations and decisions directly impact the result of the race. There might be a sucker in there once in a while, but not likely.”
“Then there’s the trainers. Definitely not the sucker, right? The good ones are diabolical geniuses and even the less good ones are still the brains behind the horse’s campaign. Trainers directly impact the horse’s performance and the race’s outcome, so it’s not them.”
“Owners can be suckers,” he said. A little defensive because he knew where I was headed.
“Maybe, but not really as far as betting goes. They might be a sucker if they let a greedy trainer get in and drain their wallet, but that’s a whole different story.”
“So you’re telling me we're the sucker.”
“I love you man, but it's you. You’re the sucker. The guy in this mix who thinks he’s gonna get a return on his investment but everyone else in the deal has some impact on the outcome except you.”
“And your little two dollar bet doesn't count?”
“Nope. My two bucks is just payment for service. Buys me twenty minutes of anticipation and two minutes of adrenaline. All for less than half the price of a cheap beer.” I grinned.
“You’re a dick,” he said.
Actually, when it comes to thoroughbred racing in Virginia, we’re all suckers: trainers, owners, jockeys, horseplayers and casual fans. At least the owners of Colonial Downs have played us all that way.