This article originally appeared in the August/Sept. issue of “Horseplayer Monthly,” a free e-magazine produced by the Horseplayers Association of North America. If you'd like to sign up to have it delivered free each month in your inbox, or to read back issues, please visit the Horseplayer Monthly page here.
The community of horseplayers is small; we speak a distinct language (chalk, dime super, scratch, heater, bridge jumper, etc.) and have shared life experiences that few others can comprehend and quite frankly, should be explored by Sociolinguistics experts. This kinship bonds us in ways in which only other horseplayers understand.
On a recent Friday morning I was departing my local Starbucks and noticed a man reading the Daily Racing Form. Even in metropolitan New York, this is a rarity. We struck up a conversation and chatted for about 45 minutes. During our dialogue, he mentioned as a kid that his family used to take him to the Meadowlands and he would have to lie about his age to gain entry. Incredibly (and perhaps sickly), I had a similar experience that went like this:
My father would take me to the Phoenix Greyhound Park on an alarmingly regular basis during the hot summer nights of the Arizona desert. The track maintained a rule for evening programs that children under the age of thirteen could not attend. I started coming with him at the age of eleven and this is the way it would go down every time:
- We pull into the parking lot in his gray and silver 1985 Lincoln Town Car
- We see a station wagon in the lot with a large sign on the roof that says, “Robert Stack Blind Company”
- We make a joke about how often Robert Stack is at the track because we would see this particular car on every trip to the track
#3 is irony in its purest form. You see, we have to be there on a regular basis to know that he is there on a regular basis. I actually understood that particular irony as an 11-year-old. This compels me to think I was a fairly bright 11-year old. Sadly, my intellectual apex occurred on a 112 degree evening in the parking lot of the Phoenix Greyhound Park, at a very early age.
Inevitably, my father would also make an Eliot Ness joke, which I didn't understand at age eleven. He's getting a little older now so when he brings up the subject of how we would always see “Eliot Ness” at the track, I have to remind him it was actually “Robert Stack”.
After joke time is over, we walk toward the entrance to the grandstand. This is the portion of the evening where he reminds me to put on a wrist watch. You see, the key to tricking the guy in the information booth into believing an 11-year-old is actually a 13-year-old is the watch. Everyone knows 13-year-olds wear digital watches whereas 11-year-olds do not.
Now that I'm wearing a ridiculous watch, the next step is getting past the birth date quiz guy. The primary security tactic against the “epidemic” of underage children attending greyhound parks on weekday evenings is the birth date quiz. As we approach the gate, my father gives me a fictitious birth date to fool what he obviously thinks is an FBI agent working the counter. A mandatory practice session was therefore needed.
“Jerod, you were born on August 12, 1975, so how old are you?
“Jerod, you can't hesitate!”
In retrospect I should have said: “Dad, the worst thing that will happen here is the guy won't let us in and it will save you two hundred bucks!”.
“How old are you?”
“When did you turn thirteen?”
“Twelve days ago”
“Jerod, it was only ten days ago! Let's try this again!”
This would continue until I understood my new birth date. The trick always worked, but not so much because the nervous, sweating, 11-year-old with the mouth full of braces and a wrist full of Seiko was so convincing, but because the dude working the front entrance could give two flying “you-know-what's” about who entered the premises.
In any event, a chance meeting with another handicapper at Starbucks that got his start in this game in a similar fashion led me to think about this interesting niche endeavor we all love so much. An infinitesimal portion of the population understands and appreciates our own unique culture with its idiosyncrasies and quirks that make it special as a shared experience. That kinship among us is underrated and perhaps somewhat fading away with the proliferation of wagering from the comfort of home. Truly appreciate the friendships that evolve in pursuit of our next winning Pick 5 or that big contest score, as there are only a handful of us that really understand what it's all about.
May all your bets be winning ones.
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