Day at the Races - Spencer Brown

 

 

 

Track Day

 

 

“Goddammit, this is it.” It’s the ninth race, last of the day. Only seven horses running. The track is dry, fast.

Most of the gamblers have had enough and limp their empty wallets toward the parking lot. Lingering white trash ‘sport fans’ mill about in the final moments of their outdoor Sunday idyll here at Hastings. The old Chinese habituates make notes in their programs and wait for the Hong Kong simulcast.

            “They’re lining up.” Bob’s on his feet now, craning that long bird neck of his. He kneads his palms, edgy.

Our money’s on the trifecta. It’s an easy shot, small odds. The payout won’t be much, but it’ll get us out of the hole, this awful, god-forsaken hole we’ve been digging all afternoon. I look again at my ticket: 3-4-6. Any order, they just have to place.

The bugle calls the horses to post. This is it. I finish my plastic cup of beer and glance down a last time at the stats in the program. Those other bastards don’t have a chance; believing it now.

            The shot.

And I’m up, pounding the rail as the horses explode from the starting gate and seethe toward us on our left.

            “Run, you fuckers.” I realize it’s me screaming as they fly past in a blur of dirt and muscle, the tiny Mexican jockeys bouncing violently on their massive steeds.

            “Did you see?” The horses enter the first corner. The left flanks of the dense pack come to face us as they round the long curve and open up down the backside.

            “It’s four,” Bob cries, knuckles whitening on the rail, “but then what?” We look to the big tote-board for the numbers. Nothing at first… but then, the contenders begin to dance.

            “Mother of god!” I recoil: 4-5-2. Four holds a steady lead, but three and six are nowhere in sight. 4-5-7… 4-7-2… I have a horrible, shit-ache feeling inside me as the horses near the final curve.

4-2-5… shriveling…

4-2-7… shattered…

And suddenly three peaks.

             “Yes,” I slam my fist down. “Do it…”

4-2-3… 4-2-5… gone momentarily… then back — 4-2-3 — back and climbing as they round the corner… 4-3-2… 3-4-2…

            “Come on…” 3-4-5… four’s still driving hard behind three, but six, that rat, is nowhere in sight. I think I see him second to last as they come out of the curve and hit the final straightaway.

“Oh, you monster!” Bob reels on the flimsy plastic rail. “Menace, damn you.”

We’re both screaming as I shake hell out of the rail and Bob flails maniacally above me. 3-4-2… 4-3-2… They’re coming right at us, the finish line just —

But what’s this? A horse from the rear is breaking on the outside. I scramble onto a bench, try to see, nearly fall.  No… it can’t be…

4-3-5… Bob’s frozen on the rail, his jaw slack; fingers curled like talons by his chest…

“Oh…” 3-4-5…

“My…” 3-5-4…

“Christ…” 3-4-5… I’m teetering on the backrest of the bench.

3-4-2… it’s definitely six.

4-3-2… and coming hard.

3-4-2…

Move!”

And it’s over.

I scramble down from the bench and go to the railing. I’m dumb with expectation.

“He didn’t...”

“Shh…” Bob swats at me, twitching.

The final numbers are still blank. Photo-finish, that smug weasel on the loudspeaker says; more suspended, treacherous moments.

And then the numbers appear.

4-3-6.

Bob throws back his head and caws victorious. I’m jumping and kicking the rail.

We race inside to claim our winnings, bounding past the slovenly horde; ignorant, stupid creatures that lack our grace, our wisdom and prescience.

We reach the queue and I lunge at an empty teller. I proudly slam the ticket down and she feeds it to the machine.

“One and eight-sixty is nine dollars sixty.” She smiles and slides the money towards me.

“What?” Silly woman. “No, no… look,” I grab the regurgitated ticket from the machine. “See, I won the trifecta… I bet six—”

“I’m sorry, you won the trifecta boxed. The trifecta boxed pays eight-sixty to the dollar, of which you bet one, on six combinations.” I’m stunned, broken. An old Chinese woman pushes past me to the counter. I stumble over to the doors and find Bob shaking with rage.

“How could we—”

“We really don’t know what we’re doing.”

We walk outside into the sun. To the north, a vengeful mat of cumulus caps a wall of fat, green mountains. Bob spits on the ground as I roll a cigarette.

“I’m never coming back here.”

I cough.

“Right.”

 

- Marc Serpa Francoeur