Horse racing has been called “The Sport of Kings.” If you were to judge horse racing solely by my experiences, you might as well call it the “The Sport of King’s Cup.” If there’s horse racing going on and I’m involved, E Dagger’s probably drunk out of his gourd.
You read about the misadventures in mint julep making and celebrity Derby Day coverage last May. You didn’t read about the huge CJS Field Trip to the Motherland where on a bar crawl of our hometown we watched Big Brown choke away the Triple Crown in craptacular fashion where his owner sweated like some sort of farm animal on slaughter day (None of us could find the wherewithal to muster up enough energy to relive the ridiculous binge drinking of that day.) And you’re about to read about my trip to Del Mar where I played the ponies, Lady E came up big, and four people further defiled their livers in the name of fun. Good times all around. Come on in!
First, a little background. Lady E’s sister lives north of San Diego in a lovely new home with an ocean view. She has an adorable black lab that loves to squeak its toys and chase after shit and a husband who I’m pretty sure knows more about football than Mel Kiper, Jr. More importantly, they’re both cool as hell, love to get their drink on, and are a blast to hang out with.
Hanging out on a Friday, they both unfortunately had to work, so Lady E and I spent the day playing miniature golf and visiting a brewpub in Solana Beach. I don’t know what the hell happened, but I think Lady E had the spirit of Bagger Fucking Vance guiding her putter on the front nine and mounted a lead I couldn’t overcome despite some inspired play by me on the back nine. She ended up winning by one stroke resulting in appropriate shame sweeping over a legitimately embarrassed, and slightly emasculated, E Dagger.
Thankfully it was off to Pizza Port for some slices and award-winning microbrew. One thing I always forget about microbrew is that it’s brewed like moonshine. After two extremely tasty beers I was getting the vapors like a Southern belle in the presence of Rhett Butler. And since we were on vacation, naturally it was time to stop at the liquor store, buy some local beer (in this case Karl Strauss), and head home where we didn’t have to worry about the perpetual Sword of Damocles, the dreaded DUI.
Skipping ahead to four more beers and a shot of Absolut Mandrin later, we were off to the races. And leave it to Mel Kiper to drop a bombshell so brilliant I wish I’d thought of it. While we’re on the way to the races, why don’t we pour ourselves some road sodas?
Man, road sodas! I hadn’t thought about doing that in years! Brilliant!
We always used to road sodas in college. The crowning achievement in road soda history happened when Lady E drove me, Hart, and two other people down to Durango where we drank the whole fucking way. We took a shot of Crown every time we changed highways, and drank tall cans for the song “Tall Cans.” It made the 7 hour drive fly by like we were taking a trip to the grocery store and still stands as my favorite road trip ever. For a different perspective, you may have to ask Lady E.
Anyway, the fact it took me another 4 years to happen upon them again is ridiculous. Sure, I wouldn’t want to make it an everyday thing, but watching the look on the valet’s face when he takes the keys and you’re trying to swashbuckle a beer in the backseat before getting out of the car is worth it alone.
As you pull up to the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club, there are four things you notice as you walk through the main area on the way to your seats:
1) The Race Form: The usher hands this to you as you pass through the gates. As you casually thumb through it, you’re immediately struck by one of two thoughts: “Hey, I like the odds on the filly in the 4th! I think I’ll put a sawbuck on ‘er and parlay it with the favorite in the 7th.” Or, if you’re like me and at the races for the first time: “Fuckin’ shit. I’m out of my league here. Is there, like, a beginner’s track around here? Playskool’s my 1st horse race? At least they have this tutorial on the first page.” There’s also the day’s race digest written by a guy who I think with different verbiage could just as easily write for Soap Opera Digest or WWE Magazine. The language is so esoteric and so detailed, you might as well be reading fan fiction. And think, there’s horse races EVERYDAY in Del Mar, so this guy has to put this together every single day with different horses. Good lord…
2) The Paddock: This is the first place you come to on your way to your seats. It’s the area where the owners of the horses in the next race lead them around a smaller track to show them to all the slack jawed spectators.
I’m told you’re supposed to glean information about the horses here, but considering I was already half in the bag and know nothing about horses outside of what “Mr. Ed” taught me, I was merely taken aback by how large they were. Race horses are like the equine equivalent of John Cena or Lebron James. They’re muscular, regal, and damned impressive. Until you’ve seen one up close, you have no idea. I didn’t.
3) The Regulars: These guys made me nervous. You see them down at the paddock with their oily mustaches, toothpicks dangling from their wiseguy lips above their open silk shirts where gold chains seem to grow from their very chests like the thick nest of hair already there. I counted four of these guys in the five minutes I stood at the paddock. There’s a quiet desperation in the aura of a career gambler masked by stoic, viscous confidence. I wanted to ask one of these guys who they liked in the next race, but I’m sure in my drunken state I would have somehow ended up owing him a month’s pay after some slick words and a sucker bet, so I thought it better to just keep my mouth shut.
4) The Money: In a city like Del Mar, money is already everywhere. At the track, it’s just that much more on display. After picking up a sweet $9 Heineken Light (every night is $9 beer night in San Diego!), I sipped it on the way to our box and noticed the smell. Apart from being outside and the vague scent of horse everywhere, the air had that unmistakable aroma of Las Vegas. You know the smell – 700 kinds of too much cologne colliding into each other mixed with fresh breeze with a hint of cigarette smoke and a dash of alcohol. Or maybe it’s just that my brain mistakenly fired up my olfactory senses when the prospect of gambling became evident. Either way, I was ready.
Once you get to your seat, you’re struck by the incredible beauty of your surroundings.
The white houses on the hill in the distance look like the ones off the coast of Greece they always show when they talk about how beautiful Greece is. You know which one I’m talking about, and I can’t be bothered to look it up. The ocean is on the other side, and everywhere on the infield is green. The weather is always gorgeous, and why shouldn’t it be? Hell, you’re in one of the most temperate climates on earth. Lewis Black calls being the weatherman in San Diego the easiest job on earth because you get a six figure salary and all you have to say when the anchor asks you “So, what’s the weather going to be like today, Lew?” is “Nice. Back to you.”
Now then, wagering. In case you’ve forgotten what the hell you’re doing, there’s this helpful sign right near the betting cages.
We were rapidly approaching post time for the third race, and we needed to place our bets. Considering I had read the different types of bets once, knew nothing about the horses, and was making my first wager ever, I thought I’d go for an exotic bet. The heavy favorite in this race was Chocolate Candy to the point that they were race guy’s pick of the day. Check out the race form for this race.
Chocolate Candy opened at 2-1. By post time, that had moved to 1-3. And in horse racing, unlike sports betting, your bet isn’t locked in when you make it, your bet moves with the line. Given the heavy action, I went for a quinella with Chocolate Candy and the second favorite, Seven Lucky J’s. Lady E, on the other hand, started to feel overwhelmed and was ready to say the hell with betting altogether. Too much new lingo, money at stake, too much pressure. I couldn’t blame her, and I would’ve done the same thing if I felt that way. Two minutes to post time and she still hadn’t made any bets.
Thankfully I needed another beer (they were going down like water at that point), so she stuck around. After some last minute encouragement from her sister, she decided to put $2 on one horse to win and one to show. Good for her. It’s $4 and it makes the race that much more exciting.
So we watch the horses get shoved into the start gate, the bell sounds, and we lose sight of them around the first turn. The announcer tells us that longshot Tiger Blitz has the lead with Chocolate Candy in hot pursuit. This lead can’t last. Down the back stretch and Tiger Blitz is still holding off the heavy favorite. Around the clubhouse turn and Tiger Blitz is still holding off everyone. No way. Down the home stretch… Chocolate Candy making one final push… Tiger Blitz pushing forward ever harder… across the finish line… and it’s the upset of the day, ladies and gentleman! Tiger Blitz crosses the finish line and absolutely obliterates the gambling line.
My quinella is now screwed, but I wonder how Lady E did. I turn around she’s sitting there mouth agape with a weird little smile on her face. I already know before she says it. “You bet on Tiger Blitz, didn’t you?”
I turn around to look at where the line closed. 28-1. Look at the form again. Tiger Blitz opened as the underdog at 15-1, and closed at nearly double its open. Ridiculous. All the action on Chocolate Candy pushed the line on the underdog to absurd heights. I wonder if my girlfriend is in fact Rain Man, so I ask her, “What made you choose Tiger Blitz?”
“I liked the name.”
And what else is there to say? You can be a gambler your whole life and get up your own ass with whatever contrived method you devise, but sometimes it just comes down to having a cool name. She turned her $2 into $59 and promptly bought us a round of drinks. She about broke even on the rest of her bets, so after paying for admission, buying the four of us a round of drinks, and herself another, she left the park down $1 on the entire day. Not a bad day at the track for an amateur gambler.
As for me, I tried my hand at all sorts of different bets. I went for the straight up win in the 4th on a horse named Cactus Lightning that finished 3rd and won me my money back. I went Win, Place, Show on 3 different horses in the 4th and won $3.40 on a horse named Bubsy. And I went “Across the Board” (betting on the horse to win, place, and show where you win all the bets if it wins) on Swiss Ski in the 6th. That horse came in 5th place. By the time the 7th rolled around, we were too busy dicking with our bucket of beers in the box to make a bet, and I didn’t care for any of the names anyway. Although one of the horses was named Leonides, which is cool as hell, but I fell asleep last time I watched 300, so I didn’t feel right betting on him.
The 8th and final race wasn’t going to start until around 7:30, and we were hungry, so it was time to move along. I haven’t done the math, but since I was betting a maximum of $6 on each race, I think I lost approximately $7. I’d like to say that next time I won’t be such a pussy, but I don’t fully understand horse racing. That’s why I don’t bet on sports. There are too many variables at play that make my brain shut down. Blackjack and craps are static entities that I know how to bet. Horse racing and sports betting change depending on venue, who the participants are, and how much money has already been bet.
Fuck that. I’ll stick to the $2 bets, thank you. It’s like adding a little Fire Sauce to your double decker taco. You’d probably enjoy it just as much without it, but with it, you get that extra little zip. Of course, the difference is no one ever wins $60 by putting hot sauce on their taco. If they did, I’d be a rich man.
If you ever happen to be near the Del Mar races, for the love of God, go! Despite the hefty drink prices, a day at the track making $2 bets and bullshitting with your friends over a bucket of beers is better than most days.
And who knows. Maybe you’ll find your own Tiger Blitz. If not, you can always get help here.
Until next time…
03 Sep 2008 E Dagger