Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Come on, Dover, move yer bloomin' arse!

We valiantly avoid acquiring a gambling addiction!

For Date Night, I surprise the DNB with a trip to the track. As in the horse track. The DNB has a history of being able to guess any and all surprises I attempt, partly due to his own acumen, and partly due to others making comments like, "How was that surprise trip to Six Flags? Oh, it's next weekend? Oops." But this time, he is completely fooled because he does not know we have Live Thoroughbred Racing in Indiana.

Admission and parking are both free, presumably paid for by the 10,000 off-track bets placed on each race. The facility is huge, a bar in the center and rows upon rows of televisions broadcasting other races. It's surprisingly full, for a Monday at 4:30pm. People sit, making notations in the program, staring up at the screens, smoking, piles of crumpled betting tickets beside them.

We are out of place, the DNB in his plaid shorts and I in my open-toed sandals, and we have no idea how this all works.

We go sit outside, amongst a sparse group of spectators with programs and pencils. The display in the center of the track tells us it's five minutes to "post."

I look at the odds and make my First Practice Pick, taking Number 8. He's in the middle of the pack, betting-wise, and I figure he has a decent shot. Two owners stand behind us, speaking the unfamiliar lingo of the racing world. All I understood was that if Number 5 didn't place, his owner was going to give him away. Apparently he's not keeping his head up.

Number 8 wins! I am ecstatic. Clearly I have a gift. The owner of Number 5 has disappeared, along with my opportunity to get a free horse.

The next race approaches, and we watch the horses as they are brought into the corral at the back for examination and saddling. The jockeys appear from the Jockey Room. They are unbelievably small. I am entranced by these tiny full-grown men and a little amazed that each of them has both the ability to handle a horse and the stature of a 10-year-old. The movie "Seabiscuit" draws attention to this dichotemy and the resulting eating disorders that are common as jockeys struggle to maintain their very low and specific weights, often under 110 lbs. Many of the jockeys we see are Mexican.

I pick the biggest, most majestic looking animal. The DNB likes the one frothing at the mouth. Neither of us wins in our Second Practice Pick. Or our Third. I am beginning to think I may not have a gift, after all.

For the fourth race, we decide to finally make things interesting. I pick Number 10, Devil May Care, a tall, good-looking horse with a deep brown coat. The DNB picks Number 11, Gold Rush, who is bucking in his stall. We bet five dollars and eagerly stand along the rail beside the track. Devil May Care is the longest shot of them all at 50:1. Whoops. Gold Rush is a more likely choice, at 6:1.

We cheer loudly as the race begins. Gold Rush makes a valiant showing early on, but falls behind on the home stretch. Devil May Care disappoints with a second-to-last finish. We're out ten whole dollars, and learn the hard way that my method of picking the "prettiest" horse is flawed, as is the DNB's optimistic approach of betting that the most uncooperative one will rise to the challenge. We agree that this Date Night experience calls for a Wikipedia search on "horse racing," "horse betting," and "how to win at the race track."

An elderly couple with matching belt-packs holds hands as they walk inside. I smile and link arms with the DNB as we follow them.

"That was fun," he says.

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