Perhaps my fascination with numbers was nurtured by horse racing. You see, my father was a compulsive gambler. He was also an accountant, so he should have known better.  

Even before I was a teenager, I knew the odds of drawing to an inside straight. Likewise, I was not unfamiliar with the chances that a roll of the dice would show a hard eight (two fours showing on top as they settled). Thus it was that I found myself at Prescott Downs handicapping horses at the age of eleven. You see, my Dad was too emotional to handicap rationally. However, he taught me the art at an early age.  As the saying goes, "Those who can, do. Those who can't, teach."  

The natural intent of those who set up races is to generate a great deal of interest and a fair race.  That effort makes for a large racing pool.  In contrast, those who enter horses want to win the prize money.  Likewise, the larger the pool, the larger the dollar take for the track. So, that is the dynamic.  

For the horse player, exploiting the rifts in the dynamic is the game.  But one needs to be wary and remember what Damon Runyon said, "All horse players die broke.”  

The operative word is player. If you are emotional, and who isn't, you can get burned as you play.  

So, there I was bonding with dear old Dad, handicapping the eighth race. Horse number five, with the jockey decked out in bright green silks, was parading toward the starting gate. All the thoroughbreds with him looked colorful and physically magnificent. Walt Whitman could have recounted the somewhat disorderly dance in a poem.  

I was slavishly digging out numbers from the racing form, while at the same time taking note of the ever-changing pari-mutuel odds. I found the rift!  

We had to make out bet before post time. Four minutes to go. We rushed up to the yellow line. No minor could get any closer to the ticket sellers than that. I told my father, “Place your bet on number five. If you make any combination bets, include number five.”  

Just then a booming, authoritative voice cut through the clatter. "Number five is a DOG!  Five is a has-been.” He started to elaborate. “Six is THE HORSE!”  

"Two minutes to post," the PA announced.  

"Dad, DAD, don't listen!"  

"But maybe he's right," he said.  

I did not know what to say. My mind could not formulate an argument. The "expert" droned on.  

"One minute to Post."  

"I gotta go,” Dad said.  

"Dad, Dad," I said. "Look at his shoes."  

Did he hear me? There was a lot of clamor as people, swarming like ants, rushed to get their bets in. The bell rang. No more bets. The ants became lethargic, meandering toward the track to watch the race.  

Moments later, Dad appeared. "Let's go watch the race." He did not show me the tickets.  

There’s nothing like ten horses thundering down the straight, the charge only feet away from the finish, crowds jumping, high-pitched voices screaming in battle, hairs electrified on our necks.  Jockeys slapping their mounts—players smacking their programs—the announcer howling out names of the thundering stampede—racers careening past the finish line and scudding like a cloud around the bend.  

Then silence, an eerie incompleteness.  

Over the loudspeaker, a smooth, calm voice settled into a litany of race statistics. People roamed about on new missions. There were two more races to run that day, but Dad said, "Let's go. I've had enough today."  

At dinner Dad asked, "How did you know that guy was phony?"  

"That guy who knew all about number six?" I asked.  "He had holes in his shoes, Dad."  

We had one very nice dinner that night.  

I rarely go to a horse race any more. However, whenever someone is giving me advice, I sneak a peek at the shoes.

TOMMY TAYLOR by Cheryl McGuire

TOMMY TAYLOR by Cheryl McGuire

SAVED by Dixie Ayala

SAVED by Dixie Ayala