There was a horse in a cheap maiden claiming race that was 17-1 on the board ten minutes to the start. This one had been out three times in Canada, having rejected the jockey the first time, tossing him in the gate, having caught a post in Siberia the second time, having been soaked the third time. Running lines were flat, just a few blips above consciousness. But there had been a quick work for this sprint. And you know what they say about excuses. Sometimes they make as much sense as anything.
The 2-1 favorite was from Central Casting with half a dozen past performances with calls around the track like 1, 1, 1, 4; 1, 2, 2, 6; 2, 3, 4, 5. It had run better than all the rest. But you know what they say about not having won against similar in ideal conditions. It's only money.
As it stood, or tilted, to reason, being entered versus better at Woodbine beat running slowly against clodhoppers here.
So on the off-chance the horse from Canada would zip from the gate and leave these pets in his wake, I took a crisp $20 bill and proceeded moderately hopefully to the windows and made four $5 Exacta wagers, placing the 17-1 horse over four others, one at 8-1, one at 9-1, one at 12-1, with the other ticket going over the 2-1 favorite. I don't want to know what they say about a play like that, as it is what the people without Forms do, hit All-favorite.
When the gate opened, my horse, number 3, went to the lead like it was insulted to be in such company, and I thought: It's over, I win.
The favorite and a couple of others seemed to wonder what was so interesting up there, and took up the chase.
Toward the turn, the favorite surged to within half a length of me and mine, then did what it was put on this earth to do, make long shot players so happy. It slowed down and was passed right and left.
We were up a length at the top of the victory march, then two, then four lengths, then five, here comes $36 and change on the win, how nice is that.
Then it was time to pick up the race for the Exacta.
Halfway between the easy leader and the other stuff, my 8-1 shot and my 9-1 shot were going at it tooth and hoof; and I recall thinking, let's not overdo it here. The difference in place and show money was not enough to strain a muscle over. Now was the time to take it to the barn and have a nice fat apple and let me collect an Exacta of $500 or so; times two and a half for the $5 wager.
And out of the corner of my ear as the horse from Woodbine won under a little pinkie ride, I heard the track announcer say: "And on the outside, here comes The Worst Horse in the World." He probably said the horse's actual name, but as it came into view, ten back for second, then seven back, then two back as the wire came into view, all I could think was one of the worst horses in the history of racing was coming for my money.
And he got it. With an apprentice rider with a meet record of something like one for 500 whipping one of the worst horses in the eastern time zone like they were running for the roses instead of the peanuts, my 9-1 shot lost second by about yea-much, the Exacta on the 17-1 shot and the apprentice's horse being so much that the simulcast announcer seemed slightly awed, even as much as he had seen.
My horses ran first, third, fourth, fifth and sixth; my only investment the Exactas.
Having been so right about this race, here's what I collected: memories and lessons.
What did I do that was so wrong?
When you actually like a 17-1 horse and, it wins exactly the way you had it figured, you have to collect something, or get treatment. Anybody can be smart and broke. The way you collect on a 17-1 shot, beyond simple Exactas, is to either bet it to win, or, when you yourself on foot could give a cheap favorite a good race for four furlongs, play your 17-1 horse and all the rest.
The costly lesson can be valuable, because this race demonstrates where long shots are born. Each race is different, sure; but there are only three places where the big numbers run from loose on a lead, stalking, or running late from way back. Stalking requires a combination of skills, forget that when it comes to 20-1 possibilities.
Big tickets come from winning on uncontested leads, or by running late for second.
Who among us hasn't seen some of the Worst Horses in the World close from nowhere to second it's because when inexpensive stalkers run hard early, they're apt to quit like the head on a cheap beer. And here comes what's-his-or-her-name for the big place money.
You know what they say about horses that can't win or run second.
Borrow some money please?
Write to Jay at email@example.com.