"No, we are not all the same!" Now the fellow is angry, and he lunges forward with his cane and tries to hit the tattooed man in the head. It isn't hard to imagine a trail of teeth and bones around the paddock, but others in the crowd step in and pull the two men apart. More cane waving follows, along with the repeated cry "We are not all the same!" The odds on a race riot begin to drop as time passes, going from even money to 10-1, and by late afternoon the two adversaries are standing together and comparing notes like the best of friends.
The jockeys finally stride into the paddock, put down their beer cans, snuff out their cigarettes, then saddle up and urge their mounts onto the track. After a short gallop they enter the starting gate for a 4½-furlong race, the longest on the card. The horses look calm, but when the gate snaps open, Phar lap rears up and unseats his rider. (It's the scrawny guy who kicked Big Money, an example of karma in action!) While the jock lies in the dirt, Phar Lap turns tail and speeds off in the wrong direction. He seems destined to collide with the other horses in the homestretch until the tattooed man leaps over the rail, plants himself in the path of the runaway and crisscrosses his arms in a semaphore pattern, stopping Phar Lap.
By now the thrown rider has been stuffed into the front scat of a pickup truck and driven to the paddock, where well-meaning onlookers advise him to breathe deeply, loosen his trousers, remove his shoes, drink some cold water, drink some hot water, and rest in the shade. There's no doctor to separate the potentially helpful suggestions from the possibly harmful ones, so the rider's eyes twirl back, and he faints. In a couple of minutes, though, he blinks twice and rises like Lazarus from the dead, hobbling from the truck as he moans, "I got three more horses to ride." Ride them he will. All three will be losers.
As the day progresses, the quarter horses take center stage for a series of sprints. Before every race Cliff grabs his mike and launches into his litany: "I've got $2.50 on the 1, $2.50 on the 1." He's putting together Calcutta pools: a customer for each horse, then the pool is closed, and he begins again. The house gets a small percentage for the service, but just now Cliff is more interested in a slinky, blue-jeaned blonde at the rail. He informs her over the mike that he actually owns the Quarter Pole—part of it, anyhow—and isn't just a hired hand.
In the third race Streakin Chip Chip gets a chance to redeem himself, but he performs just as William Duplichan predicted, leaving the gate long after the other horses have departed. Soon children may be riding him at carnivals and church bazaars. As for Big Money, he goes off in the fifth, but can't keep up with Cajun Jet, a local favorite. The gelding's only solace is that his rider doesn't kick him again. At the rail Cowboy Meaux, Joseph's grandfather, watches Big Money amble to the barn and tells a security guard how he once gelded an overly frisky colt by himself, discovered it had three testicles and celebrated with a fifth of Jack Daniel's.
"He have three for real?" the guard asks.
"Damn straight," says Cowboy. "And he ran much better after he lost 'em."
Some fans are desperate by the sixth race. At the Quarter Pole you must rely on intuition and hot tips, and when the tips grow cold and your intuition buckles under to paranoia, you're finished for the day. Only luck matters in bush racing, and every Cajun knows that luck can't be courted. Instead it gets sprinkled randomly around the universe, landing on a rice farmer one afternoon and on his bluetick hound the next. All you can do in the face of such chaos is give in and throw a party—which these Cajuns proceed to do, cranking up the jukebox and dancing to Hank Williams.
The party is in full swing when the last race goes off. By now scarcely anyone bothers to bet. A few trainers have already loaded their trailers for the drive back to their drab everyday lives—kids, wives, mortgages, even bosses—but others move directly to the bar, where they will stay until closing time at 2 a.m. Cliff, too, is in his usual spot and knocking back a Coke, his singular labor completed. Who's to say that the Quarter Pole won't someday attract as many tourists as the Atchafalaya swamp? A man's entitled to dream. Besides, the lights are down low, Percy Sledge is wailing, and Cliff has a new phone number in his back pocket, one that belongs to a slinky, blue-jeaned blonde.