There's a kind of congenial know-nothingism that passes for dialogue among horseplayers, along with a healthy dollop of paranoia, and age does little to ameliorate this. Quite the contrary. Three old guys sitting behind me were watching a replay of the third race from Pimlico, trying to figure out who had finished third. As the horses struggled down the stretch, one of the guys got up, stuck his face about three inches from the TV monitor and touched the screen where the third-place horse was crossing the finish line.
"Who was it?" one of his friends growled. "The six?"
"No, see," said the guy who had gotten up, pointing, "it's the eight."
All three nodded happily. If anyone around noticed that only seven horses were in the race, he (or she) was too polite to point it out. I might have said something myself if the two horses I had keyed to win in the trifecta had not finished sixth and seventh. As a friend of mine once muttered, "They don't know a horse from a cow, but they're cashing and I'm not."
How old are these people? Well, the first race at Belmont was called The Happy 90th Birthday Ed Wetzel, the fourth was called The Jack Epstein-90th Birthday (Jack at the Track), and the seventh was called The Happy 80th Birthday Russell Glazer. I kid you not. You can't make up stuff like this.
I found myself wondering what Wetzel, Epstein and Glazer thought of the new and ubiquitous ad campaign designed to reinvigorate racing by attracting new types of fans, the one that features a heroin-chic actress running around an unspecified track, as my mother used to say, like a chicken with her head cut off, screaming, "Go, baby, go!" You can't make up stuff like this, either.
Later another group of old-timers indulged in the following conversation:
First guy (gravel-voiced, assertive): "You can't win here. The favorites win every race. I bet one race, $10."
Second guy (quiet, passive, totally without irony): "What happened?"
First guy: "Whaddya think? I told you, you can't win here."