First guy (as confident as ever): "See."
About halfway through the day, the simulcast signal from Pimlico was lost. Nobody seemed to be aware of the horrendous power problems that were plaguing that track. Everyone just assumed that, as usual, it was a breakdown that was based at Yonkers Raceway. About an hour before post time for the Preakness, one guy in a large group suddenly jumped up, put on his coat (it was 80-plus degrees outside) and said, "See you, boys. It's been a pleasure."
"Where you going?" his friend asked, alarm in his voice.
"Home. To watch it on TV. You won't see it here. It always takes them at least a year to fix anything."
The signal returned about a half hour before the start of the Preakness, just enough time for me to handicap the race almost perfectly. I figured only Victory Gallop and Real Quiet were good enough to do anything, despite their bad posts, and I figured Victory Gallop had had a much more unlucky race in the Kentucky Derby than Real Quiet and still almost won. So I naturally assumed that Victory Gallop would win this time, Real Quiet would come in second and either Black Cash or Classic Cat would come in third. (The only other reasonable choice, Cape Town, seemed clearly on the downslide, form-wise.) I bet accordingly, investing everything I had left on two trifectas, Victory Gallop first, Real Quiet second, Black Cash and Classic Cat third. One thing that makes horse betting such a challenge is that you can be so, so right—and still completely wrong. Unfortunately, Victory Gallop had another unlucky race, and, of course, so did I.
After the Preakness the place began to clear out. Eventually, only a handful of us were left, all broke, aimlessly watching one last, meaningless race from Churchill Downs or Hollywood Park or Golden Gate or some such far-off, undifferentiated, surreal joint that could have been a computer generation, for all we knew. A medium-range long shot won, and the guy in front of me began to whine, "Aw, they knew who was gonna win. I told you before, these races are all fixed." And on and on and on.
Finally, a guy sitting a few feet away couldn't take it anymore. "What's wrong with you?" he shouted. "Who's this they that knows everything? And if all the races are fixed, why do you come? And if you're gonna come anyway, why don't you just shut up?"
With a hurt look, the first guy drew himself up. He said, "Look. I'm an old man. Most of the time I don't feel well. I'm gonna die soon. I like to complain. I need to complain. Do you mind?"
The other guy pressed his lips together for a moment, then nodded slowly in recognition.
I was stunned. In this environment, from these people, after a day like this, the last thing I expected was inspiration. The question now was what to do with it. Then I remembered. Only a couple of blocks away there was a bank with a cash machine. And soon enough the nighttime card at Yonkers would commence.