De Quincey ate opium; I play the daily double. Recently I won the 200th daily double of my lifetime. This represents an investment over a period of 18 years, occasional at first, regular during the past five. On the occasion of my 100th daily double five years ago some kind friends gave me a party. It might be said that I should have given the party, but a perspicacious lady in the group—also an occasional horseplayer—remarked: "They ought to take up a collection for a man who has won 100 daily doubles." She was right. I never have dared keep a budget of the number of tickets involved in my passion, but it must amount to about 2,000.
Once a friend with the mind of a bookkeeper, with whom I was working at the time, started keeping a record of my bets, daily doubles and otherwise, in a nasty little notebook. I stole the notebook one day while she was powdering her nose. I was afraid that if knew exactly how much money I was losing annually might stop betting, and I wouldn't want to do that.
My daily double addiction began quietly in 1943. I had a war job that took all my time six days a week. On Thursday, my day off, I took to going to the track and after some weeks won my first daily double. It paid $13.60, a chalk beginning. Then, with visions of sugarplums dancing in my head, started betting doubles at the track, and through friends when I could not make it myself.
I don't like the manners or methods of some bookmakers, but sometimes they are the only game in town. I think most of them should be sent to finishing school at nights when the only action is on trotters. (I seldom go to the harness races; the action makes me nervous, for the animals are like a bunch of big Afghans pirouetting and doing entrechats.) Bookmakers set arbitrary maximums for long shots—and 100 to 1 is the best they'll give for a daily double. I haven't often hit a double that paid higher than $200 for $2 at the mutuel machines—though once it was $282.50—but I don't see why bookmakers should not be legalized and compelled to pay track odds.
The smart-money men at racetracks scorn the daily double. To them it is an amateur's vaudeville act, and they may be right. They prefer to parlay with horses in other races besides the first and second. However, the daily double usually pays more than a $2 win parlay, and logically I have never been able to see why, if a man can win two races in a day, they shouldn't be the first and second. I have won some good parlays, but for me they never have had the triumph and excitement of winning the daily double.
There are few pleasures equal to sitting in your seat at a racetrack with a daily double ticket in your pocket, waiting for the second race after your horse in the first race has come in and paid a good price. You begin to have lovely daydreams. If the horse in the second race clicks—and I am always confident that it will—you can take the whole family to dinner and might even pay off that personal loan at the bank before the final installment is due. Then there is the heartsickening—but stirring—sensation of seeing your horse lead by a couple of lengths as they come to the stretch turn and then get beaten at the wire by an animal that never belonged in the race. One day my horse in the second race was leading by four lengths coming down the stretch, and I was getting ready to go to the cashier's window and collect $187 for $2. Suddenly, his left foreleg buckled under him, his leg broke and he threw his own jockey and four others. I was sorry for the horse, who had to be destroyed, and for the jockeys, who were bruised, but I was also sorry for myself.
I once sat at the track with a daily double ticket worth $66 in my pocket. In front of my eyes the horse in the second race, Ten Goal, threw Dave Gorman and ran all the way round the track before he was captured. A burly colored man beside me, who also had a ticket on that combination, shouted: "Oh, I'd sell my ticket for $1! I'd almost give it away!" They put Dave Gorman up on Ten Goal again, and he came out of the gate first, led all the way and won by several lengths. My companion and I got up exuberantly, shook hands solemnly and bought each other drinks.
Among my victories have been three $10 daily doubles, on one of which I got $336 for $10. I have sat—quietly I hope—with a $10 daily double ticket worth $970 if the horse in the second race won. He finished next to last.
There are people who go to racetracks to bet only the daily double and leave after the second race, win or lose. But that seems to me like going for heroin instead of marijuana (I bet other races, too). One day I happened to sit next to a man who played only daily doubles. He told me he always bet the numbers on the parking ticket of his car. The combination lost that day, and he promptly got up, saying, "You can't win 'em all," bade me goodby and made for his car. Barmen and waiters at tracks have identification badges with two numbers. Many of them bet their badge numbers every day. Those of their patrons who are drunk enough by the time the daily double windows are ready to close bet the same way.
I don't bet bartenders' badges, my age or my house or telephone numbers. Perhaps I should. Once was tempted to bet a friend's age, but didn't like the horse in the second race. The mystic numbers came in, and I would have had $476.30 for $2 if I had been superstitious instead of rational. There are people who take at least one ticket oh the same combination of two numbers everyday. My friend Hilda, who sells sandwiches at all New York Thoroughbred tracks, told me of an elderly lady customer of hers who always bets 9 and 9. She hit twice in one year, and one of the tickets was worth more than $1,000—more than enough to give her triple her money invested throughout the season. My seat companion in a race train one day told me a sad story: his father-in-law always took 7 and 8 in the double in New England. One day his daughter asked him to be her baby-sitter and, feeling grand-fatherly, he could not refuse. The combination of 7 and 8 came in that day, and he would have had $670 for his $2 if he had been at the track. He has never sat with a baby again, and he finds it hard to speak civilly to his daughter or her husband for having had that baby in the first place.