I was staying with Junie, and he never stopped bugging me. When we went back to Waterford Park he kept on the subject every night. He said, "I'll tell you what you do. Why don't you go home and get your father to sign a contract so that if you ever change your mind I won't have to send you home again." I was tired of him bugging me, I really was. But I thought, if I go home and get the contract, maybe that'll keep him quiet for a while. So he gave me his car, and I went home and my father signed the contract. It was just a basic contract that your parent has to sign if you are under 21. It called for something like room and board and $25 a week.
I'm driving back from Pennsylvania to Waterford Park and I stop at this milk bar in Ohio, just across the river from West Virginia. Naturally, I'm interested in the horses, and I pick up the paper so that I can see if we're running anything tomorrow. I'm in there drinking a milkshake and I open the paper and I'm reading the selections—and I'm named on a horse! Absolutely named on a horse called Hal's Play—and I died. There's my name staring me right in the face. I couldn't believe it, I absolutely couldn't believe it. It was 10 at night and I got in that car and I drove across the river and I got my boss up and I bugged him all night.
"You can't do this to me," I said. "I mean, you've got to scratch the horse. I'm not going to ride him." I was really petrified. He said, "Yes, you are." I said, "I don't have any equipment." You know, that sneaky devil had gone out and bought me a saddle and all my equipment and had me all ready to go. I told him that my father hadn't signed the contract, but he went through all the luggage I had taken home until he found it.
I rode. But, boy, I'm telling you that I absolutely didn't know what in the hell to do. It was a short race, a sprint race. I can't even explain the feeling I had. I can't even remember how I felt except that I was petrified. First thing I did was forget to pull my goggles down. I'm way back in the pack, and my horse is 65 to 1. I got out of the gate on reflexes alone, because there was no planning there. From the time they put me in the gate I couldn't believe that it was happening, and the only thing that I can remember is that dirt was hitting me in the face. I'm telling you something: it's probably the most irritating thing you can do, to forget to pull your goggles down. Well, dirt was hitting me in the face and I didn't know where I was going, and anyhow by now the race was over and was I glad. I think I finished about sixth and only got beat about three lengths.
When I came back, Junie says, "That wasn't so bad, was it?" I said, "I was there and you're telling me it wasn't so bad!" He told me I only got beat three lengths, and I said, "I don't care how far I got beat, I still don't know what I'm doing."
The next day he entered a couple of horses but didn't name me to ride. Good, I thought, he's finally giving up on me. The following day he's got me named again, and again I forgot to pull my goggles down. Didn't know where I was at and finished way back. The day after that, he enters Nickleby. This was a bargain horse he got for $100 and he could run pretty good. He had been ridden before by a jock named Sammy Palumbo, and Palumbo was to the half-milers the same as Eddie Arcaro was to the mile racetracks.
The first two races I rode were sprints. Now, this horse, Nickleby, had won five races out of about nine or 10 starts, he was going a mile and an eighth and he had No. 12 post position, which means you break practically on the turn at Waterford Park. I told Junie, "You're crazy. You're putting me on a horse that really can run, and I don't even know what the hell I'm doing." He replied, "Just follow instructions, will you? You're going to be all right."
It's the last race of the day, and I'm in the jocks' room all day. To make matters worse, Sam Palumbo walked up to me. He had placed second on Nickleby, and he is now riding a horse called Big Sid to beat Nickleby. He comes over to me and says, "Hey, that horse you're on today can really run." I answered, "Hey, don't tell me that, please don't tell me that. It's bad enough as it is. I don't even want to ride, and you're telling me about this horse."
Then I sit there and try to figure out what the hell I'm going to do. I knew my horse has to come from behind. I also knew Sam Palumbo knew where he was going, so I figure if I can follow him, just watch everything he does, how can I make a mistake? I'll just do what he does, and when we turn for home I'll let my horse run.
I'm going to the gate and I'm thinking about what I'm going to do. When the gate goes up, I'm looking to the inside and I finally spot Sam Palumbo from my outside post position. I took my horse back and I dropped him in on the inside, and guess what? I forgot to pull down my goggles again. Three races in a row I forgot to pull my goggles down!