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I went over to the walking ring. The horses hadn't yet moved there from the saddling area. I knew what horse I was going to bet. I leaned on the rail, gazed up and tried to decide if the sky was uniformly blue. It wasn't. The horses arrived. They seemed nervous and transmitted the jitters to each other with choppy hoofbeats and swishing tails. Viewed from the rear, a Thoroughbred creates a definite hauteur—the sheer height, the tapering from the buttock through the hock to the pastern. From this same point of view the walking action is seen to be relieved occasionally by a graceless shuffle. They moved like that. Trainers talked down to jockeys, who in turn looked up while they nervously tapped their legs with their whips.
It struck me how finely dressed the women in the walking ring were. Straw hats and predominantly pinks and pale blues and greens. How fair-haired and lovely, even the girls in high-heeled shoes, like yearlings, unsure of their feet on grass. And the natural assurance of all of them, as though they'd been bred for show. They weren't pretty but went, somehow, beyond prettiness. The men were shaking hands, none of them fat or loud or jerky. You could see their shoes were really expensive. And the horses, more assured in their nervousness, more fashionable, more expensive than anything around. Only Thoroughbred horses at Saratoga can attract this kind of patronage. A bowling tournament just couldn't do it.
Then the horses were paraded onto the track. A fast-breaker named City Water held on to win. I didn't have the winner. Sal and Rocco and Vinnie thumbed through their pari-mutuel packets and discovered that they didn't have City Water in any of their doubles. Sal and Vinnie accepted the harsh fact easily enough. Rocco suspected a fix.
"It's a bad business," Sophie said when she got the news. "This guy who writes this 'Talk of the Town,' he sure has a way with words," she added as a perfect sequitur.
Rocco, suddenly perspiring all over, shouted, "Shut up, Sophie!" And Sophie obediently hushed. Tootsie's eyes had saddened and filled with more brown jelly. Sophie threw herself into her New Yorker. Rocco wasn't finished. "Dat's all we ever hear from her. Bad business, bad business. She got a one-track mind, an' I'm sick of it." The insults seemed to affect Tootsie more than Sophie. Tootsie growled meanly.
"Enough," Sal said. Rocco continued; when Sal said "enough" a second time it was enough.
The first race set the pattern for the day. None of us had any winners. By the seventh race Sal had tapped out. He'd lost hundreds. Sophie hadn't finished reading her "Talk of the Town." "Sophie," Rocco said, without picking his head out of his Telegraph, and snapping his fingers impatiently, "give me 50 bucks." Sophie hadn't said anything since Rocco had denounced her.
"No," said Sophie without looking up.
Rocco got up and cuffed her, his cupped hand making a chilling, painful noise and bringing a drop of blood to Sophie's ear. Tootsie whined. Sophie's face set with her lower lip thrust painfully forward. I knew I wasn't watching Saratoga Trunk; Rocco wasn't Gary Cooper and Sophie wasn't Ingrid Bergman, but I wasn't walking out either.
Sal stood up and moved between the belligerents. "I said enough," he said again. A black-mascara tear moved slowly from the corner of Sophie's carefully drawn eye, down her cheek, over her jaw, down her neck, over her chest and into black cleavage.