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Monday July 12. It is now post time.
Well, what to bet? Some kibitzers advised me to sit tight, looking for one or two solid choices during the whole five weeks, then backing them with $1,000 or $1,500 or the whole bag of cheese. But I didn't like that; not enough action. Interlocking, escalating three-horse parlays were explained to me, but OTB is not set up to accept parlays of any stripe. I consulted the Oracle of Vegas, Jimmy the Greek. He considered the situation and advised me to play the consensus favorite every day. The Filly researched how consensus favorites had fared in the previous month and told me to disregard The Greek's advice. I examined racing slide rules, systems, codes and dream books, but to depend willy-nilly on such methods would be to subjugate myself to a scheme; it would be like depending on a stockbroker. At last, I decided that the only proper way to conduct myself was like always, only more exuberantly since I was playing with somebody else's money.
I did dabble in two flyers almost every day. First, in keeping with the spirit of the competition, I always played the Dow Jones daily double. At OTB, the horses are assigned letters instead of numbers. Thus, for the Dow Jones double, I played D in the first race, J in the second. I figured I had five weeks of chances, and if D-J ever hit, it might be a biggie. Sadly, it never scored at any price. I also played the Sesame Street horse every day I could. At the end of each Sesame Street show it is announced that the program was brought to you by a letter of the alphabet and a number. Say, H and 3. So, I would put $2 on H in the third race. Unfortunately, Sesame Street never gave me a live one in five weeks. So much for hunch bets.
Now for real handicapping. I checked about carefully in selecting the inaugural wager. Anytime I could pick a nag that The Filly also liked, I figured that indicated such a confluence of wisdom as to demand a bet. Such a horse was Hydronaut, E in the sixth, at 10 to 1. Cautiously, I phoned in $10 on the nose. The Filly felt that a place bet would be more appropriate. I explained to her that, what with the annual summer rally imminent, we could not hold back. On the nose. Hydronaut finished second, beaten by a nose. Horses, it appeared, ran exactly for Odd Lot as they had done for me. The Filly gave me a jump winner in the last race, though, so we came out of the first day $3 ahead.
Indeed, wagering prudently this first week, I concluded the whole week $5.60 in the black, and since the market slid down 15 points and carried The Mysterious Mr. Margin down $153—we had agreed on weekly situation reports—I came out of the gate a couple of lengths ahead. My major early challenge came not from my opponent, but from Off-Track Betting, which seemed disinclined to accept my money. I discovered, for instance, that if I hand-delivered money—that is, U.S. dollar bills—to my local Off-Track deposit window, it took another five days before that money reached my account. No bank, never mind any bookie, could stay in business for long that way.
As a consequence, I soon had to bet on the hoof at an OTB parlor. These nooks, at least back in July, were filled with brittle and moody computers and staffed by clerks who appeared to possess the disposition and mentality of billy goats. Restless foremen and middle-management types conspired to add more havoc to the confusion behind the windows. "Arc you going to school in there or taking bets?" a gruff would-be bettor called from the line next to mine one day.
On that occasion, Friday of the first week, I was trying to put down a $50 bet on something called Nu Lancer in the fifth. Betting for the race closed at 2:20 p.m. I arrived in line—seven people ahead of me—at 1:40. Forty-four minutes later, at 2:24, I reached the window, but I was too late for Nu Lancer. He won by three lengths and paid $6.80, which is $170 for $50. That would have put me so far ahead of The Mysterious Mr. Margin that he would have had to traffic in uranium offerings or pork bellies to catch up.
I gave him numerous opportunities to pass me in the second week, a time of variegated and periodic disasters, including fiat tires, water in the cellar—the Scan Data room—and the poor little dog getting hit by a car. In keeping with all this, I was also an atrocious handicapper. Now for the good news: the OTB computers failed so regularly that I was unable to make many bad bets that I would have dearly liked to place.
Despite the mechanical limitations put on me, I still managed 10 straight losers in one stretch, a point I mention not just to be masochistic but to illustrate what could happen if you ever are lured by that old geometric gambit: you know, double your bets every time you lose. If I had started out betting the innocent $2 minimum on the first race of this losing skein, and doubled as I went along, I would have been $2,046 in the hole—wiped out—after the 10th straight loss. I just thought I would point that out as a public service.
Nevertheless, even in defeat, there was never a dull moment during this period, because attempting to make any bet was an adventure. The computers were erratic, deposits were being routed through Belgrade or somewhere, and the phone company was on strike. Once I let the phone ring 45 minutes without OTB answering—and then I got cut off. On a few other occasions I was cut right into a conversation between another bettor and an OTB clerk. Or, weirder still, another bettor and I ended up talking to each other after we both dialed OTB. The first time this happened, the other fellow said, " Off-Track Betting?"