I took it as a greeting, not a question, and replied simply, "Hello," whereupon he dutifully read off his code number. "Yes," I said, as if I had pulled out his file. "Your code name?" And he gave me that, too.
"All right," I said. "——, you have $9,764.80 in your account. What is your first bet on today's card?" He was still making gurgling noises and trying to figure out how he could withdraw $9,700 quick before OTB found out its mistake when I hung up.
Clever as I was with bon mots on the telephone, I improved only marginally at handicapping in the third week. I hit four winners one day, a 33-to-1 shot another, and a nice daily double (not a D-J double, of course) and still managed to lose $45 for the week. Luckily, The Mysterious Mr. Margin fell on even more woeful times and dropped $242 behind me. I had $1,759 left out of the $2,000, he $1,517.
With only two weeks remaining, it began to seriously occur to me that a) maybe there really was not going to be an annual summer rally this annual summer, and b) I really could beat the stock market (or, anyway, lose less than the market). In retrospect, I know I should have changed my procedures at this point and played it safe to hold the lead. I should have become choosier, backing only solid favorites—to place. But the habits of a lifetime cannot be shucked overnight. I plugged away, proud and stubborn.
People would ask me: suppose you enter the final Saturday a few dollars ahead of The Mysterious Mr. Margin. The market has closed for the week. Do you sit on your lead? No, I replied, shaking my head vigorously, and then offering detailed accounts of batting champions who refused to be taken out of the last game of the season, even though one more at bat without a hit would take the title from them. I was going to be a real betting champion.
Certainly, OTB makes it easier to bet, too. I found that when I made my day's bets, if I was uncertain about wagering on a race when I placed the call, invariably I would plunge in the end. The temptation was too much. "Any more bets, Odd Lot?" the gremlin/clerk would trill in the phone.
"Well, O.K., let's go back to the fourth. Twenty to win on E, as in easy." The deed was done. It is a lot like when I am in a grocery store and all the little goodies are sitting up there next to the check-out counter. I have to throw in a pack of wild cherry or Chryst-O-Mint Life Savers at the last moment as the girl is tallying up the groceries. This is the only time I ever buy Life Savers.
The fourth week the horses moved to Saratoga and I hit a steady procession of winners—but all the wrong ones. The horses I bet heavily failed; my lukewarm choices came through. It made me think that perhaps I should have put the same amount on every horse. But I checked out that possibility when the whole five weeks were up and found that I would not have fared so well betting, say, $20 on every horse.
Besides all the $2 flyers (which, sadly, included the 33-to-1 shot), I made 96 bets, ranging from $5 to $100. I cashed tickets ranging from $5 to $100, too. I had 20 winners, 19 seconds, 12 thirds—51 in the money—while 45 ran out. I fared much worse with my doubles and exactas, only cashing one of each.
But I am getting ahead of myself. There was trouble on the horizon. After the market closed the fourth week, word came from The Mysterious Mr. Margin that he was making a bold move into a new stock. He had done a lot better the past week than I had. Suddenly, I was only $163 ahead, $1,633 to $1,470. I visualized a tough stretch run.