Foto Lewis is 71 years old, looks 50 ("See, no fat on my neck"), acts 30, has a girl friend 23, and is—arguably, of course—the nation's No. 1 Race Track Character. Anything anybody else can do, Foto is sure he can do better. He dreams exclusively of faster horses and younger women—in that order. When he talks of himself, he speaks only in superlatives. At the moment, he is standing in the Bowie (Md.) Race Course grandstand, going berserk better than anybody.
"Jeez!" he screams. "The worst bum in the race wins and I lose $30. How could anybody pick that horse? You couldn't pick her because you like her. There's nuthin' to like. This is enough to drive a horseplayer craaazzzy. Look, this horse run twice and is ninth by 17 lengths and eighth by 20. You can't even say she ran better than her form, because she ain't got no form to run to. On top of that, it's a girl jockey. That broad was 100 to 1 herself, never mind the horse. If somebody had given me a ticket on that horse, I wouldn't have accepted it. If forced on me, I would have tore it up. I've slept with horses, drove 'em in vans, ridden 'em, studied 'em for 55 years—and I don't understand them. What's the winner's name? Sarah Fox? Oh, my God. Sarah Fox. I get beat by a horse named Sarah Fox." The horse, at 45 to 1, returned $91.80 on a $2 win ticket.
Foto slumps into his chair, alone in his agony. He asks a friend, "Why would anyone bet Sarah Fox?"
"Because," says the friend cheerfully, "she was in the race."
"Nope," Foto says, "this ain't on the level. She probably was doped. That's it. We'll read in a few days that she was doped. God, Sarah Fox. Somebody's name, huh? Somewhere there is a Sarah Fox who's happy as all get out. Meanwhile, I lose my money."
He falls silent, exhausted from his outburst. He has been through this thousands of times, but the pain is always the same. And, like a fireworks display that makes one last explosion just when it seems about to fizzle out, Lewis pops off again, "Sarah Fox. For all I know, that could have been Spectacular Bid. Nobody can tell them apart. I bet my $30 and something called Sarah Fox runs like Citation."
Another Race Track Character yells, "Foto, Foto."
But Foto never shuts up. He is the preeminent Race Track Character. At every track, there is a handful of guys who come out every day and bet every race. Every one of them is a classic know-it-all. They argue and curse and point and exaggerate and suspect. They are known by names like Detroit Izzy or Champagne Larry. They are gluttons for punishment. A Race Track Character needn't bet a lot; in fact, part of his charm is that he bets so little but cares so much. The R.T.C. is never to be confused with the Big-Time Gambler, the guy who shows up at the track with a briefcase, a computer and cold blood. For the gambler, the track is his business; for the R.T.C., the track is his life. Foto is a $10-to $20-a-race man. He usually takes about $200 to the track, though he has no intention of losing much of it.