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In the early evening of Sunday, Oct. 7, I was chauffeuring Andrew Beyer, his wife, Susan, and my girlfriend, Christine Hauser, from Belmont Park to LaGuardia Airport for the 7 p.m. shuttle to Washington, D.C. In the car Beyer, the turf writer for The Washington Post, suggested in no uncertain terms that I should keep in touch with him over the next few days.
"What's going on?" I asked.
"The double-triple at Laurel hasn't been won in two weeks," he said, "and the carryover has gotten huge. It could be worth more than $200,000. We can win some real money."
The double-triple is an exotic wager at Laurel Race Course, in Maryland, in which the winning bettor must pick the first three horses, in their order of finish, in two races—the third and the fifth. When the money bet on the double-triple is not won, part of it is "carried over" to the next afternoon, and, as long as no one wins it, the jackpot builds day by day. As it grows, the big sharks of the game come sniffing out of their lairs. In Maryland, Beyer is a very big shark, a sort of amiable, indigenous great white who knows the Laurel waters well (SI, June 5, 1989). I know Laurel quite well, too, but as a gambler, I view myself less as a predator and more like Flipper, standing up in the water, chattering to friends and swimming backward.
So there I was, tooling up the Cross Island Parkway on Long Island—Beyer and I had been covering a weekend of racing at Belmont—and once again he was inviting me to put up $64.80 to buy 5% of his action in the double-triple at Laurel on Monday. I was not going home to Washington with Beyer and the women; I was staying the night in Manhattan so that I could huddle with some of my editors the next day.
Beyer had that glint in his eye. "Be sure to stay in touch with me," he said. "I'd hate to see you miss out again on another big score. What a shame that you weren't around for the one in April! Boy, that was really fun."
Here I felt a slight but palpable stab of pain, a tremor of remorse. On April 14, Black Saturday, the double-triple pot at Laurel's sister track, Pimlico, had not been won in a month and had increased to more than $1 million. Beyer had strongly suggested that I keep in touch back then, too, but on that particular day I was in Kentucky at Keeneland to see the Blue Grass Stakes, and I got so involved in what I was doing that I forgot about the double-triple. On Sunday morning, back at home, I picked up The Washington Post's sports page and nearly gagged on my English muffin. Beyer's column began: "Playing the horses is the greatest game in the world, and I do not say this only because I was one of the 10 people who held a winning $134,161.80 ticket on Pimlico's double-triple yesterday." For a moment I thought only the Heimlich maneuver could save me. When the seizure passed, a kind of mild palsy set in, but I managed to hold a pencil steady enough to compute what I would have won with 5% of Beyer's action, minus, of course, the federal taxes—$5,366.47!
Beyer is an old friend who has been trying to make money for me for years, but it's as if the goddess of wagering always sees fit to intervene, punishing me for unexpiated sins, and at the last minute she slips me into this diverting trance. Six years ago, on the afternoon of the 1984 Belmont Stakes, Beyer appeared before me with his face flushed and his eyes blazing. "I just won $11,000 on the daily double," he said, "but that's nothing compared to what we're going to win this afternoon. Mortgage the house, sell the kids, and play the Swale-Pine Circle exacta."
In the paddock, 15 minutes before the race, I decided to avoid the long lines at the betting windows and gave $5 for a Swale-Pine Circle exacta to a horseplaying friend. When Swale and Pine Circle finished one-two, the tote board screamed the exacta payoff of $125.80 for $2.1 was already dreaming of what I would order for dinner at Lut�ce as I dashed madly up to my friend, who looked like the saddest man on earth. Handing me back the $5, he said, "Sorry, but it was so crowded that I couldn't get to a window."
"That's too bad," Beyer later commiserated. "How much did I win? Well, let's just say that any middle-class American family would regard my exacta winnings as a very good annual income."