"I'd bet on anything—football, baseball, basketball, boxing, trotters, thoroughbreds, gin rummy," Okuneff said. When he was out of steady work, he financed his compulsion through bit acting and stunt work. He figured that he had been in more than 60 movies, from Spartacus to Nuts!, and in even more TV shows: Murder, She Wrote; Matlock; Hunter; Remington Steele; Juke and the Fatman. He was also on a wheel of sorts. "I'd go broke gambling, go back to work and then gamble until I was broke again," he said. "One day, in the early 1980s, I had a crossroads discussion with myself. I said. 'Let's see if it's possible to show a profit at the races.' I gave up all other forms of gambling. I worked hard, and I learned to control the game emotionally. The thing you have to remember about the racetrack is, Never chase. A person can behave reasonably sanely when he's winning, somewhat sanely when he's breaking even. But how you behave when you're losing determines whether you have a shot winning at the track."
Okuneff had been at it now for nearly 10 years. Between the acting, the gambling and the seminars, he had managed well enough to buy a place a year ago in Del Mar, a modest inland abode. "Someday, if things keep going right," he said as he awaited the eighth, "I'll get something on the ocean, something with a view."
All he wanted now was the late triple. Jockey Alex Solis sent Asia to the lead like a dart in the El Cajon, and Okuneff was on his feet, urging the rider to save the horse: "Now give me a quarter in 22[4/5] and I'm happy." The teletimer flashed :22[4/5]. "All right! Run your race, Alex. One time! Open it up."
Down the backstretch Shinko Wine was running with Asia, a half length away. Okuneff's voice was rising: "Push on with him, kick in!" Around the bend Shinko Wine clung to Asia like a barnacle, with the favored Warcraft just a length back. Turning for home, Asia started to edge away, but now Warcraft was coming. "Come on, Alex!" Okuneff shouted.
Down the lane, Warcraft was charging on the outside, three quarters of a length away, but Asia beat him back through the last 100 yards, finally winning it by a half length. Okuneff rose on his toes, arms in the air, bellowing in triumph: "I knew it! He sure bounced, didn't he? He bounced right into the winner's circle!" The triple paid $476.10, earning Okuneff a payoff of $1,410.30, minus his $18 investment. "This is why I love this game," he sang, "isn't that delightful? Isn't this heaven?"
Bob Strauss understands as well as anyone the sentiment behind the question. Since first discovering Del Mar in the late 1950s, he has had his share of triumphs at the betting windows, but none to match that glorious late afternoon in the early '70s when he invested $30 to bet three long shots in a $5 exacta box. He turned to Helen and said, "These things come in, we'll win the joint."
In fact, two of them came in, and a jubilant Strauss found himself holding a ticket worth $5,000. "I was the happiest man in the world," he recalls. He repaired to the bar to celebrate. Standing there grinning, with lovely women on both arms and a pile of money on the bar in front of him, was actor David Janssen. He saw Strauss coming and called out: "Strauss! Come on over here. I'm buyin' drinks for everybody. I had the $5,000 exacta."
Strauss was as suave as an ambassador-to-be. Handing his own ticket to Janssen, he said quietly, "Didn't everybody?"
Speaking very slowly, Janssen said: "You son...of...a...bitch. You spoilsport sonofabitch!" Then he turned to the bartender and said, "Oh, get Strauss a drink anyway...."
Even Frisco had his moment in the sun as a bettor. Crosby loved him, and he simply couldn't resist when Frisco would beseech him for betting money. One afternoon, Crosby handed Frisco yet another $200, but this time Frisco managed a huge score on one of his improbable parlays. When Crosby heard about it, he immediately searched Frisco out in the Turf Club bar to get his $200 back. There was Frisco, sitting on a sofa surrounded by chorus girls. Crosby never had a chance.