Tuesday August 21, 2012

In an effort to take back the last of my summer, I made the traffic-packed drive up the Northway on Sunday to test my luck and possibly double my honeymoon money at the track.

I've been betting on the horses at the Saratoga Race Track -- or "the track" as most locals simply refer to it -- since long before I was of legal age to walk up to the betting booths. My parents would pack me and my tub of Breyer miniature horses and coloring books up with a picnic lunch and we'd meet my grandparents and aunts under the shady trees near the paddock. It was my favorite spot, and still is, to watch the lithe jockeys expertly mount the beautiful beasts with one quick jump.

Back then, my dad would place my dollar bets (nothing like teaching ‘em young, right?) after I'd quickly look at the sheet, find a name that spoke to me, point to it and say, "that one, please." My grandfather, bent over his newspapers and hot tip sheets, bought a block from the track's entrance, would shake his head at me and say, "No, no you have to look at what these guy's say. See, that horse isn't even mentioned in all of these lists," as his crooked finger scanned the faded ink.

"But Grandpa, I like the name ‘Rainbow Dreams,' " I'd say. How can you argue with solid logic like that from an 8-year-old?

Now, almost 20 years later, I'm still using the same betting method, but apparently with not as much beginner's luck.


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On Sunday, I applied every superstitious trick I could think of, short of hopping on one leg backwards while turning counter-clockwise to the betting booth. Not a single one of my pretty-named horses came close. I thought for sure I was a winner with omens like "Irish Wedding," or "Reserved for Two." I even banked on a little help from the big guy upstairs with "Hear the Word" and "Selection Sunday." Nothing, not a single dollar won.

Granted, I was only betting $2 a race and staying within my tight $20 budget, and would be shocked if any possible win returned more than $5.70. But, as we like to say in my family, that's the cost of a day of entertainment at the track. It was a gorgeous, sunny day with a cool breeze. I felt the rush of the pounding hooves race by me, as I stood against the fence cheering on my horse. My aunt and her childhood friend shared hunches and dollar bills as they performed their complicated betting rituals sometimes covering the entire spread -- making them sure winners, one way or another. We ate our turkey and tomato sandwiches while looking skeptically at the high-heeled women teetering into the club house, and with curiosity at the owners inspecting their horses with watchful eyes under the wide brims of expensive race-track hats.

Overall the day was a pleasant one -- as my aunt's friend, Patty, told me her aunt used to say if she didn't do well at the track. So, really, it was "pleasant" in more ways than just one.

Lindsey Hollenbaugh is the Eagle's online editor. Email her your betting strategies at lhollenbaugh@berkshireeagle.com or share them with her on Twitter at @BerkshireBabyE.