By Victor E. Zast
Hold it, while I steady myself on these weary feet on my way to the betting window. Patience, while I look at the Form through these cheaters. This is the autumn of the year, and for some, the autumn of our years.
When I peer into the mirror I see winter. Racing is an old man's game and I am one of the players. And yet, as I think of days in the future, I see dawn. You, dear reader, must not be much different. And so it is that I must make a list of the things we've done and the places we've gone and the facts of the past that remind us of the time gone by. You must be getting old, if... You've seen a better horse than Holy Bull, or remember races in which the horses carried more than 130 pounds. Forego, Kelso, and Bold Ruler come to mind, and I can see them in the stretch as if they were running on, plowing through the final furlong like a chugging truck. I bet you believe we'll never see the likes of Secretariat again, and that you feel blessed to have watched the Triple Crowns of Seattle Slew and Affirmed. Are the horses racing today less hearty? You must be getting old, if... You can remember the Cuban rider Avelino Gomez. Or cashed a bet on a horse brought home by "The Kid" himself. Do you remember Eddie Arcaro and Willie Shoemaker? Do you remember racing in New York before the stands went up at Aqueduct--before the inception of off-track betting, when simulcasting was a dreaded notion? Can you recall a summer night at the Spuyten Duyvil? Can you hear the camaraderie, smell the garlic on your plate? I sat on a wooden bench at Hialeah next to a man who saw Man o' War. I listened to them "spinning out of the turn" of the five-eighths track at Sportsman's. I remember Longacres. I played quinellas at Greenwood. You must be getting old, if... You know what a quinella is, or if you're betting only to win today--the Ainslie way. I used to bet parlays with bookies. I stood in betting lines at the track as long as 15 minutes when the weekend crowds were 30,000. I went to the windows when they were marked by the betting amount and type of wager; when you had to go to a different window to collect. You must be getting old, if... You're a "trip" handicapper. And if you understand the relativity of class. Don't tell me that you dig the "figs." Have you ever scanned the pages of the Morning Telegraph? If you think a "Beyer" is a customer, then we really do have something we can talk about. My, oh my, how things have changed. Or have they? The past in every pastime looks a little rosier than the present. Mickey Mantle looks like Willie Mays when compared to Barry Bonds. "The Golden Bear" looks like a "Tiger." We think of "I Love Lucy" as great TV, remember Johnny Carson as being funny, consider "I Like Ike" the slogan of a perfect nation. The mind is able to edit memories in ways that make them lies. When said and done, we've never enjoyed our lives as effortlessly as now. Old or young, the racetrack is a place that serves as an equalizer. I know no other place where a man's two cents is worth the same as another's despite how much he has in his wallet. Lucky people cash winning tickets by sticking hatpins into a program just as often as bluebloods buy a winner at auction by analyzing pedigree. Serendipity is at the heart of gambling. Rich or poor, black or white, man or woman--it doesn't seem to matter when it comes to being a fan. The marketing experts who are looking to promote Thoroughbred racing by studying demographics are looking in the wrong direction. They are formulaic, and they are young. You must be young, if you're looking forward to the changes being made at Churchill Downs. You must be young, if you go to the racetrack for a rock concert. You must be young, if the first time you heard about Seabiscuit was at the movies.
VICTOR E. ZAST is president of Private Perfumery in Chicago