20 September 2005

Neighboring stalls

After our latest visit to Mountaineer, I feel I've stumbled on an overlooked betting influence: loud guys in neighboring seats.

Though I've still got tons to read on the subject, none of the handicapping books I've perused so far have even hinted at the possible bad bets that can be placed when some fellow nearby provides a running monologue of his life's adventures. But twice now, we've lost money while in the vicinity of a long-winded loudmouth.

This past Saturday was our most recent encounter with the loud guy phenomena. A fellow at the next table was regaling his friends with his method of selecting horses: he only bets on horses with stripper names. After three races and no wins, his running commentary began to jangle our nerves, and we gathered our stuff and left our well-placed table to venture in to (gasp!) the indoor grandstands. It was amazingly quiet inside, probably due to the presence of the owners' boxes. We were so busy finding a seat and evaluating our view that we totally missed seeing Bad Case's odds inch up to 90-1, the kind of wager we can never resist (our logic: no horse in a $5,000 claimer is that much worse than the others.) So we missed the joy of the $180 payoff when Bad Case won, the announcer's voice quivering as he while proclaimed the trifecta pay-off of $16,600. Still, we were rather pleased with our new vantage point.

It took us forever to get settled, but when I finally got the Racing Form out, I found myself noticing something I'd missed earlier in my persual of the fifth race. Four races back, Potri Jealous had done quite well on a good track -- and the track was rated good on Saturday. With a minute to post, I placed my bet on the 11-1 shot, and darned if he didn't win it -- and redeem the whole evening.

Though I'm not all that superstitious, I can't help but believe that I'd have missed the track surface clue if we hadn't gotten away from the braying loudmouth. Whether it's due to lack of concentration or just bad vibes or even something more New-Age than that, I don't know.

The good news is that these guys are not the norm at the track. Generally, the folks we meet are swell: quietly delighted when they win, slightly philosophical when they lose. They ask where you're from and toss out tidbits about themselves at a pace (and decibel-level) that compliments the moon rising over the distant mountain. They'll talk of what it was like when Mountaineer was Waterford Park, and they smile a lot -- but not too much. Amidst the excitement of the races and the hopefulness of the bets and the utter joy of winning, there's often a certain tranquility.

It reminds me of something Jane Smiley said in A Year at the Races: "I like the track though, because the grandstand of a racetrack, the parking lot of a racetrack, the betting hall of a racetrack, the walking ring and paddock of a racetrack are friendly and safe places. Racing fans are exceptionally nonviolent, because they have to keep reading the Racing Form and getting their bets together for the next race, and also because they are so inured to disappointment. Fans never riot at the racetrack the way they do after football games and soccer matches. They sigh and tear up their tickets once again and get back to work." (p.166)

You gotta love a place like that.