A Little Flutter

I like horse racing. The ponies. I went to the 156th Queen’s Plate this afternoon, and lost all of the money I had, but not on the horses.

Entrance to the Woodbine Racetrack for the 156th Annual Queen's Plate.
Entrance to the Woodbine Racetrack for the 156th Annual Queen’s Plate.

I like the event. People get all dressed up, wearing their Sunday finest. Fascinators flutter in the soothing breeze. Fedoras adorn the heads of moustachioed men, young and old. Sundresses reveal soft tans on smooth skin. Shoes are polished and glitter under pastel pants. Sun hats make otherwise pretty women look mysterious and elegant. People look very nice for the event.

People lose money, too. People take losing money very seriously, as well. People yell when they lose money. People swear when they lose money. People hit things when they lose money. People don’t look so nice when they lose money.

I think there’s a classy way to lose money. You just accept your loss and get another drink. There’s also a untied-shoes-unpressed-dress-pants-half-untucked-button-up-shirt-with-the-top-three-or-four-buttons-unbuttoned-unkempt-hair way to lose money. The latter is not attractive; it’s when you shouldn’t get another drink or place another bet.

I was wearing what I normally do: an untucked button up shirt over a t-shirt, with the top couple buttons undone, jeans, canvas shoes, and a ball cap.

I also like the event because of the excitement: there’s always a buzz. Because there are about 40 minutes between each race, there’s a lot of chatter. But, for those couple of minutes of the race, the sound of horses running fills the air; the thumping as their feet land on each stride. The sound of 13 horses pushing off from the earth, forcing themselves to run, makes my heart beat faster. My legs become restless, and my eyes open up wider. I become blinded and deafened to whatever is around me when I watch these horses take the final turn and start coming down that final stretch. Then the cheering crowd in front of me stands up for the last ten seconds of the race, and I can’t see or hear who wins until it’s replayed on the screen in the middle of the track.

Standing along the outside fence at the racetrack at the Stampede was always a great time. There, you almost want to reach out and feel the horses gallop by. You can see the blood-red on the inside of their nostrils, the veins protruding through their skin, and their muscles contracting with each exertion of strength. At the end of the race, the dirt on the bibs and goggles of the jockeys puts them in the action with an afterthought. And then there’s the steam coming from the noses of the horses as they exhale the heat and energy they’ve generated in only seven furlongs.

Horse racing is just incredible to me. It’s such a great thrill, but it isn’t always a cheap one.

Before I get into how I lost as quickly as these horses run, you should watch this, an episode, “A Little Flutter”, from one of my favourite TV shows, Black Books (just watch the first few minutes, if you don’t want to watch the whole episode):

I showed up around 4:30 in the afternoon because I slept in. As soon as I got there, I had just enough time to place a bet on the tenth race of the day. So I put the $5 I had in my wallet into the machine and placed a $4 bet. I lost but still had a $1 voucher.

Now, I’m not the type of guy who is going to place a measly $1 bet, so I found an ATM and took out $40, which cost me $3 plus whatever the bank is going to charge me — let’s say $2 to make the math easy.

So: 5 – 4 + 40 – 3 – 2 = 36.

The next race, the 11th of the day, was the Queen’s Plate race. I had to bet on this one. I missed the race last year because my “date” had to get back home. I placed various bets on six horses: $12. I won $8.60 on a bet for a horse to show (place in the top three).

36 – 12 + 8.60 = 32.60.

While waiting around for the next — the 12th — race, I bought something to eat for $12.50 and placed a $4 bet. $16.10.

I won $20.20 on the 12th race! $36.30.

Not one to let my luck slide, I placed a $6 bet on the 13th, and final, race of the day. $30.30. I lost by a wide margin. I think two of the three horses I bet on finished last.

With the racing finished, the crowd was flooding out of the building. Disgruntled losers amongst drunk winners, the lot. I decided I’d play the slots for a bit while I waited for the parking lot to empty out. This was my undoing. I would’ve spent less in gas waiting with my car running than I lost in the next 29 minutes and 45 seconds.

First 45 seconds: lost $5 at the penny slots. At the mother fucking 1¢ slots. I didn’t know the minimum bet was 100 tokens. Five times in a row.

Next 3 minutes: lost $5 at the 2¢ slots. I was being cocky and placed 25¢ bets on each roll.

Next 26 minutes: lost $20 at the same 2¢ slot machine. The lady at the machine sitting next to me was winning. She was also being served water and food by another woman who seemed to know her. I was rolling on 10¢ bets until I got tired of losing. I upped it to 25¢, then 50¢, and finally 100¢. My last five rolls were a desperate 1¢ a piece.

Total winnings for the day: 30¢, and only because slot machines only accept bills.

As I was leaving, I made sure to get some hand sanitizer from the dispenser at the exit doors, hoping to disinfect myself of my jonesing. When I got to my car, I smiled as I turned the ignition on, thinking about how I had just lost, but still kind of won. With 196 horses under the hood of my car, I peeled out of the parking lot, looking for a small thrill. I was stopped about 40 m down the road by a red light. The horses never left the gate after that, for all the traffic.

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