The hidden years in Canada 18, horse racing

Door San-Daniel gepubliceerd op Sunday 22 March 09:07


The horses

Calgary had a long history of horse racing. A tradition that went back to 1884 when the first race took place between McLaughlin against Tom Parson. The prize was, for that time, the huge amount of $ 200. It would take another three years before in 1887, horse racing officially would be held each week for the general public. Calgary was the leader in North America with respect to the races and it was in 1930 that she made use as the first track in the world of an automatic starting gate. That was the same year that the first Calgary riding cap for jockeys was introduced.

Richard's mother had indeed befriended a jockey and apparently it was more than just a friendship. We walked behind them and came to the stables where you normally as public could not enter. The owners are terrified that their horse will be slipped something. It had occurred in the past that they would attempt to drug each other’s horses. There is a lot of money riding on horses, you run the stable with her team and a coach who will not deviate from the side of the horse until the jockey comes to get the horse for the race. It looked like Richard's mother knew quite a few horse people, she was greeted any way from all sides. Along with her jockey friend she strolled past the stables and we followed a piggy back way. ‘ This is fast hoofs, ‘said her friend and he looked at her knowingly. I was wondering if horse racing was ‘fixed'. I assumed that some manipulation took place.

The jockey could obviously not bet, but the mother of Richard could. Here and there a trainer was talking to a jockey or a jockey was stroking his horse, uttering reassuring words. There was tension in the air. The horses would be led out and moments later they would thunder away, thereby evoking an enthusiasm that would last the race and die off again until the starting gate for the next heat would open. An expectant tension hung in the air. Richard's mother obviously knew what was about to happen, she turned abruptly after she had wished her jockey good luck and walked with us in the wake, out of the stables. ‘Ah,’ she said, ‘fresh air, boy that stinks in there.’  I had considered the smell acrid manure as nice. I understood from this that she did not really like horses and she came because she liked the jockey more than Richard realized, or quite simply to make money.


The stands were buzzing with excitement and we watched with great interest the folder with horse names, racing stables and additional data. ‘ Fast courtly 'had already won a lot of matches, the information showed and was classified as favorite. After a few moments it dazzled me, all the horse names and I realized that you really had to go often to the races, to be able to say anything meaningful about which horse was capable or not. I resolved that if I'd bet all, I would bet on the same horse as Richard's mother. That mother studied the leaflet carefully and put a pencil mark on a horse’s name here and there. ‘Don,’ I asked, ‘do you have any idea how it's done?’ ‘No idea,’ he replied, ‘but if I bet I'll follow Richard's mother. ‘Look,’ I thought, 'that is a unique idea born in multiple minds simultaneously. I'm going to do so as well, ‘I said. Bev sat next to Richard's mother and took notes. Under the stands was a corridor and there were the counters where you could put money on horses. The 'bookies' were waiting patiently. Ten minutes before a race, they closed the wickets, ruling out the possibility to bet on the participating horses.

I read that rock bottom was a longshot. He once had unexpectedly won a race and then again for months had performed moderately, fast hoofs almost always ended with the first three. If you bet on him you had a chance of 1 in 3 that he would win. If you bet one dollar and fast hoofs indeed was the first over the finish, then you got paid three dollars. A horse like Rock bottom was a longshot and paid 1 in 15, but the chances of a longshot winning from the favourites was negligible. You almost certainly would lose your dollar, but if a longshot was to win than every dollar you had put in was worth $ 15.

Richard's mother disappeared occasionally to the counters with the bookies to occasionally win or lose some money. It appeared for a lower payout you could also bet on a breakaway, or just who would come in last. Then she’d sit back a while mumbling and taking notes. It was exciting but in reality if you had no money riding on a horse, you were less involved. ‘The following is the last heat,’ said Richard's mother, ‘so if you want to bet, then this is the time.’ ‘I have my pocket money on me,’ said Bev, ‘I want to take a gamble.’ We stood in line behind Richard's mother. She put 20 dollars on fast hoofs and I followed her move with 5 dollar. I got a ticket for the final heat with on it: fast hoofs; odds 1: 3, $ 5


We were just above, on the stand, with a bag of popcorn when Richard's mother announced that she’d go to the toilet. ‘Then I'll go with you,’ Bev laughed, ’to powder my nose.’ They had just left when the bell rang: ‘last bets,’ said the voice from the speaker. By the next bell the counters would close and could not be used anymore. When the ladies came back it was almost time for the final heat. There was an excited tension in the air. It would be a half-mile sprint. The starting gun sounded and the gate folded away and the horses darted out. We got up to see better who was leading. it was fast hoofs, I began to cheer. ‘Come on boy,’ I cried and laughed. The jockey was indeed fast and drove his horse on and on. 1 stands to 3, I thought, sorry that I had not put in more, my five dollar bet would soon be worth 15 dollars. From the back lines a horse broke loose, there was a cloud of dust around him and his hooves came thundering down the track. Number 20 I thought and I looked at the list, it was the long shot, Rock bottom. Fast hoofs moved away a little more ahead of the leaders there were people next to me now screaming and jumping up and down.

In the last round of the dust cloud, number 20 came up behind the lead group. Bev was frantically shouting, ‘come on baby, come on. ‘Ha,’ I thought, ‘ she cheering on the wrong horse.’ They came around the bend dusting the air like a thunderstorm hooves in high gear. Number 20 passed the other two horses and still seemed to have reserve. The jockey of fast hoofs now hung about the neck of his runner. With the whip hand, he whipped the horse on its hind flank. Rock bottom now ran parallel with fast hoofs and together they thundered across the finish line. People were frantically screaming their heads off, they had just seen again an unexpected miracle horse. The announcer still had not announced a winner and the tension rose to blistering heights. The loud speaker beeped at last. ‘By photo finish decided,’ it said, ‘we have a winner, with half a nose length is the winner Rock, ladies and gentlemen, bottom !! ' There goes my $ 5 and I thought Richard and Don looked glum as well. The only ones of us who were cheering deliriously were Bev and Richard's mother.


‘We lost,’ I said. ‘Yes and no,’ laughed Bev. ‘On fast hoofs we have lost, but when Richard's mother went to the bathroom, she stopped at the counter and put all her money on Rock bottom and so did I, after we went, the window closed. I put in $ 11, she laughed. So, beware ‘llI get $ 165 back, 1 in 15, right? I've put in $ 120 said Richard's mother. ‘Holy shit’, I thought, ‘ she is getting $ 2400 which are 6 monthly wages for me! ‘

The Pontiac stopped at Pop’s soda shop and we got out and went to our table. ‘ It is my treat, ‘said Bev. 'Pop can we have four milkshakes please? ‘ ‘None of that,’ said Pop, ‘I am treating,’ would you also like a burger to go with it? ‘ ‘Is it your birthday Pop,’ I asked? ‘Something like that,’ he laughed, ‘I have placed a bet, Ha ha, $ 30 on Rock bottom.‘ Were we, Don, Richard and I, really the only suckers in the world?

San Daniel March 2015

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