14 September 2010

Baron Plays the Horses

Listening to: Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros, "Home."

The one thing I've been able to do this summer, since I can't surf or play basketball, is attend the horse races. Del Mar Racetrack is one of the few remaining tracks left on the West Coast I believe. It's open from July until September and the slogan is "Where the Surf Meets the Turf," which finally made sense to me once I stopped to think about it.

Little known fact: I've read the entire Black Stallion series of books. You didn't know there was a whole series did you? As a kid, I dutifully read them all. I couldn't recall the name of the author until I looked it up, and was surprised to see that Walter Falrey wrote the first book in 1941. For the next forty or so years, Falrey continued the legacy of The Black Stallion and his greatest rival, the Island Stallion -- who was a wild red horse named Flame. Twenty or so probably formulaic books about horse and human, horse and human but I absolutely loved them.

In fact I was thinking that the young adult / middle grade market was ripe for another horse series but it turns out I'm apparently already way behind on that. For example, there's the Wildwood Stables series by Suzanne Weyn, who also writes the Stablemates series for younger readers. And then there's the Horse Diaries (Catherine Hapka) and Canterwood Crest (Jessica Burkhart), the latter of which features serious looking young girls on the covers. Which is good, because horse riding should be taken seriously.

George and I used to take some horse riding lessons when we were in our early teens, as we lived around some horse ranches. We'd had some experience with horses before from this camp thing we used to go to. That had been Western style riding though, which is just being slouchy and getting over your fear of being on a moving animal. These proper lessons however, were for riding English style, which meant you had to get the special little hat and ride with your butt off the saddle and your legs get all tired because you are perched the horse.

Needless to say, we quickly gave up that hobby after investing big money in riding helmets we barely used. I think back to some of the random lessons George and I were subjected to and I guess we should thank our parents. It must dearly disappoint them that we've become pretty skill-less adults. But hey, they tried.

Anyway, my friend and I have been going to the racetrack nearly every Wednesday because that's when admission is free and beer is cheap, as long as you're a member of the ultra-exclusive Diamond Club. I thought we'd win big but so far all we've proven to be good at is picking last place horses. Even in races where we've bet on four of the seven participants, we invariably can't pick a winner. How is that possible?

Beginner horse bettors pick their potential winners based on catchy names. That's a huge mistake. We never did that because Ashley and I are not idiots now are we? So our first strategy was to pick only horses from Kentucky -- while avoiding any horse from overseas or Flordia. That led to a minor loss. Then we heard picking the best jockeys was the way to go. But it turns out that the best jockeys only win about twenty percent of the time. Still some losses. After some analysis, I determined that I was going to bet on the inside and outside horses every time. A few spotty wins. And then maybe one of us picked up a racing digest fresh from the trash and took it home with us to see if it was helpful. Maybe that newspaper had a piece of used gum stuck on it. Maybe we'll never do that again.

We like the races because it's usually a cheap way to hang out. If we win a bit of money and cover parking and a beer or two, that's a win. Then Ashley's friend won like mega money and revealed to us that we were missing the boat by not boxing a trifecta. I looked up what that was. Aha, the odds are much better. The savvy horse better trifectas it. Of course, the racing season is over now so I'll never know if I'm any good at picking the first three horses. In order no less.

I'm gonna go see if any of those Black Beauty books are still in the garage.