One of our family outings as a child was a memorable train ride from Santa Ana to Del Mar, California to the racetrack. Del Mar Race Track was owned at that time by Bing Crosby, I think. This would have been around 1960 or so.
I was the middle child and so had little supervision and would engage in conversation with anyone I might corner.
I was seated by a man on the train. I might have joined him or vice versa.
In any case, we had a nice conversation and he gave me a tip on a race. Perhaps he was retired and a professional handicapper or rail bird at the track.
In any event, he pulled out tow one dollar bills and wrote a name on one. That name was “Aldershot.” I will never forget that horses name.
Obviously just getting a couple of bucks from a stranger was exciting enough. But now I had a tip on a horse and was a little more interested in or outing to the racetrack now.
Is this a way for a youngster to spend the day? I thought so, so far. I had received free money and a tip on a horse. What more could a seven or eight year old boy need. Girls were still along way out in my future, so this would suffice nicely.
We eventually reached the beautiful grounds of the track. I can still remember the large statue of the horse and jockey. The train ride to the track seemed to take forever to me, an over energized young boy. I don’t know if it is still there. I have never been back.
Eventually, the race with my horse in it arrived. I was more than excited as my father walked off to bet, again. I had been waiting through several races for my father to bet for me and I’m sure I had pestered my parents to no end. That was who I was and perhaps still am.
The horses slowly walked by and my father pointed out the horse he had bet on for me. He was a tall brown giant and as fit as any of the horses on the track. They pranced by us at the rail, pulling on their reigns trying to run away as the jockeys held them tightly and whispered to them now and then.
It would be a tough test for my horse to win this race. All the horses towered over me and seemed vey fit.
It turns out that the odds were in my favor. It didn’t take a genius to figure out who would win the race, but I didn’t know this until years later. I thought that the man on the train was very special and “in the know.” The daily racing from picked hm as the favorite.
The horses slowly entered the gate and tried to settle in. The two horse reared up and almost tossed the jockey beneath him. Two others near by picked up the vibe and started to become more restless than they were before, if possible. Another pulled tightly against his jockey’s hands as the bell sounded and the doors sprang open. He got the best break.
The horses exploded from the gate and were instantly running at full speed. The two horse got a bad breakaway as he was misbehaving.
Aldershot was in the middle of the pack as they passed by us. I was excited and scared to death. The hooves beating the soft soil made a thundering sound as the horses shot by like brown rockets fired all at once.
As they rounded the first turn I could see the spaces between them but had no idea where Aldershot was in relationship to the front of the pack.
My father was watching intently and turned to me. “He looks trapped in the middle of the pack.” I wasn’t as excited as before. That comment took the wind out of my sails.
I was too sort to see much else as they rounded the second turn on the track. My father watched intently, but said nothing. I waited with hope in my heart for any word about Aldershot. My mother stood by us, saying nothing. What was she thinking at the time? Had my father bet the rent money?
The dash along the back stretch was quick and the horses were soon spreading out. The early starters began to fade and those at the rear of the pack were now moving forward. The horse in front faltered as he ran out of speed and oxygen and was now in fourth place as his stride shortened. Where was Aldershot?
They reached the final corner and were heading toward us at break neck speed. The jockeys floated above the small brown saddles beneath them. The jockeys were busy rapidly whipping the horse’s necks and flanks with enthusiasm. The horses had white froth around their mouths.
The roar of the crowd grew louder as the horses rapidly came closer to us.
Aldershot was in second now and making his move. Or was Aldershot a filly? I had no idea and didn’t care. Aldershot flew by us in a flash. I could only see the horse’s colors and chunks of the damp earth fly up into the air behind the horses as they passed.
It was just a bright, fast moving blur as they passed by me, a small boy at the race track for the fist time.
“Dad, did Aldershot win?”
“Of course he did Raymond. He was the favorite.” I had no idea what that meant at the time.
The race ended quickly after what seemed like a never ending wait. It was the third race and seven more came and horses passed by again and again. The seemed to drag by now.
My dad handed me my winnings as we reached the seats on the train. I would have lost it if he had given it to me sooner, no doubt. I looked for my new friend, but he was nowhere to be seen.
Perhaps he stayed at the track with his winnings and went to the bar. I have no idea, but I will never forget him or his kindness.
I wondered what I might do with the money.
My dad saw my face and spoke. “It’s your money Ray, you can do whatever you want with it.”
I hadn’t started the habit of building model cars yet, I was far too young. But I did enjoy eating. I lived in a restaurant after all, remember?
I went to the dinning car and had a fine meal on the way home. I think it was a cheeseburger with fries and loads of ketchup. That was followed by some ice cream for dessert. I watched the ocean pass by as I ate my meal.
When we reached the train station in Santa Ana, I was very satisfied with my day. I had made a new friend. He had given two dollars to me as well as a tip on a horse and it had won. I had had bought a a fine meal on the way home with my winnings. What more could a young boy wish for?
By the way, don’t worry about what your kids eat. My sister lived on hotdogs and I ate more hamburgers and french fries smothered in ketchup than any human on Earth for several years and we both turned out alright.