My father was a gambler in all senses of the word.
At some point he grew tired of working and making money for someone else so he went out on his own. He had taken us to many different cities in California and Nevada working at his craft. He was a lather and plaster working on new homes after the war.
We lived in a thirty-five foot trailer at this time, so moving was no problem and there were just the two boys at the moment.
My father was a brilliant man with a restless soul who loved a little of the fast life, as far as I can tell. My mother and father were both Mormons, but not so interested in that life style.
This story is about our train adventure to Del Mar Racetrack in Southern Ca.
I was never a shy person. Perhaps it was due to the fact that I was working in our restaurant at an early age in front of hundreds of people or maybe that is just my personality from the get go.
We caught the train at the Santa Ana train station, as we lived there for many years while I was young. I have been back to that train station many times since then. It is a beautiful Spanish styled building. Since I worked with plaster and tile, I see the beauty of the building that many travelers might not even notice.
We boarded the train and soon found our car and seats.
I was a restless child so this trip might have been a blessing for my mother. I was trapped in a long metal tube and free to wander but not so free that my mother couldn’t keep an eye on me if she wanted.
I walked along the isle looking at my fellow travelers and soon met a friendly looking man along the way and joined him on his seat. I was perhaps seven or eight. It might have been a Saturday but I was often taken out of school for family sojourns during the week as we worked most weekends. Tuesdays were our favorite days to play hooky. A slow day in the restaurant business.
The man in question seemed pleasant enough. He let me sit next to him and we talked of racehorses and jockeys. Not my favorite topic, but plainly his.
I mostly remember him reaching into his jacket pocket and taking out his thick wallet. He took two dollars from it and wrote Aldershot on one of the bills.
He turned to my parents and said, “Place the boy’s bet on Aldershot. It’s a sure thing.” I watched as the money changed hands.
This was all new to me of course, as this was my first trip on a train and to the racetrack. The man giving me some betting money was an added surprise and exciting.
“What if I won?” I had no idea what the process was. As it turned out, this wouldn’t be my last trip to the track.
Did you know that Bing Crosby owned Del Mar Race Track years ago? He owned Minute Maid Orange Juice as well, I believe.
We eventually arrived at the track after that wonderful ride along the Pacific Ocean and walked toward the track entry and grand stands. There was a life sized statue of a horse and jockey there in a fine circle of grass to ponder. I remember thinking, “that’s a large horse and a very small man.”
Of course the pageantry of the races is wonderful and full of color and noise. I heard the bugle blare as the large horses came prancing by with their small jockeys placed precariously on their backs. It was just what the doctor ordered for a hyper active boy.
It was wonderful.
My parents watched a few races until my race was at hand. I was more interested in the torn up pieces of tickets on the ground. They were colored in all the colors of the rainbow. I didn’t understand then that those were torn reminders of dashed dreams.
I’m sure my father had bet on a few races by the time mine arrived. He had a few beers as well, perhaps.
I suppose my mother knew what she was getting into when she married my father, but then again…
Perhaps she was looking for a new start in life after a very short, first marriage.
In any case, my race was at hand and all of the horses were soon warming up on the track. My father left for the wagering windows to bet and arrived back just as the horses were coming to the gate. It took some time. He came back with the tickets in his one hand and a beer in the other.
My father looked down at me and spoke, “Look R.C. that’s your horse over there with the jockey dressed in the jacket with red and white squares and the number five on the saddle blanket.” I was impressed at once.
Aldershot was huge and nearly snorted fire from his nostrils or so I thought at the time. He was wonderful. His head jerked from side to side as he strained at the reigns held by the tiny jockey’s strong hands. The sky was a perfect blue.
Ten horses were loaded into the gate and tried to stand still enough for the gateman to release them. He watched them closely. Their feet stomped the ground and their haunches flexed. They looked as if the might jump the gates.
They all settled for an instant and the gateman pushed the button in his hand to open the gates.The bell rang and they were off.
The announcer started his lively banter as the horses quickly bolted from the gates and shot down the track into the first corner. Dirt flew up into the air behind them.
They all made it around the first turn of the track bumping and jockeying for position. One jockey hit another with his whip as the crowd watched breathlessly and the victim of his abuse returned the favor. The crowd was silent for an instant.
There was money riding on this race and no one wanted to see a foul called.
The pack broke in two with the five slower horses falling back for a breath while the quick starters left them behind. The crowd’s screaming started again.
Aldershot was the first horse in the second pack. His jockey started to beat him feverishly and he slowly moved up to the outside and soon reached the first group of horses, leaving four horses behind him.
The those horses which had started out so fast in the beginning of the race began to falter one by one and soon Aldershot had passed one horse and then two and then three.
By the end of the back straight he was in third place but on the outside.
The distance he had to cover was much greater than those on the inside, obviously.
My father watched in awe as Aldershot lengthened his stride and was soon passing another horse as he made the last turn on the final stretch. Perhaps my father had bet on the horse as well, I’m not sure.
Soon the horses were almost half way down the final stretch with Aldershot running third with the other two horses in front slowing down just a little. He had easily passed a pack of three more horses. The three all gathered closely together.
As the horses came around the final turn and nearer the crowd, the noise grew even louder with yells and screams and waving fists with tickets grasped tightly in them, held high.
The horses finished in a three way photo finish. The crowd was stunned and left wondering who had won the race.
In a few moments the photo had been analyzed and the results flashed up on the board.
The five horse was the winner. My horse had won the race.
He was the favorite of course and paid little. I received $3.40 for a two dollar bet. Some times the risk is worth it. This was one of those times. I was thrilled. I had won my first bet on a horse race.
The trip home on the train was wonderful. Basking in the emotions of victory and eating all that $3.40 could buy in the dinning car. I was content when we reached home and I was a gambler now. I had won a few bucks, eaten well and come home broke.
But I had had a great time, made few new friends and felt the trill of a lifetime. That is the gamblers credo, isn’t it?
This train below was photographed in Cuba on a sugar plantation or Rum factory several years ago. It wasn’t new then, nothing is new in Cuba. But it looked to be well cared for.
“Sunrise, Sunset”, my book of short stories is on Amazon and Audible now.