The Two Dollar Gambler

January 15, 2015

The track, with broken dreams, broken homes and empty wallets. The characters, the atmosphere. The smell, manure, some of it from horses. Every track has its tales, for every punter knows someone who knows someone. I know someone. The $2 Gambler, the stuff of disgust and admiration. The story of how low one will sink. The story of how God smiled on a dead grandmother.


 His real name isn't important. He was christened Anthony, but using the lingo of the track, we will shorten his name to $2. As with most nicknames, $2 is an apt moniker. You call a tall person "Shorty". You call someone named Campbell "Soupy". $2 was $2 because that's all he ever had to bet at the start of the day.


 $2 was unemployed. He had worked at Kellogg's before it closed and after a frustrating year sending out application after application, with nary a nibble, $2 turned to the track, for entertainment and maybe a chance to be graced by Lady Luck's smile. Money was an unaffordable luxury, so $2 was limited to $7.00 per day to go to the track. After admission ate $5.00, our bettor was left with his nickname.


 Lee Trevino once said that pressure is playing someone a game of golf for $1 and you only have $5 in your pocket, same for $2. Lose the first race and the remainder of your day will depend on the kindness of others. His hope then lay with linking up with another gambler with a reservoir of cash. The correct tip from $2 may result in a cash pay out for the hot tip on an overlooked under-bet nag. Kind of like crime stoppers for bettors. "If your tip pays off, you may stand to recoup a substantial reward".


 No wins ... no food. Losing the first race is a catastrophe. There is a finality to losing the only $2 you have. There is no chance to recoup your losses. I had a track name. Due to the nature of my business working at Toronto Hockey Repair, I was known as the "Skate sharpener". Although the lure of the track was strong with visions of big wins dancing in my head-my heart, (with a not so gentle prod from my mother), caused me to remain the "Skate sharpener" away from the track, limiting my treks to the flats to a monthly sojourn.


 But, as with most things in life, one day I was at the track and I ran headlong into $2. He sidled up to me and wanted to know which horse I liked. I pointed at the tote board and announced that I had the utmost confidence in the 3 horse which was going off at 2-1. 


In fact, I was so confident I was laying $20 on the nose to win. $2 shook his head, and as if scolding a recalcitrant child, lectured me on the merits of the 5 horse. "Take the 5. It's a better horse. It has stamina for each succeeding furlong, its time is consistent and it can't lose."


 I believe that the 3 horse is still running today, in a vain attempt to finish the race. After the pay outs were posted on the board, $2 strolled over waving a pair of $20's. With a smirk, he told me that if "you can't win on a $2 bet; you are not going to win on a $20 bet."


 We started to chat as gamblers do, and discovered his background, his setbacks and his ailing grandmother back in Jamaica. As the day wore on, $2 introduced me to some of his circle of friends.


 Gamblers may not like each other, but they have a common interest. Each can contribute their own piece of the puzzle, which when snugly fitted can pay off handsomely. 


There was the "Kid". He belonged at the track because his father owned a couple of horses. He had a past too, one of which included "playing Junior A hockey" although he had trouble recalling the name of the particular team on which he toiled. The Kid seemed to have dedicated his life to living off and squandering his father's future.

 The Kid's big excitement seemed to be the size of the bet placed, not the pay out. He was not a fan of $2. According to the Kid, he was "nothing but a $2 gambler with a big mouth".


 Later races brought the arrival of the "Engineer". He always showed at the track impeccably dressed in a suit and tie, with a magic mathematical formula tucked under his arm. His algebraic formulations included variables such as times, furlongs, temperatures, weight and the condition of the horse. I am still baffled at how the condition of a horse could be converted into a mathematical equivalent. The Engineer confidently strides up to the betting window, drops $20 across the board on a horse, having fine tuned his calculations. He then returns to his seat to watch his horses lose, with alarming regularity.


$2 enjoyed his chats with the Engineer. The gist of the talk was $2 explaining that all of the mathematical formulae in the world could not predict winners, but gut instinct could. This would immediately bring peals of laughter from the high rollers. The fact that $2 name indicated the size of his wager lessened his credibility with his track pals.

 The third member of the high rollers triumvirate was Riggs, the most wretched of the lot. Days at the track akin to a heroin addict getting their fix. It wasn't a luxury, but a necessity. I learned that away from the track Riggs was into automotive repair. I learned the hard way about Riggs' mechanical acumen. It was equivalent to his success at picking horses. I took my car to Riggs. It was never the same. Riggs epitomized all that I had heard about the down side of the track. He admitted stealing from his wife to feed his habit. He was looking for the big score, although he never attached a dollar value and you got the sense that if he won a million he would complain and moan that it wasn't two million.


 One day Riggs won a Win 4 (predicting the winning horses in four consecutive races). All four were prohibitive favorites so Riggs'$500 bet only returned him a profit of $15. $2 went to congratulate his friend on his good fortune. Riggs went berserk. He started to rant "$15 means nothing to me. It wasn't even worth the bet." Much to $2's horror, Riggs set fire to his ticket. Not only was the $15 in winnings wisping away, so was the original $500 investment. $2 looked at his friend and passed on another pearl of track wisdom. "If you are going to burn the tickets, just bet $2."

 The legend of $2 had even reached the parimutuel windows. On one occasion, when he was down to having his $2 in nickels and dimes, he had to invoke the help of a supervisor to get a clerk to accept the bet.


 I continued to make my monthly forays to the track and because of $2's introductions I was greeted by the Kid, Engineer and Riggs. Only once did my bets ever exceed $20, and it was in concert with these three.


 This particular day, I was associating with this cream of track society, and they had pointed out that $2 seemed quite subdued. I spoke to him and had to agree with the assessment. I had never seen him so low. He told me softly that his grandmother had died and he was trying to scrape up the money to give her a proper burial in Jamaica. He did not seem to be in the mood for company so I went back to the other three, who were greatly excited.


 It seems that the Kid had heard from his father that the 10 horse in the next race was a sure thing. According to the Kid, it was running on Lasix, which seemed to impress his friends (although Lasix is a legal substance in Ontario). By the time the conversation had ended, the Engineer had mathematically proven that it was impossible for the 10 horse to lose, and Riggs was asking everyone in the group for $150 so we could lay down a single $500 bet. Not to be outdone, the Kid proudly announced that not only was the 10 horse running on Lasix, his father had "fixed" the race just for them. It was every bettor's dream. The big score. But with my conscience bothering me, I decided to get one more piece of advice.


 I asked $2 if he wanted to throw his last deuce in with us. $2 said he wouldn't even bet a buck, gave me a faraway look, stated "we have to win this race", and walked away. I decided not to join the group bet.


 Upon $2's departure, Riggs sidled over to me and said "Can't you see a sure thing when you see it? Hell, if $2 was thinking straight, he'd be in on it. He has spent the last couple of days begging for silver, nickels, dimes, and quarters, keeps saying something about his dead grandmother in Jamaica. See how low he's sunk? He's not even $2 anymore." I succumbed. I gave Riggs $150.


 The horses broke from the gate and the 10 horse leapt into the lead, which he held to the top of the stretch. It had been the longest 90 seconds of my life and now time seemed to stretch into eternity. The high rollers were yelling "Move that 10 horse, move that 10 horse".


 I heard another voice, pleading, "Move that 7 horse, move that 7 horse' " It was $2. It was, almost a wail, and sent shivers down my spine. As if on cue, the 10 horse obeyed the high rollers. Acting like a perfect gentleman, he moved to one side and let three other horses pass, including the 7 horse, which won the race. $2 passed me on his way to the window and repeated his pre-race mantra. "We had to win this race. I have some business to take care of."


 A few weeks passed and $2 dropped into my store. He seemed very peaceful and serene. I asked him what he had been up to. He said he had gone back to Jamaica to give his grandmother a decent burial. It was the least he could do since she had raised him, although the funeral had set him back almost $4,000.


 I told him that I heard he hadn't been back at the track since the infamous "fixed" race. He said no, that day had provided him all that he needed and it was time to get out. 


I asked him "the seven horse?" "Triactor" was his reply. He then added it covered the funeral and he couldn't push his luck.


 The Kid, the Engineer and Riggs are still frequents at the track. $2 isn't. He knows that someone wasn't smiling on him that day; they were smiling on a decent woman who had raised a decent grandson. $2 was buried with his grandmother that day. That was more than twenty years ago. $2 became my right hand man and runs my manufacturing division at Goalie Heaven. He recently lost his lovely wife and his only wish is to go back in time to catch the cancer sooner. I told $2 we have to start from the beginning. We will both make that journey back in time together. His real name is what's important. He was christened Anthony Anderson.


 The track housed broken dreams, broken homes and empty wallets. Every track has its tales, for every punter knows someone who knows someone. Just close your eyes Anthony and your wife will come alive for everyone at Toronto Hockey Repair. She will never leave us, and she is proud of you in making the journey back.


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