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Sunday at the track

It’s a dangerous game when it feels this good – but when you’re up a few bucks and winning at the track, it’s hard to remember how losing the last 29 races felt. 

Betting on horses is a lot like life. You pick a path, a plan, a method that you use to help you get ahead. When it works, it explains yours wins and boosts your ego.

For a moment, you’ve got it all figured out. The cash starts to add up. You’re in the green. You suddenly know what it means when Panic At The Disco is heading the herd right out of the first third with odds at 8-1. It makes sense that that jockey’s horse would show instead of place. It really does make a difference that Number 6 has one more win this year over the next best runner. The sun is shining on the track; you see it all so clearly. You buy into the anticipation at $2 a pop as you wonder how much you’ll rake in this round.

And then something happens – your pick doesn’t place. Or win. Or show. It’s last by a mile.

Something went wrong. Your method is broken. It’s time to change gears; or is that unlucky? Do you bet on the horse or do you back the driver? It seems safest to bet with the odds – but even 1-1 isn’t a sure thing. If you’re playing for money, you go to the highest payout. If other people catch on, that system breaks too. Betting ahead of the crowd could leave you with a poor-track record and even poorer odds. If you wait too long, you may forget your pick altogether. Actually, sometimes that works.

With all the unpredictability, there are perhaps only two certainties when it comes to gambling. The first is that highs will inevitably be followed by lows. If you’re lucky, they may eventually be re-followed by highs. But that’s if you keep at it: It’s a numbers game after all, and the more you bet, the more chances you have to get lucky.

All of those numbers mean something. They must mean something. Other than serving as excuses for why you just can’t catch a break. The weather, the music, the number of beers you’ve had, the black cat that didn’t cross your path as you were entering the casino, are also great justifications for why you’re slightly off.

But if methods and justifications aren’t as reliable as we hope, then they really only serve to explain our losses and wins to those around us: Your big winning secret; how to properly choose a winning horse based on its name alone. 

And that’s the second certainty – that betting on horses is a lot like life in that the company you keep as you spend your change and as you spend your time is what makes any day, including a day at the track, a success.

 

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