A Day at the Races


When I was 22 years old I worked nights as a motel clerk. Every night when I came to work I would see an old Cadillac parked in front of the motel. Shortly after midnight a car would pull up in front of the motel and drop off a passenger, an elderly distinguished looking gentleman. He would get into the Cadillac and drive off. Naturally this aroused my curiosity.


I started to wave to the gentleman and he would wave back. Finally, one night he came into the office and introduced himself as “Orly.” After that he would come into the office every night and we would talk. Orly was the first friend I ever had who was not in my age group. In fact, he was around 70 years old. He was quite a character and had a lot of interesting stories to tell of his life.


When I asked him what he was doing every night Orly explained his mysterious schedule. He and some friends were carpooling down to the racetrack in Detroit. After the races they dropped him off at his car.


One night Orly brought in a racing form, taught me how to read it, and invited me to join them for a trip to the track. I had never been to a horse race before and thought it would be fun, so I quickly agreed. We set it up for the next Friday.


The big night came and I got into the car with Orly and his two fellow gamblers. They introduced themselves as “Whitey” and “Sticks.” Odd names, but working in motels at night you meet all kinds of characters like that. I knew one guy who called himself “Bones” and another who called himself “Mister Lucky.” Mister Lucky wore a gold number seven on a gold chain around his neck. Whitey had prematurely white hair and Sticks was a tall thin guy.


When we got to the racetrack they would suggest horses for me to bet on. I didn’t bet much, only $2 here and there. I actually won my first bet on the first race, then lost on the second race.


The third race offered a gimmick bet, called a trifecta. In a trifecta race, rather than just betting on one horse to win, you can bet on a combination of three horses to finish first, second and third. If you got all three horses in the right sequence you win a substantial payoff. Orly explained that with a “wheel” bet you could bet on a trio of horses in all six possible combinations. It cost six times as much as a regular trifecta bet, but I had a few extra dollars from the first race so I thought I would give it a try. I only bet a tiny amount, I think it was $6, but I soon wished I had bet a lot more. My horses won!


Then listening to my friends’ advice, I won again on the fourth race! I couldn’t believe how lucky I was. My friends really knew their stuff; no wonder they were going to the racetracks every night.


After that I was not very lucky. After the eighth race I was ahead about $50 on the night, due to my big trifecta win.  The last race was another trifecta but we decided to beat the rush and leave early. Orly suggested we buy a ticket on the way out, explaining that we could check the results of the race in the next day’s newspaper. After studying the racing form and discussing the options with my companions I put down $6 on a wheel of the 3 4 and 5 horses.


The next morning I checked the paper. I was shocked and thrilled to find out I had won a second trifecta! My $6 ticker was worth over $200.


A few days later I was talking with an old family friend who also was a regular at the track and bragged about my successful venture into the world of big-time gambling. At first he was impressed, until he asked who I went to the track with. When I told him the names he started laughing.


“What’s so funny?” I asked.


“No wonder you won,” he replied. “You went down to the track with the three biggest bookies in town.”


Then it finally dawned on me. The three races I had won must have been fixed in advance. My bookie friends had set me up. I think Orly wanted to recruit me into their organized crime family and was giving me a taste or two of what that life could be like. They even started calling me “Cuz,” short for cousin.


If I had stayed in that job perhaps I’d be a career criminal today.