Long before Off Track Betting came to New York City, and before my father had a license to drive to the race track, my mother developed a love of horse racing. Well, not so much horse racing, per se, but betting on horses. Every night, after dinner and until bedtime, she would study the racing statistics in the newspaper for hours. She would make her calculations based on the horse’s owner, trainer and rider plus past performance stats. She was very good at it too.
I first learned about this “secret” passion when I was very young, maybe 4 years old. First thing every morning my mother would place a mysterious phone call to her “bookie.” It would go something like this: “Hello Charlie, this is Ruth. Two dollars to win on Lover Lips in the second race, four dollars for win and place on Blabber Mouth in the seventh race.” One day she notice I was standing right there while she was placing her call. My mother’s name was Jennie, so when she referred to herself as “Ruth” I may have made a funny face. After her call, she told me in no uncertain terms, that I was never to mention these calls to my father. And, lucky for her, I didn’t.
Soon, I was to meet the mysterious Charlie the bookie. One day, after my mom got dressed, we went shopping at the local vegetable store. We went there every day for fresh produce. As we walk in, the owner says “Hi Ruth.” The owner’s real name is Nick, not “Charlie“. I later learn that the “code” names were used in case there was ever any wire tapping of telephones. Some money changes hands between my mom and the grocer. The money he gives her are her “winnings” and the money she gives him were for her new day's “bets.” Sometimes we actually bought vegetables.
Over the years, my mother spoke about her “hobby” and eventually told my father, who also acquired an interest in betting on horses too. I picked up quite a bit of information myself from the conversations they had, but was never really interested in gambling.
One day, when I was dating my future husband, he asked me where I would like to go. It was a beautiful day so I suggested going to the Aqueduct Race Track. We could sit outside all day watching the horses and have a bite to eat. When we got to the track I suggested we get programs for the races, which were twenty-five cents, just so we would know what was going on even though we weren‘t there to bet. While everyone was placing bets between races I was showing my husband-to-be the program and explaining what to look for. For the first race, I explained how I would pick which horse was going to win and marked it in the program. My horse ended up winning the first race and my husband was impressed. I did the same thing for the second race as I explained the Daily Double (first and second race winners). My pick for the second race also won. We sat down and reviewed the third race horses and once again I picked the winner. My amazed husband turns to me and says, “Maybe we should place bets on the next race?” I said, “Ok if you want to, we can.” We placed bets on the next few races and came away with some money…it wasn’t a fortune, but it was enough for a free day at the track and dinner.
Like most of you, I learned a lot of things from my mother. But, I will “bet” all of you never learned how to pick a winner at the race track! Now that’s a bet I’m sure to win!