the cigar smelled expensive. not a cheap smoke for sure but still cigar smoke. he thought of saying something to the guy. instead he looked around for empty seats and searched for some among non smokers. not seeing any he sighed and resigned himself to a day at the races filled with cigar smoke. at least the day was sparkling clear in that early january way you often got in southern california. wet or dry. the day cool in the shadow of the roof over head. the few empty seats filling up fast. first post was forty-five minutes away. waving at some of the cigar smoke with his racing form baldo bustamonte sighed again as he stood up. he unfolded the newspaper and placed it over the back of his seat. the proper way of seat saving at santa anita. if you weren’t aware of that fact you were quickly introduced to it by anyone sitting nearby if you tried to take the seat. common race track etiquette is a way of life in arcadia.
baldo bustamonte made his way to the betting windows where he placed $500 across the board on the number 4, 5, and 8 horses. it was his usual opening race bet. regardless of who the horses or jockeys were or the odds. regardless of anything other than the numbers: 4, 5, and 8. they were a combination of his birth month and birth year. and it was something he’d been doing ever since he started going to the races with his parents back in the early 60’s. too young then to place bets so his mom or dad placed the bets for him. of course, the bet back then was nothing close to his now standard $500 opening bet. over the years he’d actually been fairly lucky with it. maybe lady luck would smile on him again today.
after placing his bet baldo wandered over to a concession stand and bought a couple of hot dogs and a draft beer. he brought the food and drink back to his seat and was elated to see the cigar smoker’s seat was empty and there was no newspaper or racing form over it’s back. maybe today was going to be a lucky day after all. smiling and humming an old gram parsons tune while he ate, baldo almost choked on his beer when a stunning young lady made her way to the now empty seat. stunning and alone. fortune was indeed smiling on baldo this cool clear january afternoon. or so it seemed.
the well dressed young woman got up and placed her racing form over the back of the seat. sweet, baldo thought, she’s here for awhile at least. while thinking that thought their eyes met and baldo felt a quick jolt as the young lady smiled at him. post time was quickly approaching so she was probably on her way to make a bet. baldo decided to let things take whatever course they would take regarding the young lady. he wasn’t going to push it. even though pushing it wouldn’t be a bad idea. she was gorgeous. he was there for the races and hopefully for a much needed inflow of cash. not there to get lucky with the ladies. ladies usually meant a cash outflow. time would tell on both counts.
first post had sounded and the horses were out on the track walking to the starting gate when the young woman returned. she removed the newspaper from the back of her seat and shot baldo another jolting smile. if this keeps up, he thought, i’m in trouble. baldo bustamonte needed a clear head if he was going to make any money on the horses today. though he did smile back. more like a lopsided ear to ear grin. he told himself to chill out as he began to study the second race card in the racing form.
as the horses neared the starting gate baldo put down his paper and watched them enter the gate with his field glasses. they were a calm lot and none of them seemed to be spooked by anything or anyone. probably a good sign. when the last horse entered the gate a split second later the bell rang and the track announcer’s voice came over the speakers. ‘and they’re off!’
as the horses made their first pass in front of the stands baldo was pleasantly surprised to see the 4, 5, and 8 horses in the lead running neck and neck. rounding the first turn it seemed as if they were beginning to pull away while still running as a trio. neck and neck. the clear almost three dimensional san gabriel mountains are the perfect backdrop to the santa anita backstretch. the backstretch where baldo’s horses were still neck and neck and a good two lengths in front of the next horse. as he watched the three horses through his field glasses he began to feel his pulse quicken. there was nothing like it. a bunch of money riding on the first race. a bunch of money on your horses in the first race. and your horses in the lead as they approached the second turn and the home stretch.
coming through the last turn almost seemed to slingshot the three horses down the home stretch. their lead now three and a half lengths. still running neck and neck. baldo stood up and cheered his horses on. the rest of the crowd was on their feet as well. yelling. cheering. urging on the horses. by the time they reached the finish line they were five lengths in front and the number 4 horse had the lead by a neck. the number 5 horse in second by a nose with number 8 in the show position as they thundered past and crossed the finish line. baldo bustamonte was ecstatic as he yelled and jumped up and down. he’d done a quick calculation in his head and figured he was now up in the neighborhood of $2,300. sweet indeed.
the crowd began to calm down a bit but there was still a buzz in the air. they had just seen something almost magical. something almost unbelievable. three horses running neck and neck. wire to wire. a few minutes later when the numbers were posted baldo let out a shriek when he saw he’d won $2,556 on the first race. a new record for him and his standard opening bet. he was still jumping up and down yelling when the young lady turned and looked at him saying.
‘you must have hit the jackpot.’
‘pretty much. it’s a nice hit for sure. my biggest first race ever.’
yeah. lucky me. thought baldo bustamonte. lucky me.
baldo sat down and dug out his winning ticket from his shirt pocket. he held it in both hands as he looked at it. while he was staring at the ticket he was drawn from his reverie once again by the young lady.
‘i won a couple of bucks too. let’s cash our tickets in and get a drink.’
baldo looked up at her smiled and said. ‘sure. sounds like a plan to me.’
as the two made their way to the nearest aisle baldo was thinking this was turning out to be a very lucky day indeed. when they got to the asile baldo introduced himself. as they were shaking hands the young lady told baldo her name was, jenny rider. they walked up the stairs to the pay out windows and collected their winnings, chatting along the way.
since they had forgotten to save their seats baldo suggested an upgrade to the ‘turf club’ for their drink. his treat. jenny agreed and they made their way to the club. once inside they got their drinks sat down and chatted some more. it turned out jenny had come to the track with some guy she’d recently started dating. for some reason or another they gotten into a fight and jenny had left the guy and wandered over into the area where baldo was sitting in order to get away from the guy. baldo just listened and sipped his vodka rocks while inserting ah huhs and nods as needed. jenny was saying that the problem now was she had no ride home. baldo, being ever the gentleman, said he’d be willing to give jenny a ride home after the last race. jenny smiled and told him thanks. the stupid lopsided grin was back on baldo’s face
the two new friends spent the rest of the day in the ‘turf club’ betting on the horses and getting to know each other. they seemed to be hitting it off fairly well. baldo’s luck stayed with him as well. he won several more races and collected another $1,800 or so. after the eighth race baldo asked if jenny had had enough of the races and if she wouldn’t mind leaving now so they could miss the majority of the crowd heading home later. jenny agreed. she then suggested stopping at a restaurant she knew of on the way for dinner. baldo said fine with him. yes, things were looking up for baldo bustamonte. or so it seemed.