de-gen-er-ate gam-bler

Photo Credit - W. Griffey

Urban Dictionary: An individual who possesses a one-way ticket to prison. Who gambles not only their money and reputation, but also their sexual organs, their best friends, and their dreams. Sometimes I can relate. Except for the sexual organs part.

It's because I want to be smarter than you. That's why I do it.

By choice, I don't do it very often. Perhaps it's because I can feel the loss of control and I don't like that very much. Or maybe it's because on most days I force myself to stay on this side of the edge.

Sure, the guys and I get together a few times a year for poker and we always gamble a little when we play golf. I'll bet on football games occasionally and I've spent many late nights and early mornings in Vegas casinos on "work trips."

But nothing pulls me as close to the edge as horse racing. It's those fleeting moments when a blur of color and dirt rumble pass and the adrenaline washes over me and I know in an instant that I'm the smartest mother fucker on the planet because I KNEW it would turn out exactly this way.

I'm even smarter than everybody else that put money on the winner because they don't know it like I know it. They bet on the color or the horse's name or some dumb shit like that but I combined all those factors with what I know and I KNEW this moment would come. I knew it in the minutes before the race started. I knew it early in the morning when I first started looking through the program and studied race times and bullet works. I'm the only one that knew.

The money doesn't matter. In fact, money only makes it worse. If I bet $50 on a winner, I'm pissed because I didn't bet $500 or $50,000. Who cares if I don't have that much, I still shoulda bet it. I SHOULDA SOLD ALL MY BLOOD BEFORE THE RACE STARTED AT THE BETTING WINDOW.

You knew this was going to happen so how can the smartest man on the planet be such a dumb ass tight wad?

And then there are the losses.

They happen much more frequently than the wins, but that doesn't matter. A loss is simply a chance to learn. How did I not know that the 3 horse would finish like that? Why didn't I see that the 8 would run into the 7 and cut him off? A loss only means that I'll be so much smarter next time. And that's why I keep going back there.

My parents married and moved to Ruidoso, New Mexico, when they were 17. My dad started working as a night clerk at the 7-Eleven on the corner of Sudderth and Mechem in 1972. I was born in December of '73 and we lived in a small house on the edge of town until a few months after my first birthday when we moved away. I've been back hundreds of times since I guess.

There is nothing fancy about Ruidoso which makes it one of the best places on earth. There is a great mix of Eastern New Mexico and West Texas flavor and nobody is gonna go out of their way to impress you, unless they're from Dallas.

We try to get there twice a year, but summers are the best. The danger of sliding off a cliff is much lower in the summer and it also gives me the glorious chance to prove that I'm smarter than you.

This year some friends from San Antonio joined us and lots of Lubbock friends were in town too. It was my time to shine. We took the kids to Fun Trackers and raced go-karts. Then we went to the arcade and I blacked out for a bit. I spent $32 trying to win my son a Mickey Mouse key chain because he really wanted it and I REALLY wanted it and I needed to show everyone in the arcade how smart I was.

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I didn't win the Mickey Mouse key chain. The game was rigged and I still owe random kids lots of quarters.

We played some golf and played some cards. Fried a few turkeys and drank lots of beer. On Thursday morning I got up early and headed to the convenience store on Sudderth and Mechem where my dad worked as a night clerk so many years ago. I stood in line behind a short haired girl buying a Red Bull and two small bottles of vodka. She must've been heading to work. When she finished I bought a race program.

I had to get to the track before the first race because Joe Kirk Fulton had a horse trying to qualify for the Rainbow Derby. He came in 3rd and I cashed a small ticket.

Race 2 had my favorite trainer but his horse veered out of the gate and never recovered. How did I miss that?

In Race 3 I hit an exacta and a win ticket and realized how stupid the rest of the humans on earth really were. How did everyone not know? I grew about a foot and bought ice cream for every kid I could find.

Races 4 through 8 were chock full of learning opportunities. How the hell did the 7 jump the gate, then get reloaded, and win? Inconceivable.

I bought a beer from my favorite old cowboy near the track entrance. He's got 17 kids and plays old country songs while he pours your drink. In years past we used to talk about jockeys and horses but now he just seems tired. He said this will probably be his last year. I left him a tip and wished him the best.

I went and sat in the reserve seats with some old friends from Lubbock. They were there with their cousin, a former jockey. He told me he liked Retama and Lone Star and really like Shreveport but the food was too good and jockeys aren't supposed to eat. He convinced us all to bet big on the 5 horse, a long shot that held the lead until he faded down the stretch. He shrugged it off and bought another drink. I didn't have enough money left to buy a beer.

I sat out a few races, constantly fighting the urge to hit the ATM HARD LIKE RUSSIAN. I had a few bucks so I did a couple of straight trifectas but nothing hit. My wife had been shopping all day and got to the track just prior to the last race. She was just in time.

I took all her cash and bet it on the 4 horse.

Why are his odds so high? I checked my program. I checked the app on my phone. I checked my tip sheet. Everything about this horse screams winner. I picked this horse early this morning, what the hell is wrong with everybody?

His odds start to come down, which is calming yet frustrating at the same time. He settled at to $6.40, which is still a 3 to 1 payoff. I can definitely redeem myself with that.

Finally the horses load and break from the gate. The 4 horse bolts to the lead into the first turn, way too fast which makes me cringe. Down the back stretch he maintains an advantage but the damn 7 horse is staying with him and is positioning for a run down the final stretch. I can feel my heart race and the adrenaline starts to ooze down the top of my head. I think the crowd is cheering but I'm not sure. All I can hear is hooves and the cracking of whips. The 7 is closing. The 4 is getting tired. Nostrils are flaring. Their eyes are so big and white when they are full throttle.

Whip.....Whip.....Whip....Whip...Whip..Whip.Whip.

A blur of color and dirt as they cross the finish line.

The 4 held on. He won by a head.

I can feel the power bulging in my eyes and I can hear the blood flowing through my veins. A voice in my head chides me for not selling some sexual organs to make a bigger bet but I drown it out. In that instant I bask in the glow because I am the smartest mother fucker on the planet once again.

I cash my ticket and walk toward the exit with my family and friends. We are all on top of the world, happy as can be because I won.

And deep down I know that could be a big problem.

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