Tony: Hey, boss! C’mere! Sun-Up is the worst horse on the track!
Dr. Hackenbush: I notice he wins all the time.
Tony: Aw, just because he comes in first.
Dr. Hackenbush: Well, I don’t want ’em any better than first.”
– from A Day at the Races, 1937
Buenos Aires – It was their first horse race. My friend Barbara called up and asked if I wanted to join her and a couple of friends and spend the afternoon at the races. I’m not clear how it all came about, but apparently, it was the first time in their lives (a local couple in their 60s) they’d been to the track. Now, for most people, in most places, that’s probably not at all unusual. It probably isn’t here either. It’s just that it’s so much easier here. The track is located right in the city, the Hipodromo, in Palermo, the admission fee is a whopping 3 pesos for men, free for women (to help “civilize the atmosphere”), the track has a restaurant, cafe, bleachers, and, of course, horses. You can place bets if you want – a whole peso minimum. Or you can just hang out and soak up the sun and the atmosphere. But they’d never been… it was… “an embarrassment” to be seen at the track. I wasn’t clear how much of it was a social class thing – “only the wealthy or the desperate…” or how much was the being Jewish thing… while not banned by any scriptures, gambling is historically frowned upon.
I’ve been to the Meadowlands race track in New Jersey a few times. A few of us used to go and have dinner at the restaurant there, place a few bets, and have a good time. It was an interesting night out. We limited ourselves to $2 bets, usually one per race, and so even if we lost every time, it only added maybe $20 to the cost of dinner. Here, of course, with sixteen races being run over the course of the day, and a one peso bet on each if you wanted, you could lose… well, 16 pesos, plus your admission fee. And, of course, everyone has a system. Of our little quartet, one had decided to study the racing papers for the day before and try to understand the whole system, and placed bets following some paper’s recommendation. Another chose by the horse’s name. My system, developed over time with great attention to detail, has always been to go with an aesthetic approach – at the Meadowlands that meant choosing from the listed colors that the horse and jockey were wearing – extending that locally to the Palermo Hipodromo, you can actually walk up and see the horses eye to eye, the jockeys likewise, so there was plenty of room for an appraisal of just how good or bad they looked together. Or maybe it was which horse looked the best… or the jockey… All I know is, my system works… I placed eight 2 peso bets, or 16 pesos, and won $18.70 on four of those… so I was up two pesos and change… less the 3 peso entrance fee… hey, an afternoon of fun in the sun with friends cost me a whole 30 centavos… okay, bus fare one direction (walked the other way)… a coffee and a sandwich at the cafe… but then, I had to have lunch anyway…
It’s a diverting afternoon and evening – should you care to stay that long – they run one race every half hour, starting at 3 p.m. and there are sixteen races… you could be there awhile if you wanted to see them all. It’s definitely more fun to hang out with friends… Maybe next time dinner in the restaurant above the track…