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They’re Off

The Queen’s Plate is in the news, not only because it’s going to happen on Sunday but also because the historic horse race is in jeopardy.

Horse racing needs to stand on its own four feet because Ontario can’t afford to subsidize it any longer, a spokesman for Finance Minister Dwight Duncan said Thursday.

It’s all about slot machine revenue and it’s about slot machine revenue because the ponies don’t pull in enough bucks these days.

I’m no fan of horse racing but it is in the family. My father bet the ponies with enthusiasm as a younger man and even as an older man could recite the breeding history of any number of horses at mention of their name. I associate horse racing with his generation and with Bukowski and with Jim Thompson. Tough guys. Fedoras. Swell-looking babes.

My father told me once, “It’s hard to make a living off the horses these days, son. There’s too many good handicappers. Back in my day we had an edge.” And he’d say, “Look, if you bet $5 a race, if you win, keep betting $5 a race. They’re depending on you to give it all right back.” And, “Being a good handicapper, that was a job. You’d have to get up early and be down at the track every morning at dawn, watching the workouts”.

The one time I went to the Queen’s Plate, my sister and I took my father. By that time he was confined to a wheelchair and his eyes were bad, too bad to read the form. So we read it to him. He picked the winner of the big race. no problem. We all bet on his horse and won enough dough for dinner. The old guy still had his touch. “I knew when I saw who the jockey was. They brought him up from the States and that’s expensive. They were taking a run.”

He used to like the old Greenwood track in the east end. It was a shorter track than the newer Woodbine track up in Rexdale. “If they put a rabbit in with a good post postion on a fast track, look out.” He’s say that kind of thing to me as if I had any idea what he was talking about.

Maybe horse racing is on the way out. If so, I’ll miss it only because it reminds me of my father and his old stories.

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