As kids, we all grew up singing about them.
You didn’t dare “step on a crack” for fear that you might “break your mother’s back.” You were careful to never break a mirror for fear of getting seven years of bad luck. Famous sports figures have had well-documented ones as well. After all, why else would the great third basement Wade Boggs take exactly 150 ground balls and eat chicken before each game. Even Stevie Wonder sang about them.
Of course, I’m talking about superstitions.
Horseplayers are a superstitious group. I admit to being superstitious myself, despite knowing my worries are unfounded and anything that happens can be explained.
After talking to several of my old track cohorts, I compiled a few of the superstitions that horseplayers have either seen or been guilty of over the years.
1. Don’t Break the Routine
Perhaps you have to buy your program or past performances from the same place every time. Maybe you need to pack the same lunch or hit the same concession and eat a hot dog before the first race. Maybe you have a “lucky seat” in the simulcast area. Regardless, you have a routine you follow religiously and if it gets interrupted, you think your betting will suffer.
When I spent a lot of my time at Monmouth Park, I sat at the same table every visit and liked to use the same self-wagering terminal. When I couldn’t seem to win a race, out would come the “slump-busters.” It was then time to try a different self-wagering terminal or even, out of desperation, go to a human teller. If things didn’t improve, I had to go to my nuclear option — change my seat and have a beer.
2. Don’t Talk About Winning While You Are Winning
This goes along with bowling a 300 game or pitching a no-hitter. You don’t talk about it. Back in 2000, I was syndicating a big pick-6 wager on the Breeders’ Cup at Churchill Downs. We got through the first three legs when my cell phone rang. I made the mistake of answering the call. My ex-college roommate said excitedly, “We are alive through three races.”
You can guess what happened in the fourth leg, although we did catch the last two legs to hit five of six twice and still make some decent money.
3. Bring Your Lucky Charm
Horseplayers are not immune to the infamous “rally cap” or some other item that is deemed lucky. It could be your lucky rabbit’s foot, necklace, shirt, hat or other trinket. Point is that you went out of your way to make sure you wore that nasty, old “lucky” hat today.
4. Find God
One nighttime patron at the Meadowlands would pray between each race. She would proceed to pull out her crucifix and bless each one of her tickets before post time. She wasn’t a Sunday church-goer, but nine to twelve times a night, she was talking to Jesus. Of course, she often took the Lord’s name in vain shortly thereafter many of those races!
5. No ‘Grants’ Please!
Uncle Dutch was particular when getting paid out at the end of a day of racing. You could give him any type of bill except a fifty. I asked him once why he wouldn’t take a $50 bill, his answer was simply “they are not lucky.”
While cash is cash, I still prefer to get paid with Franklins and Jacksons, just in case.
6. Keep ‘Em Separated
Like The Offspring sang about, some folks don’t want losing tickets to touch potentially winning tickets for a race that hasn’t run yet. Some horseplayers insist on keeping their tickets in their wallet so they touch money, others prefer to keep them in a pocket away from money and new tickets. After all, you don’t want that bad luck to rub off, do you?
7. Playing the Numbers
I have two great examples of this from my nights at the Meadowlands. Fernando would always play a straight superfecta in twelve-horse fields, using 12-11-10-9. I may have seen it work out once, but, naturally, he missed that one.
Likewise, if Raphaela liked the #1, she’d have to box 1, 3, 5 and 7 on her exacta, trifecta and superfectas. She needed to use the other numbers simply because she liked them and she knew if she left those other numbers off her ticket, they would invariably cause her to lose.
8. Curse of the TV Handicapper
In my many nights hanging around the second floor Meadowlands’ grandstand, one guy had to catch the TV handicapper’s picks before he’d play any race. Regardless of what horses he had selected, Del waited to hear what the track handicapper had to say about his selections. He likened this to the phenomenon of watching a baseball game and hearing the announcer give some statistic about how a batter does in this situation, only for him do the complete opposite.
I am sure that many of you are guilty of some of the above. What other horse racing superstitions will you admit to having yourself or having you seen?
Ray Wallin is a licensed civil engineer and part-time handicapper who has had a presence on the Web since 2000 for various sports and horse racing websites and through his personal blog. Introduced to the sport over the course of a misspent teenage summer at Monmouth Park by his Uncle Dutch, a professional gambler, he quickly fell in love with racing and has been handicapping for over 25 years.
Ray’s background in engineering, along with his meticulous nature and fascination with numbers, parlay into his ability to analyze data; keep records; notice emerging trends; and find new handicapping angles and figures. While specializing in thoroughbred racing, Ray also handicaps harness racing, Quarter Horse racing, baseball, football, hockey, and has been rumored to have calculated the speed and pace ratings on two squirrels running through his backyard.
Ray likes focusing on pace and angle plays while finding the middle ground between the art and science of handicapping. When he is not crunching numbers, Ray enjoys spending time with his family, cheering on his alma mater (Rutgers University), fishing, and playing golf.
Ray’s blog, which focuses on his quest to make it to the NHC Finals while trying to improve his handicapping abilities can be found at www.jerseycapper.blogspot.com Ray can also be found on Twitter (@rayw76) and can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.