Wednesday, 9 August 2017


I will be heading out on a road trip – with a bit of luck, that will include observing a spectacular total eclipse in the beautiful state of Oregon, U.S.A..  If all goes well, I will blog about that later.

That will take some time away from blogging, so I am presenting a piece that I wrote quite some time ago (late 1990’s), concerning my attempt to “beat the horse races”, with the applications of computing power, data analysis, intelligence and dogged determination.  I did ok for few years, and learned a lot of statistical techniques (via concurrent courses in multivariate analysis).  I certainly learned plenty about the pluses and minuses of data mining, and the wisdom behind the notion that one should be careful about post-hoc analyses.

Plus, I had some fun – there is nothing quite like a big score on a long odds horse that your system predicted, that hardly anybody thought had a chance.

And some of the photos are old, so the quality isn't great, but they are authentic, so there's that.  The better photos are from google images.


Horse Racing Days (1)

  I – The Early Years


My family has long had a fascination with risk taking behavior in general , and gambling in particular.  We have not been notably good at it,  but many of us have been diligent, losing money consistently for decades.  The main vehicle for this has been the horse races, although casinos, sports lotteries, and bookies have also seen their share.

I have not been seduced by gambling to quite the extent of some of my brothers, but I have had two major intervals in my life where it has obsessed me.  The first was in my late teens.  It was during the summer between my first and second years of university.  I had most of the month of August free, as I had quit a railroad construction job in early August when it had become too difficult to continue.  The story behind quitting that job was a long one; suffice it to say that the job was hot, dangerous, isolated and low paying, not things that the average nineteen year old has much patience for.

Upon my return to the city, I innocently accompanied my older brother Jim to the racetrack one Saturday afternoon.  I had been aware that this place held a magical and morbid fascination for him, so I was curious to see the attraction.  It turned out, as it so often does, that I had a spectacular case of beginner’s luck.  I knew next to nothing about the sport, so I hit upon the strategy of betting the jockeys with winning records.  It is a common enough delusion among beginners, one that I now know would never pay off in the long run.  But it held that day, and for several more weeks; long enough to feel the magnetic tug of money without work.

I still remember the name of some of those horses, twenty years later.  Pampas Host, Winning Red ; names that are forever etched upon my mind.  If my memory serves correctly, the jockey who was my favorite at the time was later discovered murdered in the United States, where he had moved on to race after his early Canadian success.  It was widely believed to be the result of some racing skullduggery, although the murder is still unsolved.

My favorite memory of that period was on the final day of the racing meet, early in September.  I had already won a good sum of money that month, but not quite enough to pay for my next year of university.  I had picked the winner of the feature race, but it was short priced, winning less than even money.  That netted only about a hundred bucks, so I still had some ways to go to win my tuition and university expenses. But I was feeling that the cosmic forces were with me.  The tenth race was widely reputed to be a scam, so rather than even attempt to handicap it, I decided to bet that  two of the three longest shots on the board would come in first and second.  Technically, this is known as a three horse quinella box to the longshots.  It is a highly unlikely event.

I sent a friend of mine to make the bet, promising that he could have one-third of the winnings.  The race was among horses looking for a final payday before being sent out to pasture, or less romantically, the glue factory.  As such, it would not have been notable, but for the fact that my horses came in, paying over 500 dollars on a five dollar bet.  Even after giving Marvin his one third, it put me over the top in my effort to ‘earn’ enough money to attend university.  I sat for a long time in the upper deck of the grandstand, waiting for all of the other spectators to leave, before I got up.  I wanted to be the last person to leave, ruler of the domain, King of Northlands Park.  It was a glorious feeling for a nineteen year old.

My racing career for the next few years was sporadic and undistinguished.  I had my good runs, but naturally the bad ones overshadowed them.  It was to be a long time before I was to have another meet as triumphant as that one had been.  A lot would intervene – university, marriage, a child, several jobs, and move halfway across the continent, to a city that lacked a racetrack.  This stopped short my racing career, but eventually the racetrack would reclaim me.


Real life is pretty interesting, at the track, but fiction can be almost as good.  So, here’s a short story that I wrote in those early years, about a horse-player and the devil (probably).

A Dark Horse

Just what might a gambler give up, to go on the winning streak of his life? Even he can't know for sure. Christopher Marlowe's Doctor Faustus legend is given a Damon Runyon spin, in this short story.  For those who aren’t familiar with it, the Faustus legend is about someone who sells his soul to you know who, for fame and fortune.  Things are not nearly so simple for the character in the story, though.

This is a short story of about 6500 words, or about 35 to 45 minutes reading time, for typical readers.  It is only 99 cents.

No comments:

Post a Comment