- Memories ch.13 A Day at the Raceby estory
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A Parable of Horse Racing
Memories of This World
: Memories ch.13 A Day at the Race by estory

Horse racing has its own rhythm, it has its own way of catching us up into an experience of life, a perspective of society and humanity. You enter the grandstand along with the excited crowd, in the midst of the mingled, hopeful voices of the betting public. There are the ladies in their hats, the old men in their suits clutching their copies of the Daily Racing Form, smoking their cigars, sipping their beers and mint juleps. The view of the historic ellipse of the track, circling the neatly clipped azaleas in the infield, brings to mind memories of past stakes races and jockeys and trainers standing with their mounts in the winner's circle. You feel lucky.

The time before the race is a moment of reflection and you take your seat and bury your head in the Racing Form along with the other optimistic players studying the past performances of the horses, the pedigrees, the workouts, the recent results of the jockeys who will ride them and the records of the trainers. In a nervous murmur, each to his own and through his own secret methods, people begin figuring their bets. Like the azaleas blooming bright in the early afternoon sun, and the sky blue and bright above the grandstand, their hopeful chatter seems to color the whole racetrack.

As the horses come out onto the track, one by one, wearing the colored silks of their stables, the sense of anticipation begins to build. All eyes watch them as they make their measured way to the starting gate on the far side of the infield. The bettors, flashing hopeful smiles, head up to the parlor windows and you follow them up there, folding your bills in your hand. In a closely guarded voice, you relay your bets to the lady on the other side of the window: $5 win, place and show on the 2 horse, and a $5 2-6 exacta, a $20 commitment in all. You turn and head back to your seat, clutching the tickets that hold your fortune or failure. You check the odds on the scoreboard. The 2 horse is at 4-1. The 6 is at 5-1. Like the ones you are standing shoulder to shoulder with, you wonder how much you could win if your bets come through, and what you might spend it on. There is a feeling of gathering hopefulness, of energy, like the coil of a spring being compressed.

The crowd is buzzing now, the lifting pitch of the restless voices rises and rises, carrying you up with it. As the horses reach the starting gate, the crowd gets to its feet. One by one the horses are locked into the gate. The jockeys hunch over their mounts. All the energy of the horses, the thoughts of the jockeys, the plans of the trainers and the hopes and dreams of the bettors clutching their tickets seems to hang in the air like that coiled spring. Everyone is holding their breath.

And they're off, in that burst of sudden action; the horses break out of the gate and leap across the track in the wave of the gallop, the jockeys rocking on their backs in the steady rhythm of the stride. One horse shoots to the lead. Another keeps on his tail. Another moves from the back around the horses on the outside, while one falls back along the rail. The horse on the outside is gaining, gaining. He moves into fourth. Into third. The crowd bursts into shouts of despair and hope.

They round the clubhouse turn and bolt into the home stretch. Here they come, four horses abreast, charging passed the grandstand. The crowd, still on its feet, seems to leap into the air as the horses pass and flash under the wire.

And then there's the exultation of triumph, the sigh of disappointment, as the crowd settles back into their chairs.

Author Notes
Horse racing in some ways seems to embody something of the time honored experience of anticipation and disappointment, that aura of hope springing eternal, that is such an integral part of our lives. That's why I wanted to include my memories of Belmont Park in this little collection of Memories of this World; it is an experience of life, a parable of this struggle between hope and despair in our lives. And it has its own rhythm, through this slow, steady gathering of tension and anticipation like a coiled spring, the sudden release of all that energy, and the moment of triumph and tragedy that follows. Like countless other millions, I've leapt into the air and sank back into my chair when those horses crossed the finish line. estory


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