Life-changing gamble

by Trey Nosrac

“Are you into genealogy?” I asked David.

“Not really. I believe my ancestors were from Spain and Slovenia, but don’t take it to the DNA blood bank. What’s up?”

“My ancestors shipped in from Ireland and England. A cousin of mine sends out emails when she discovers a new fruit or nut on our family tree.”

“Any royal ancestors? Am I riding with Baron Von Trey from Heathcliff Castle?”

“So far, my clan appears to be mostly laborers, scullery maids, and jesters. My dad’s side immigrated during the potato famine, and my mother’s side arrived from England just after World War I.”

I paused. “Looking at ship passenger lists with the handwritten names of relatives makes a person step back and think.”

He said, “If you look close enough, every life is an interesting story. The computer makes finding documents much simpler than ever before. Of course, documents are one thing. The details of lives lived long ago are the difficult part, you know, putting meat on the bones.”

“I got some meat a few weeks ago that rocked me to my bones.”

“Do tell, my good sir.”

“I knew my mother’s family lived in the factory town of Salford, England. They lived in a row house — nine of them ranging in age from grandparents to infants. They were all supported by one income from my grandfather’s job at a velvet factory. During the war, they placed blankets over the windows when the bombs fell and ate government food rations.”

He didn’t say anything, so I continued, “What I did not know until recently was how they came up with funds for passage from Liverpool, England to Ellis Island, New York on the Aquitania in 1919. Guess how they bankrolled the big move?”

“Well, knowing you, it was probably a scheme, or perhaps larceny?”

“Close, my grandfather cashed a big ticket at the racetrack.”

“No way.”

“For real. One of my aunts told my young cousin the story when she interviewed relatives for a high school project. Isn’t that wild? Think about how many lives changed with a lucky day at the racetrack.”

“Do you know anything specific about that fateful day at the races?”

“Nothing, but it had to be a serious score because, let’s face it, winning a $7 exacta box would not cover his trolley ride.”

He said, “A hundred years ago, the winnings would have been in pounds. Did they even have pari-mutuel wagering, or was this with bookies?”

“No idea, but he must have played a longshot, or maybe parlayed several races. This story made me think of something for modern-day racing, a thought for the future of racing.”

“Does every road you travel end up at the racetrack?”

Faking resentment, I said, “It’s a lonely job saving a sport without resources, political power, or common sense, but someone has to do it. This idea is simple and radical. Horse racing should phase out traditional wagering and lean into exotic wagers, especially exotics with carryovers. Future payouts could be life-changing amounts.”

“That’s not completely crazy. Psychologically, gamblers trying to scratch out a few dollars is depressing. It always seemed to me the idea of grinding out wagers day after day would be more work than fun.”

I answered, “I agree. Even for a fiscally challenged chump like me, losing a few dollars is not a big deal. On the other hand, seeing my available-funds account rise a few dollars is not much of a thrill.”

“Yet that steady drumming of wagering is what your sport depends on, what it has always depended on.”

“Well, that and casinos. But I get what you are saying. Last night while sitting in front of my iPad, I won $40 in a race. I gave myself a little fist pump and felt a slight spasm of happiness. Then I immediately got to work piddling the money away. Nobody knew, and nobody cared. The world goes round without a trace. More and more, especially on the computer, playing the races feels pointless.”

He asked, “What would happen if you won $30,000 on some exotic wager or carryover?”

I smiled, “After the EMT’s revived me, I would go into a wild chicken dance, call everyone I know, share the big score on social media, gamble like a maniac, buy into a yearling, and bankroll a racing scheme.”

He smiled. “And, relatively speaking, $30,000 is not a life-changing amount.”

I pointed at him and said, “Hey dude, probably less than that changed lives for my ancestors. If my grandfather had only won a few pence, I would be a bloke sipping tea or driving a lorry.”

He smiled and said, “People cashing massive tickets instead of tiny tickets would be an improved business model. People dump buckets of money when lottery jackpots head into mega millions. If mega jackpots were the focal point of wagering in racing, the gambled money could come from serious handicappers looking for an edge and wagering could come from casual racing fans, even non-racing fans.”

I sighed, “Sounds like a good theory. I think France uses that big-ticket wagering model in horse racing, but who will pull it all together in America? There will be a million reasons not to do it.”

He answered, “There should be a million reasons to do it. Do you think it’s a good game plan to rely on an aging demographic grinding out small amounts of money on horse races?”


“Me neither. Massive state or national jackpots based on horse racing would seem to be a much better bet for your game. Like your grandfather, huge payoffs could be the ticket to a whole new world.”