Far from stupid

Far from stupid

October 31, 2021

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by Trey Nosrac

The screen door slapped shut behind my pal, Shoes Hughes. He shuffled into my kitchen, stopped in front of my refrigerator door, dropped his carry-on suitcase to the tile floor, and started singing Viva Las Vegas as he performed the Twist.”

“You’re early, “I said.”

“The wife was talking about kitchen countertops and flashing floor samples, so I bailed. Are you sure my truck is okay in your driveway for a week?”

“No problem, what time do you need to be at the airport?”

“Flight leaves at 10. Get me there at 8.” He nodded to my open laptop on the kitchen table, “Whadda ya watchin?”

“A horse auction, yearlings from Lexington.”

I rotated the screen and turned up the volume. The auctioneer chanted, the numbers on the price sign went steadily up. The hammer fell at $130,000.”

“Yikes,” Shoes barked, “Not many horses make back that kind of cash pulling those carts. To me, that just looks like stupid money from rich people. Where is their sense of fiscal responsibility?”

I slapped my forehead, “So asks the man with four expensive hulks of partly restored vintage cars sitting in a custom-built, $50,000 garage, who is about to fly to Las Vegas to stuff money into slot machines with fellow car geeks.”

“Touché, plus I ain’t even got all that much disposable income, especially for countertops.”

I sighed. “All my income gets disposed on trainers, stakes payments, and gambling on longshots.”

“What happens to you horse racing people? Don’t you know basic math? Is there something in the smell of horse manure that makes folks crazy?”

“The attraction is difficult to explain to civilians. The game is addictive.”

“Do they really need to pay a hundred grand for a baby horse?”

“Some folks need the best. They can justify the money they spend to themselves, and that’s all that’s important.” I nodded at the laptop where the auctioneer kept asking for bids. “This week, there will be a hundred, maybe two-hundred yearlings that sell for more than $100,000 at this sale.”

He whistled.

I continued. “Obviously, my forte is not making and keeping assets, but my guess is that a lot of the people who spend wildly find tax advantages and stuff like that. Plus, many big bidders on yearlings also split the costs with friends.”

“Yeah, and some people, like an uncle of mine in New York who made a mint on something called an International Base Metals Commodities Market, can lose millions, and it’s like losing coins in the couch upholstery.”

“Deep pockets or empty pockets, somehow, those of us addicted to harness racing have found friends, and we have found a happy place in the sport.”

“A happy place. I like that. A happy place is hard to put a price on.”

“It’s all relative. The other type of horse racing, thoroughbreds, makes harness racing money look like peanuts. It seems to me that the people involved in harness racing are different than those involved with thoroughbreds. Even the big owners in my game seem like regular folks. Everybody seems to know everybody. Nobody seems to get all uppity, which is cool. No matter the wallet, we all take our lumps on the racetrack, so we are friendly competitors.”

Shoes said, “I bet there are some egos.”

“Everybody has an ego. I think deep down that we are all trying to prove something, trying to prove that we can find the gem of a racehorse. I say that folks who can afford to bid up top prospects, good for them. It’s good for the sport. I’ll watch this sale for five days and hope I snag something I like that sells under $20,000. If I don’t find one, it’s fun looking, sort of like a treasure hunt.

“You enjoy the chase,” he said.

“Yeah, that’s a good analogy. Sure, everybody enjoys the chase, and the thing that keeps us coming back is these horses are animals that have a small window on the track. Every year a new window opens. Rich or poor, you can have a bleak racing season, a total wipeout, but somehow that inspires us to keep digging, keep bidding, go on to another treasure hunt.”

Shoes said, “The difference is that when I buy a car to restore or build my garage, my money won’t be a total loss.”

“That’s true. Racing a horse offers a higher risk and higher emotions, but any passion involves anticipation, fascination, exhilaration, and joy combined with frustration and disappointment. We are all looking for ways to scratch an invisible itch.”

He nodded and said, “These goofy things we enjoy are just so damn much fun.”

“Yep, and those people who can afford those expensive yearlings, they are not stupid. They have found their passion, and they are happy, healthy, and engaged. That is the smartest thing of all.”

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