by Trey Nosrac
Twenty-two years ago, Beef Collins and I strolled the hallways as students at Lafayette Vocational School. After our morning classes in diesel engine repair and spot welding, we played 9-ball on one of the four pool tables in the LVS student rec center.
The first time we met was awkward. When the instructor called attendance, I learned his name was Stewart Collins. I give everyone a nickname. Since he was the shape of a refrigerator, I whispered, “How’s it going, Beef Stew?”
He squinted like a cowboy about to draw his gun, shook his head, and whispered back, “Beef Stew? That’s lame.”
He was correct. It was one of my worst efforts, downright embarrassing, so I quickly offered an olive branch, “How about just… Beef?”
He slowly nodded like a grazing buffalo. So, Beef it was.
Only a few fellow stragglers remained in The Pub Crawlers Sports Emporium tonight. The college football games were over except for a west coast game on a blue Astroturf field. The blinking-colored lights wrapped around the green Christmas wreaths cast a warm spell. Beef and I decided not to waste the last pitcher of Bud on our table. We were past mellow, turning into muddled. I had Uber locked and loaded on my phone. At times like these, eyes get red, and filters get removed.
Beef slurred, “Trey, I know you ain’t got serious money. You’re a working mook like me. The guys always wonder why you sign up with another baby horse each year. What’s it been, 10 years?”
“And how many of them horses made your money back?”
“One might have squeaked into the black.”
Forgetting the glass in his hand, he threw his hands apart, sloshing beer. The bartender smiled and tossed a towel over the bar. I caught the towel, did a quick mop-up, and said, “Beef, not having serious money and trying to stay in the harness racing game, well… that creates a game within a game for me. I gotta be fiscally creative to pay those horse bills.”
“Fiscally creative? What the hell does that mean? You do a smash and grab at the Dollar General?”
“Nothing illegal… yet. I economize. In year one, I quit smoking and toking for my yearling money. When you think of it, those changes might have been lifesavers.”
Everyone noticed you reined things in from your glory days but losing bad habits ain’t covering no racehorse.”
“Well, you no doubt noticed that I keep my cars for 12, 15 years. I drive beaters till they are beyond repair, go years without a car payment, and each non-car payment covers a nice chunk of the horse tab.”
Beef just looked at me and smiled, “You are legendary for wobbly wheels. I remember your silver Ford Bronco that was like 50 per cent duct tape.”
I took a sip, “Two-hundred ninety thousand miles. Plus, I keep costs down with an inexpensive yearling and an inexpensive trainer, do my staking, and don’t stake heavily. I worked at the barn on weekends for a couple of years, and the trainer waived my monthly bill. Oh, and I never own the horses myself. The year I tried sole ownership was a nightmare. Ever since digging out from that hole, I have had at least one partner to share the pain.”
He grabbed a few peanuts from the basket. “And you got that side job with the Rambling River Rats baseball team.”
“Yep, that money goes into my horse kitty. The thing is… if you got the harness racing bug bad enough, you could get in the game. That’s the beauty of this sport. Anyone can buy a yearling and play. Tell me one other sport where I could own my little franchise?”
“Trey, do the math. You are hustling your tail off for a pipe dream of owning a champion racehorse.”
The beer was kicking in now. “Beef, dreams are good. I wouldn’t have it any other way. It wouldn’t make much difference if I could stroll into a bank and withdraw a quarter of a million dollars to blow on yearlings and training. Plus, it will be spectacular when my magical harness horse hits the big time because I paid my dues.”
We clinked glasses on that, leading to another slight spill. Beef said, “Trey, there is a fine line between brilliance and stupidity. You could go either way.”
“I like buying a yearling and racing. It’s not easy to explain my attraction, but the sport challenges me, and it makes me happy. Doing something the hard way adds to the fun. I bet I’m happier in my little corner of the racing world than those moguls sitting on a million in assets. I fly by the seat of my pants. It’s more fun than a private jet.”
He nodded. We sat without talking.
As I reached for my phone to get an Uber, Have a Holly Jolly Christmas played faintly in the distance.