Almanac Short Story – I love the races

I love the races – by Barry Mitchell


Everyone becomes an expert this time of year. The big races are on and everyone has a winner. They know because they check the form guide, which is a series of numbers which means… well… nothing really. We all dress up in our finest and flock out to the track like the sheep that we are. We have had many opportunities to go throughout the year where we could enjoy the space and get close to the thoroughbreds, but no, we prefer to go now when the crowds are huge, you can’t get a bet on, and a drink costs an arm and a leg.


As I get on the train, fascinators and feathers spring into my face, making me want to sneeze. Where do they put those bloody things all year before digging them out for the Carnival? They look ridiculous.


The young people have squeezed themselves into suits and dresses too tight, so as to show as much cleavage as possible. Funny at other times of the year – you can’t get them to do their fly up. I hop on the train. The carriage is abuzz, as the super horse is discussed as to whether she can do it again. The consensus says no but hey most of us wouldn’t bloody know.


I, like all others, have done my form that morning and managed to pick out all of the favourites. I have my kitty with me which I’m sure I will expand into a mighty purse by the end of the day’s proceedings.


The first is a shoe-in. My mate’s Dad’s friend is the trainer and he reckons it will bolt in. I have $50 each way, which is my max bet, then fight my way  to the rails next to the winning post.  I want to see him flash past for my first win. The crowd noise increases as I look to my left. I can see the colours of the silks all aflurry as the jocks boot them on. My boy is in crimson so he should be easy to see, particularly as he’ll be up the front. But something is wrong – horribly, horribly wrong. I can’t see him. So I crane my neck back and forwards looking for him. The horses are upon me and flash past but he isn’t with them. I again look to my left and see him forlornly going through his paces as he staggers over the line. I’m devastated and feel cheated, but I quickly regain my composure and head back to the betting ring. My plan is to change bookies. That last one Des Meaher was plain bad luck.

I load up $100 each way on the next favourite. I have my tactics well thought out. They say at the casino when you play roulette, if it lands black when you bet red double up on the next bet. Makes sense doesn’t it? The next spin has to be red. And so, I hand over my hard-earned to Bernie Corothers. The scribbler writes my ticket in writing I can’t understand and I’m then shoved out of the way. This time I head to the grandstand to see the great Finbars Friend. What a strange name for a horse.


This time it’s different. Finbar jumps out and strides to the front and leads them round the lap and a half. He looks to be cruising but as they hit the straight it looks like he’s running in quicksand. They all start to go past him so I yell out:

“Come on Finbar, for Gods sake.”

More like mine.

Finbar does slightly better jogging over the line second last.


My confidence has taken a blow but I know I can recover. I give the third a rest as I’m unsure that the one I have picked out will go any good. I go to the toilet as I can’t watch but sure enough as I come out I hear the commentator call him across the line in front.

“Noooo!” I scream out loud.


A little boy walking past holding his Dad’s hand looks at me in bewilderment.


Ok the fourth, you know the rules, double up. So it’s $200 each way. This time I back a mare called My Mother Margaret. Well My Mother gets caught on the fence doesn’t she? It’s like she’s out the front talking to one of the neighbours. She finished a creditable seventh, I hear someone say.

“It was a good run,” he goes on to say.

I feel like punching this guy in the face but think better of it. After all, I can’t fight.


I know what to do. I run to where the jockeys dismount.

“You’re a hack Jones,” I yell at the jockey.


I feel better now and have enough for only one more bet. In fact I’ve only got $10 left. I go back to the bookies and decide to change my scribbler again. This time I go the favourite. He’s paying $1.50 so if I win I’ll get $15. At least that way I can have a beer and a pie before heading home. The horse’s name is Phyro.


Phyro is third as he bounds into the straight and gets into a jostle with the horse in front of it before pulling out and sprinting to victory. I’m beside myself with excitement; jumping up and down and yelling at Phyro as he crosses the line. I punch the air.

“You bloody beauty.”

I charge back to the bookie and hand over my ticket.

“Hang on a minute son, we haven’t got correct weight,” he says to me.

“Oh come off it just give me my cash,” I think to myself as I step back trying to look cool.


I then hear there’s been a protest, second against first for contact in the straight.

“What?!?” I exclaim, not believing my ears.


The minutes seem like hours. I already have that $15 accounted for. My stomach is groaning. I can almost taste the pie and beer to wash it down.

“Protest upheld!” the announcer bellows.


I look at my ticket before crumpling it up and throwing it on the ground. I walk toward the gate head down, confidence shattered, hungry and lonely.

“Hey pucker up,” I say to myself. “The cup is on Tuesday.”



Previously by Barry Mitchell:
You can’t buy that

I love the punt


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