Almanac Short Story – I love the punt

I love the punt – by Barry Mitchell


I love this time of the year; all of the best horses running with true form as there is so much money at stake. I get up early on the morning of the meet and go to work on the form. I’ve been down for the Herald Sun and of course the racing bible the Best Bets.

I tear home not a moment to waste as I pour over the stats. I have my own system, one which I’m very proud of. It’s come from years of study and hard work processing the numbers and working out what is important. I like to look at their previous form at this track, who their jockey was when they were successful and who is today, where the horse is trained, what type of chaff it is fed, how it goes fresh up from a spell, of course its breeding and much, much more. I’ve done my splits having taped the previous races and know whether the particular horse in question is better ridden back with cover, or up at the speed.

I get to the races early and like to watch the horses parade. I can tell by the look of their coat how ready they are. Some sweat up with nerves, which counts them out for me. I don’t of course, as I know what I’m doing. I also like to look at their faeces if I’m lucky enough for them to drop some near me. I put my fingers in it give it a swirl around and a good sniff. Must say though – I’ve never learnt much from that.

Then it’s off to the bookies. They are very wary of me.
“Here comes dickhead now,” one says behind his hand as I approach. Little do I know. I like to hang around and walk between them all just to make them sweat. They all know I’ll be coming at them hard at some stage during the day.

“200 on the seven,” I say to Earn McInfrey and hand over my two big green boys. I look in the scribbler’s eyes and smirk cockily and knowingly that I’ll be back to collect. As I stride away I hear a giggle behind me. Others are giggling and pointing – wonder what they’re all laughing at.

I walk quickly as I’ve got to get a good vantage point trackside. It s pretty busy so I can’t help but hear the woman’s conversation who is standing just behind me. She has a white flowing dress on and a fascinator there as an afterthought, I’m sure, as it doesn’t match. I can just hear her:
“I have to have a fascinator; who goes to the Cup without a fascinator?”
That’s what she would have said during the week. I actually find it insulting that people like this only come to the races at this time of the year. They’re all sheep.

“I like the number 5.”
She speaks loudly to her friend who has a big green feather sticking out of her hat.
“Oh and I like yellow it’s my favourite colour. This horse is bound to win,” she says.

I nearly choke on my beer as I scoff at the rationale of her bet. I turn around and almost laugh into her heavily made up face.
“Your horse is called Emily’s Lad,” I say to her through a grimaced face. “It’s got no hope,” I say under my breath, as I turn to watch the horses be loaded into the barriers.

They jump and my horse is sitting beautifully up on the speed; just ready to pounce in the last 300 metres.
“Go Emily! Go Emily’s Lad!” she yells into my ear from the outset of the race. Poor old Emily’s Lad is right back in the field; just like her. Then all of a sudden Emily’s Lad starts to wind up rattles down the outside with my lady friend screaming the whole way and pips my horse on the post.

She sounds like she’s orgasming, I like a balloon with the air being let out of it.
“You’ve got to be kidding me,” I say, not believing what’s just transpired.

A couple of minutes later I’ve recovered from my misfortune just in time for the second. I have plenty of winners on the way, what with the amount of work I’ve done on ‘em.

My next bet, race two, is. my best bet for the day. Zero Point is impeccably bred by Schitzel, a champion stallion, out of the best brood mare in New Zealand. He’s got no weight, Oliver the best jock, has won its last three starts and drawn perfectly on the inside and that is the best going.
“Oh no, here she is again,” I think to myself, as Lady Muck takes up her position just in behind me.

“Now number 7 is my neighbour Kevin’s bosses son’s horse. He says it’s very fast and will win. Ohh, and look he’s a nice grey one. I really love grey ponies.”

“Not again,” I think to myself as I start to get steamed up.

My horse jumps out well and leads just as he likes to.
“Go Grey go, go Grey.” She’s at it again.

“Not this time sweetheart.” I turn to her as my horse clears six lengths in front. She is totally engrossed in the race; yelling and screaming so doesn’t notice me laughing at her. As I turn back to the race I can’t believe my eyes as the grey gobbles me up and clears away to win easily.

“Ohhhh, I’ve won again. Why at 10 to 1 I’ve won $50,” she exclaimed.

“The horror of it. My God she’s had 5 bucks on it I’ve just dropped another two hunge.”
My despair is debilitating. I can’t move. I want to speak but my tongue is paralysed. She’s taunting me, just by being here, glowing in her success. I am angry but all of a sudden am miserable. Miserable at the fact that she has won and I have lost. It’s not about the money. It’s about the fact that I deserve what she is getting. She is getting the prize whilst my self-worth is taking a beating.

After watching my horse canter over to the winner and watch the jockeys embrace, which also sickens me, I turn to my nemesis . She is now sucking on a thin cigar, a wee Willam to be precise.
She smiles in my direction.

“Isn’t this so much fun?” she remarks, her make up starting to dry out.

It’s 40 minutes to the next so I decide to retire to the bar to gather myself. In there I find no solace – just other desperate punters caught up in their own misery, idly sipping beer, looking into the distance at nothing. There is a sense of shock, depression, in there as the winners are out celebrating.

I move over near the cigarette machine, looking forward to hiding from the world when oh no – here she comes again with her little entourage.

“Oh what a quaint little bar,” I hear her remark to her friends. “I’ll shout, after all I’m $100 up now.” She speaks over her shoulder to no one in particular. “Can I have three champagnes please?” she asks the barman – a tired looking middle-aged man with a moustache who has worked at one too many race meetings. Without a word, or in fact a facial expression, he turns and bends to the fridge below to grab the half full bottle of yellow.

The women grab their drinks then look for somewhere to set up camp. You guessed it, they move over to the cigarette machine. I try to ignore them when she grabs my attention.
“Oh my – what a coincidence. We keep bumping into each other!!” she exclaims with enthusiasm.
Her unbridled joy is getting on my nerves. I just want to be left alone to soak in my misery. I feign a smile and sip my beer.

“Now ladies I’m thinking that because this is the third race and I have had three drinks I’m going to back number three,” she says with confidence.

“Hmm number 3 is the horse I was considering,” I think to myself.

The women have now broken into an inane conversation about I don’t know what. I slink out of the bar knowing that I have to change tack. There’s no way that she could pick three winners in a row, just plucking them, using no skill, science or evidence.

I drop off number 3 Smiling Evidence and put $200 on number 9 More Than Likely.

I move to a tv monitor now, hoping a change of vantage point will change my luck.
“But punting is not luck, it’s know how and experience that will win out in the end,” I say to myself, trying to convince myself that my time will come.

As they jump, my horse in red and purple sits nicely midfield. The number 3 charges to the front.
“It’s gone too early,” I say out loud. My experienced eye tells me that. But the number 3 keeps clearing out, getting further and further in front.

“It can’t keep going,” I say now. More in hope than anything else. Then I hear that familiar tune.
“Go 3, go, go 3.”

I don’t have to look around. Number 3 careers away, winning in a canter as my horse fights into third place. That’s just about the end of the day for me as I’m down $600 now. I have a hundred left which I wasn’t planning on betting. It’s the last bit of my pay for the week and I won’t be paid until Tuesday week. I go to leave but I’m itchy for another bet. We can never walk away with money in our pockets. I pull out my form guide and see it all points to number 7. He’s a has-been. As I’m about to put my bet on I hear a lady remark that it’s her fifth wedding anniversary. Something makes me change my bet.

“$100 on number 5,” I say whilst looking down, the confidence sucked out of me.
I don’t bother to watch the race, convinced it’s not my day.
“What an idiot you are,” I chastise myself. “Fancy changing your bet like that. You’re no better than the rest of the fair weather punters that turn up this time of year.”

When I finish abusing myself I look up. The number 5 has won.






Previously by Barry Mitchell:
You can’t buy that


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