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The Priest's Horse

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Years ago, there was a horse track called Brandywine Raceway just off of Route 202 in Delaware.  It closed in the 1990s and now it's a shopping center and housing development.  Brandywine had a lake in the infield and I think its remnants are right hereStandardbreds raced at Brandywine.  That's harness racing where horses race with a sulky in which the driver sits.  Standardbreds have 2 different racing gaits--pace and trot.  Pacers move the front and rear legs on one side of their body forward in unison and then the other side in the same manner.  One side moves forward and the other side back.  Trotters move diagonal legs forward at the same time and the other set of diagonal legs backward.  They trot and its a joy to watch.  If you are a bettor, you prefer pacers over trotters because during a race pacers rarely break their gait.  Trotters , on the other hand, are more likely to break their gait.  When a horse breaks its gait it's as if the horse enters the world of slow motion as the other horses rocket past.    That's the basics, now the story.

One evening, my Father came home from work and he was excited because he had a sure thing and the sure thing was racing at Brandywine that night.  My Father immediately called my Uncle and told him about the sure thing.  My Uncle wasn't going to miss a sure thing and he was on board.  My Uncle and Father were very close.  In fact, my Uncle and Father were so close that, if my Father ever did something embarrasing, my Uncle would laugh and poke my Father with his elbow to remind him of it over and over again.  My Uncle wouldn't relent until my Father broke out in laughter about it.  No one else did that with my Father.

Here was the sure thing:

  • a priest owned a pacer named Mike's Law,
  • the priest raced Mike's Law when his parish needed money, and
  • the best harness racing driver in history, Herve Filion, drove Mike's Law for the priest when the parish needed money.

Then my Father placed that night's Brandywine race progam on the table so I could see it.  Mike's Law was racing in the featured race and Herve Filion was driving.  I looked at my Father and said, "That's a sure thing and I'm going to Brandywine with you tonight."  My Father looked at me and said, "don't tell anyone because we don't want the odds to drop."  In short, if a lot of people bet on the same horse in a race, the odds drop and you win less money.  We didn't want that to happen so we didn't tell anyone.  We wanted to make as much money as we could so we had to keep the sure thing between the three of us.  In a few minutes, we were on our way to Brandywine.  

My Father and I used a system for picking horses that he developed and I improved.  It worked and probably still does.  By the end of the 6th race, the 3 of use were well ahead using our system and the sure thing was just ahead of us.  We didn't have to analyze anything to pick the horse in the feature race.  The priest, Mike's Law, and Herve Filion is all we needed to know and we knew it.  Bet accordingly, bet heavy.  That is when I noticed the size of the crowd.  It was larger than usual and the lines to place a bet were longer than usual.  You could hear the crowd humming with excitement.  Then the tote board gave the final odds for Mike's Law and he was now even money.  Apparently, everyone knew about the sure thing.  That didn't matter because we were still going to win just not as big as we thought.

Brandywine raceway started its races with a car that had gates on its back.  The car would lead the horses for a running start, drive off to the side, and the announcer would say the customary there they go into the public address system to announce the start.  The horses would run around the 5/8th mile track nearly twice to complete the mile race.  Around the track the horses went and Mike's Law was in just the right place.  Herve was on his way to another easy win.  Around again and into the stretch.  At the top of the stretch, the crowd started roaring and that roar grew and grew as Herve drove Mike's Law into the lead.  Everyone must have known about the sure thing and everyone must have had money on him.  Mike's Law was first and within spitting distance of the finish line.  Then it happened.  Mike's Law entered the world of slow motion and the crowd gave a collective Ohhhhh.  It was as if the crowd had a group coronary.  They all could see that Mike's Law had broken his gait and all the other horses finished ahead of him.  From first to last.  The crowd's Ohhhhh now turned to silence except for a few voices close to the track.  Those voices were shouting at Herve and using the typical hyphenated words to express their feelings about him and his parentage.  Since the rest of the crowd was silent, I'm sure Herve heard it.  Even the priest got his share of vulgarity from some of the voices.

There were still 3 races left in the card that night but we went home quietly with much of the crowd following us.  We just got our asses kicked and that's how we felt.  After the initial silence in the car, my Uncle started on my Father with "priests' horse."  Then "Hey William what happened to the priest's horse."  As I said, my Uncle was unrelenting when he started this.  When my Father couldn't take it anymore and he broke out in laughter, we all started laughing.  Sure thing.

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