Gone to the Dogs

Today we have Gone to the Dogs. Ok, not actually today. That’s just the title of today’s Money Diary article. This is another in our series of my madcap money adventures. This Money Diary story comes from the late 1980’s. As usual, this is not to be taken as investment advice but rather treated as entertainment. Do you own due diligence when deciding upon any investment.

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In the late 80’s I had gone to the dogs – literally. For those not familiar with the phrase it just means that one’s life has taken a turn for the worse. (Which reminds me of a small collection of poems I once wrote called A Turn for the Verse.) But I digress.

Time to Live a Little

Now, I wouldn’t say my life at that time had gone downhill to any appreciable degree. But, it was stagnating a bit. To counter that stagnation, when summer came along, my brother and I began turning our Fridays into a fun fest.

We would start by each picking up a couple of racing programs and then heading to our favorite all-you-can-eat Chinese Buffet for lunch. There we would spend a leisurely couple of hours feasting on a variety of Chinese delicacies while spilling a variety of sauces on our racing programs.

The racing programs were for that night’s Greyhound races at the local greyhound park. Yes, we would literally be “going to the dogs.” At lunch, we would handicap each race discussing who we thought the favorites were and how we should play (read bet) them. We discussed our betting strategies. My brother usually liked to “invest” a bit more than me in the races and his bets were usually a little more all-encompassing.

Our “Investments”

For instance, he liked to play $24 4-dog trifecta boxes. Simply put, if 3 of his 4 dogs finished in the top 3 in any order he would win the $1 trifecta – or half of the normal trifecta payout. A trifecta is a bet where you predict who the top 3 finishers will be and in what order they finish.

My bets were usually simpler. I would bet quinellas and sometimes 3-dog trifecta boxes. The 3-dog boxes cost $6, while the quinella’s were $2. With the quinella you would pick two dogs and they would both have to finish in the top 2. As a result I usually spent a little bit less on the actual bets.

Remember, however, there were usually about a dozen races a night. If you aren’t hitting anything that can get expensive quick. And, if you lose a lot early, you might not even make a bet after that.

My brother was better at picking the races than I was. So, even though I would spend less I didn’t always leave the track with more money in my pocket than he did. And, there were many nights when we would be walking out of the track after the night was done (or at least after we were done) and turn to each other and say, “That was an expensive movie.”

Top Dog

The way the greyhound races worked is that the dogs were divided into classifications based on how good they were. The very best dogs were put in the Grade A class. The worst dogs or new dogs would race in the grade D races. As the season progressed the dogs would move into different classifications based on how they were doing. I’m sure this was to make the races fairer and less easy to predict.

Now, it was usually a little bit easier to predict how the Grade A races would go, especially if there was a really good dog running in the race. If there was, and you thought the good dog would win you could bet a wheel where you put that dog on a top of the ticket and box other dogs underneath it.

The fact that my brother and I would delve into these betting intricacies with fervor may have been an indication of just how far to the dogs we had gone. Be that as it may, we continued our forays to the track every Friday for most of that summer.

As that summer progressed there were 2 grade A dogs that stood above the rest. Each seemed to always win their respective race. One dog was named HP’s Girlpride. This was a sleek super quick greyhound. The other was Jennifer Renee, a big strong dog that usually blew away the competition.

The Matchup

courtesy Matt Shumitz cc

The summer was drawing to a close and my brother and I continued our ritual at the Chinese buffet. While scanning the program my brother pointed to one of the Grade A races. He was smiling when he said, “look at the field.”

I scanned through the field and started grinning. As fate would have it both HP’s Girlpride and Jennifer Renee were in the same race. All summer long they hadn’t raced against each other. We looked at the program and the detail of each dog’s previous races. Both dogs had won at least there last 10 races. Oh boy, I thought, I smell an opportunity (or maybe it was the potstickers).

The $1000 Bet

I told my brother right there that I was going to bet $1000 on the race. How are you going to do it he asked. I told him it was going to be a quinella where both dogs would have to finish 1-2, the order didn’t matter. The only dog I could see giving them any problems was a dog called Kago Whizzer. It came from a good kennel and always ran strong.

After lunch, I would swing by the bank, pick up the cash and then later hopefully lay my money down.

A Night at the Races

We got to the track and as the big race got closer I could feel the excitement building. Not only with me but with a lot of the other spectators. I decided I was going to put three different bets at three different windows. So, I went to the first window and put $330 down on the quinella. I then went over to another window and put another $330 down on the quinella.

At that point, I looked at the odds and they were really low. I guess everyone had the same thought as me. Let’s ride the winners to glory. So, if my bet came through that meant I wouldn’t make a lot.

I waited a couple of minutes and then thought, “What in the heck am I doing? Have I lost my mind? Anything can happen out there on the track. I’ve seen dogs get kicked wide and never recover, jammed up and fall, and even jump the rail. Right then and there I decided $660 was enough to bet on any race, even if I thought it was a lock. I certainly didn’t want to leave the track $1000 lighter. A $660 loss – oh that’s fine I reasoned. Ha ha ha.

I went over to talk to my brother and told him I wasn’t betting the full $1,000. I also told him that I felt like I had just drank a pot of coffee. “Look at my veins,” I said. It looks like I’ve been working out for a couple of hours. Good thing I didn’t bet the entire $1,000 I thought, I may have keeled over before the race even started!

The Race

The crowd was jammed near the rail just before the start. I was amped up when the dogs broke from the gate. They came down the first stretch and I didn’t get a great look at where they were. As they rounded the first turn I couldn’t see a thing. Geez, what is going on out there I thought. And, then the dogs broke into the second stretch it was plain as day.

Like a Dream

It was like a dream. HP’s Girlpride was a couple of lengths in front of Jennifer Renee who was 3 or 4 lengths in front of Kago Whizzer. Just hold steady I said to myself. And, hold steady they did. Those 2 dogs were so strong that nobody else got close. Girlpride finished first and Jennifer Renee second. I was a winner – along with dozens of others no doubt – but maybe with not quite the amount I had on the line.

I high-fived my brother and went to collect my winnings. Now, like I said, my ticket(s) didn’t pay all that much. I got my $660 back and $390 on top of that. By far, my best payday at the track that summer, though. Even with that win, I’m not really sure if I broke even or not for the summer. I may have not banked much money from that summer of watching the dogs, but I banked some great memories.

Lessons Learned

As far as money lessons go, I think this one taught me that there really is no such things as a sure thing. I somehow realized all the potential ways that things could have gone haywire in that race only after I had already put down $600. I think that race got the “betting bug” out of my system. At least in regards to dog racing. I would go occasionally after that but only intermittently.

That summer did teach me a more important lesson than just a money one though. And, that is we need to take time out of our busy lives to share moments with family and friends. When we all get to the end of the race in life, we aren’t going to care whether we won money or lost money, but rather who we shared the race with. Well, my brother’s been gone for a couple of years now. I really miss him but I’ll always have those fond memories of a shared summer “gone to the dogs.”

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