By Natalya Jones
By County Grind
By Liz Tracy
By Chris Joseph
By Liz Tracy
By Matt Preira
By Jesse Scheckner
By Michael E. Miller
My father's family pronouncement weighed heavily on me. Sure, the family might be unlucky, but this was a major horserace we were about to watch. What else is there to do besides watch a distant spectacle on an oversized television monitor?
One of the two guys accompanying me turned suddenly and said: "Should I bet?" You bet.
It was five minutes before post time, and the two of us ran through the doors of the smoky betting parlor. There were dozens of TV screens, all being scrutinized by the gambling zombies at their wooden desks, some sipping soda through straws, some studying the Daily Racing Form, all waiting to win it big. We located a row of computer wagering machines. As I held my friend's beer, he fed a $20 bill into the machine; with a few precise taps on the touchscreen, we bet $2 on every horse. Everyone, that is, except Big Brown. How's that for contrarian thinking? Celebrate the uncelebrated — and a Bronx cheer for the guest of honor.
The Big Finish: All eyes were fixed on the pack of TV screens as the Belmont Stakes played out — gates flew open, horses thundered out, and the people around us jumped to their feet, cheering in eager anticipation.
But wait. A sleek, dark horse had emerged from the pack. Da' Tara. Of course; why hadn't I seen it before? This was my horse, sharing my name, defying the long odds laid down by my father.
My friend, the gamblin' man, whispered excitedly that Da' Tara was one of the longest long shots in the race. If Da' Tara won, my friend would make some good money. We stood in silence for a second.
"But Big Brown can't lose," I said to no one in particular.
Da' Tara was getting closer to the finish line, still a few lengths ahead of the competition. And Big Brown — he was bucking and skidding over at the side somewhere as his jockey reined him in. The people around us were yelling in disbelief.
"Oh my God, we're going to make money!" I squealed, feeling a twinge of guilt to be cheering for the downfall of the crowd favorite.
In a flash, I'd caught the fever of the race, the wager. I clutched my gambling friend's arm, and we both screamed at the TV. After what seemed like a breathless eon, Da' Tara thundered across the finish line first.
"Did that just happen?" I asked.
My lucky friend, in the midst of a wild victory dance, didn't respond.
Matthew, Chris, and Ben caught up with me a few minutes later. Matthew gloated over his prediction that Big Brown wouldn't be able to win, and Ben and Chris lamented their loss of money.
"Well, do you still love Big Brown?" I asked Chris.
He covered his T-shirt with his free hand and stuck out his lower lip.
"Well, I love Big Brown for losing," I said. "My friend just turned $2 into $80."
"Damn," Chris said.
I can't help but take some credit for my friend's winnings, because of the name that the dark-horse winner and I share. Luck isn't logical. It blows in on a rain cloud and drifts away on a draft from an open door. The payoff wasn't mine, of course (though I unhesitantly drank the drinks purchased with it), but I could still feel that lingering burst of adrenaline. I craved more. Look for me at Gulfstream again soon. I hear there's a horse named Nieuwesteeg out there somewhere, riding a wave, coming to break a family curse.