the luckiest guess

Before today, I had never bet a harness race, and I had never bet a high five.

At Hawthorne yesterday, people could not stop talking about the nightcap at Woodbine Harness.  The $0.20 jackpot high five had a $847,458.26 carryover and a mandatory payout.

One of the people who told me about the bet pointed out what an overlay it would be, and suggested I play a dollar’s worth of quick-picks.  I considered it, and could not deny that carryover + mandatory payout = overlay.  But, I’m not a quick-picks kind of person.  I do my own handicapping!  I think, and think, and often overthink.  I’m cerebral, right?

I could not play a race like a lottery.

That’s not to say I had any great knowledge base about harness racing.  I knew it involved standardbreds moving at either a pace or a trot, pulling buggies called sulkies.  I knew the horses started from a motorized starting gate, and that raced typically lasted for a mile.  My expertise ended there.

But, I knew enough to seek the opinions of smarter people.  I could find that information, aggregate it, and construct a cheap ticket.  It would probably skew chalky, but for a flyer, it would have a bit better chance than five random numbers.

The Woodbine feed was running on one of the TVs in the Hawthorne press box, and I caught a brief glimpse of the analyst’s suggested ticket.  He singled Camaes Fellow (4) on top and spread in the other legs.  Checking the Woodbine selections page, all but one set of picks had Camaes Fellow on top as well.  Good enough; I scrawled the number four on a napkin, drew a line under it, and started looking for other horses.

I decided to box four horses below.  I remembered that Regal Son (12) had been in all four under-rungs of the TV analyst’s suggested ticket.  It was the only one of his other picks I remembered, thanks to the grey and red chiclet that set off the number 12.  I wrote 12 under the line.  I looked back at the track picks, and all but one set had a 2.  I looked up the horse’s name, read it as “Bilbo Hangover” a few times, and finally parsed it correctly as “Bilbo Hanover”.  My confusion subsided, and I scrawled a 2 on my napkin.  I also saw Cougar Hall (8) on a plurality of the selections, so 8 went on the napkin as well.

At that point, I was out of consensus picks, so I looked for a name bet.  I peeked at the list of horses: were there any ones with funny names?  There was Bilbo Hangover…Hangover…Hanover, but he was already on my ticket.  This dashed my dreams of further frivolity.  I skimmed a bit of analysis that had some good things to say about The Rev (6), and let the casual somberness of the name amuse me.  I scribbled a 6 on my napkin, and went to the machine.

I punched the ticket into the machine, and felt a wave of sticker shock.  $8.40?  A flyer should cost a few bucks at most, not almost ten.  Besides, shouldn’t a four-horse box with a single on top cost less than that for a $0.20 base bet?

I reached for the cancel button, but saw in the top right corner of the screen that I had exactly $8.40 on the voucher I had inserted.  It was a sign, right?  Even though I thought I had jinxed any chance of that actually being a sign by noting that it could be a sign, I could not turn back.  I hit print, and went back to finishing my piece about Stellar Wind in the Santa Anita Oaks.

I left Hawthorne shortly afterward, and set up shop at a cafe near home.  I had a glass of wine and a good book, a book that I was neglecting in favour of checking Twitter for updates on who would face Duke on Monday.  I had gotten so caught up in Wisconsin upsetting Kentucky that I had forgotten about the ticket.

I remembered only when I saw a tweet go by that mentioned that an inquiry in the Woodbine 11th had been resolved with no change.  I rooted through my Twitter feed for information on who actually won the race, and finally found a screenshot.  Camaes Fellow had won.  I looked at the four horses under him, and I thought all of them rang a bell.  That had to be wishful thinking, but I pulled the ticket out of my pocket, just to make sure.

Camaes Fellow, Bilbo Hanover, Cougar Hall, Regal Son, The Rev.


I had it.

I posted my ticket on Twitter, and someone asked me if it was deliberate or not that I had 2,6,7,12 in my fourth leg.  I looked back at my ticket, and sure enough: Joshua My Boy had taken Cougar Hall’s place.  I had punched the ticket incorrectly, which would also explain why the ticket cost more than I expected it would.

Fortunately, in that blanket finish behind Camaes Fellow, Cougar Hall’s nose just beat Regal Son’s to the wire for third.  Despite lacking both experience and finger dexterity, I had my first signer.

I don’t see myself becoming much of a Super High Five player in the future.  I am still a small-potatoes bettor, and my first three-figure score will not change that.  But, I now have enough money for something fun (an out-of-state racetrack trip, perhaps?), and a reason to become less clueless about standardbred racing.

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