A Sure Thing (July 2008 Story of the Month)

by Joseph Grant

Ted had arisen early that morning to study the racing form and re-check his handicaps. Quietly, he had made coffee and ate a homemade frittata while he read the paper as his wife Kathy slept. He was careful not to make too much noise, allotting Kathy her all-important beauty sleep. This also allowed him to study the day’s racing form in veritable peace and solitude.

Nothing pleased Ted more than working on his novel through the morning and into the early afternoon while Kathy paid the bills. In an era of two income houses, his not working was an unorthodox arrangement at best and an uncomfortable conversation stopper for most. In some circles it was met with the same reaction as if Kathy had said her husband had been a felon or an Elvis imitator; while in some other circles those could be one in the same.

Kathy had not cared, in fact, it had been her idea. Ted was reluctant to go along with the odd proposal at first, but with Kathy’s law practice doing so well, she had practically begged him to take a year off and write the novel he had always wanted. Although in discussion this was sometimes met with the same confused look and blank stare as if he had admitted having come down with some incurable disease, Ted had grown comfortable with his new endeavor. He was doing what few had the pelotas to do and besides, if he kept his mind to the racing form spread out before him, they might be able to recoup some losses.

The phone rang. It was answered on the third ring. Ted knew who it was, but did not even bother to get up. He could hear the muffled sound of a one-sided conversation upstairs, but soon blocked it out with his focus on the races.

He did not so much as pay attention to the first two races, skipping them altogether. They were almost always mierda; a warm-up. The first was only for 350 yards and the least impressive mares ran in that one; the ones that had poor workouts and some of the older horses that had seen better days and better tracks. The second was worse, as it ran out at 220 yards and the third was the same as the first.

Not that Fairway Park was an inadequate track. Some of the finest ponies had galloped there and it had even seen some notoriety among Hollywood’s elite back in the day. The track itself was kept up nicely, as an old museum is kept up nicely, after all of the old masters had been sold off years ago.

Such was the case with Fairway. It had been a superior park in decades past. If it had been a horse, rather than a racetrack, it would have been shot long ago, thought Ted with a smile. Not that Ted advocated the shooting of any animal, let alone the noble equine. He knew a few people who should have that fate befall them, especially those who continued to call his very married wife, he thought smugly.

As if on cue, Kathy came trudging downstairs. She stomped one stair at a time in her slippers, her face contorted by a gaping yawn. She ambled sleepily to the bottom and held onto the banister and yawned again. Ted glanced up from his paper and shook his head.

Only he would consider her “morning beautiful.” Some women woke up like train wrecks, a little worse for the wear, while some woke up looking refreshed. She bridged the gap, but in her own sensual way. He looked up again at her as she stood there, her curly brown hair disheveled, her Garfield t-shirt wrinkled from a typical restless sleep, her slippers ratty and torn but it was all in achieved total radiance. In that way, some women wore disheveled well. Kathy just happened to make poetry of it. If, as Ted thought, women were the most attractive when they first woke up in the morning, Kathy was their unparalleled queen.

“Who was that?” he asked as his head sank back down to the racing form.

“Nobody,” Kathy shrugged and turned to go into the kitchen. “Why?”

“Why? Because you had a nice long conversation with nobody,” he spat.

“Knock it off, Ted?” Kathy whined. “At least give me twenty minutes before you start in, huh? Have some compassion. I just woke up,” she griped and poured herself a black coffee to go with her mood.

Ted ignored the taunt and went back to his handicaps. At least there, his odds were better, he grumbled.

“I’m going to take a shower,” she said and disappeared upstairs once more. Ted was pleased with the silence that ensued.

It seemed to Ted that they were running in different circles these days, but it had always been like that, he recalled. While it was true they were both from New York, the difference was that she was from a wealthy family in the Hamptons and he was from 14th Street. Despite their completely different existences they clicked when they met for the first time. Characteristically, he met her one day at the track when she was there with some worthless guy and he overheard her saying how baffled she was at handicapping. When the guy offered no help, Ted politely stepped in. Taken by her natural beauty, he explained in a sociable manner how it worked and when the guy went to make the bet, Ted asked for her phone number. Many racing seasons had passed since that day.

Ted often thought of their relationship in racing terms. When they met, he had been running in many races, in and out of many stables, along many confusing and endless furlongs. Kathy came along and one by one began to beat all of the other contenders out of the gate. She possessed more grace, intelligence, more raw talent and was more driven than the others trying to keep up with her and she had always been a sure thing to him, a lock. She had the look of a winner, he thought. Currently, he wasn’t so sure of his handicap. She looked as though she was breaking far too freely from him these days, he thought.

He went back to his racing form. He had already warmed up his cold cup of coffee twice in the microwave and became frustrated. He worked on the eleven races until the horses started to sound like Peckinpah titles. He was beat. He had capped all twelve races, the last sounding to him like the names of three a.m. hookers in Hunter Thompson novels. The names came off the page in ludicrous fashion, names that read Cherry Delight, Bonita Latina, Puss-n-Bootie, Pearl Necklace and his perennial favorite, Easy Does Her. He smiled at this until he looked up. A freshly showered Kathy was standing in front of him.

“You ready, sport?” she asked.

“Wow,” he said with a nod. “You look great.” He smiled as his eyes ate her up. In the clinging, low-cut top and shorts, she would be the least underdressed there, if not the most stared at, he thought proudly. “You look beautiful.”

“I know,” she nodded.

“But, we’re not going to the Monster Truck Rally. We’re going to the Fairway, could you please dress more appropriately?”

Kathy stared at him, her mouth twitching. This either meant she would tell him to go to hell or was stung by his remark. “But I have the hat.” She shrugged and touched the brim of her oversized hat with a smile and a turn.

“Yes, very nice,” he acquiesced. “We’re going to be late. Can you secure a nicer outfit in the next fifteen minutes?” he reasoned.

Kathy stood for a moment, glaring at the racing form, then disappeared back up the stairs. When she returned, she stood before him in a summer dress, her breasts bulging out of her top. Ted said nothing, knowing full well that the battle had been won, even if the war was not. Maybe what had been his Christmas present to her of a year ago would not be too obvious with that garish hat, he mused.

“I feel like I’m going to a funeral,” Kathy joked in the bright sunlight as they walked across the Fairway towards the paddock. “Look, there are other girls dressed like I was before.”

“Yeah.” Ted looked down and peered over the top of his sunglasses. “But they’re white trash and I won’t have my wife dressed like white trash. You’re much better than that,” he remarked and turned to her. Typically, she was not paying attention. The little attention she paid to him was not enough to make up for all the time her concentration was elsewhere, he felt. Sometimes the attention she paid to him was the wrong kind and it grated on his nerves. Other times she paid no attention to him at all and when asked, would tell him she was too busy.

The horses were paraded around the paddock in a circle by their trainers. Ted paid close attention to their gait, to their excitability, the amount of sweat they were producing and the lather of white, if any, between their legs. All of this, accompanied by the handicapping, gave him a good edge on whether his hunch was right. He also looked for glazing of the eyes and any slight foam around the mouth, sure signs of drugging. There had been allegations of drugging at this Park in the past, hell, even nerving. He knew trainers drugged them all the time in the majors, despite the iron fist of the Racing Commission. He knew they drugged here as well. He had gone down to the stables and was friendly with some of the trainers to the extent of getting inside tips from time to time and would hear enough stories to know it was continuous.

“I think That a Boy looks good for this race. He’s a serious contender, having run three great starts at Canterbury. He ran third here on the 28th of last month, though I like My Lil Mensa.” He added, “He’s a class drop, too.” Kathy laughed, knowing what mensa meant in Spanish.

“I like number three,” she said. “She looks strong, has a good build and has a fiery temperament.”

“Kind of like you.”

“Please.” She elbowed him with a smile. “Plus I like her colors and look at the jockey’s outfit, it coordinates.”

Ted sighed. “Kathy, you can’t pick the horse on account of the colors matching. Pick it on his bay, maybe but because the colors match the jockey??”

“I can pick my horse anyway I want to,” she pouted. “You stick to your handicaps and you pick them how you want to, I go by instinct.”

“Instinct?” he asked. “But you’re taking all of the beauty out of the sport.”

“So you say,” she gestured wildly. “It’s fashion that makes the sport,” she joked. “You’ve heard of a clotheshorse, haven’t you?” she chuckled. “Besides, the jockey’s outfit is cute. It would fit me.”

“I really can’t see you wearing something so shiny and bright with the green checkerboard design, Kath.”

“Silly Teddy Boy,” she cooed. “It’s all about accessorizing, too, you must know.”

Ted chose to say nothing but rolled his eyes all the same.

“All horses to the starting gate,” the overhead speakers intoned.

‘Come on, we’d better get a move on. It’s almost post time. The betting windows close in five minutes,” he said and grabbed her arm.

“Twenty quinella on two and seven,” he said to the guy at the window.

“A quinella?” Kathy questioned him. “What happened to number two to win?” she chided him.

“Easy, huh?” He smiled. “I couldn’t make up my mind, so I took both. Number seven has real possibilities, I think. Look at his stats.”

“Uh-huh,” Kathy said as they danced around each other and Kathy now placed her bet. “Three dollars to win on number three?”

“Wow,” Ted kidded her in return. “You must feel pretty confident about number three to triple your usual bet. Is there a science to it? Did the horse give you the tip?” he teased.

“Remember?” she smiled seductively. “It’s all about what they’re wearing this year in Southern California. I like the name, Nothing But Speed.

“Yes, I remember.” He shook his head as they went up the ramp from the betting area to the track.

The trumpeter was playing scales from my “My Old Kentucky Home”, then ridiculously launched into movie songs and then suddenly began to play “Olympic Spirit”, the song traditionally played before every horse race. Ted was glad to hear it, as the other songs, save for “My Old Kentucky Home” annoyed him. It ruined the solemnity of the sport. Racing was still the sport of kings, if polo was not, and deserved absolute respect. Look at what had happened to baseball, for crissakes. As soon as they added major league mascots it lost all the dignity of the Golden Era. You’d never see Ruth or DiMaggio playing second banana to some overgrown purple ball playing possum.

“Annnnnnnd….” the announcer slowly rattled. “They’re off!” Words of pure magic to his ears. Ted sighed. He was home again. The only thing that would compliment the short race, after all it was only going to be six furlongs, would have been a Scotch.  The getting of the drink would take longer than the actual race, he knew. He stayed put and watched the horses gallop past him. Numbers blurred as they passed but soon That A Boy and My Lil Mensa ran side by side out in front, kicking up a lot of firm slop. By contrast, Kathy’s horse, Nothing But Speed lagged behind in a distant fifth place behind number nine, A Lazy Day, hardly lazy at all, thought Ted.

As they rounded the back stretch, That A Boy and My Lil Mensa kept pace with the other horses with A Lazy Day giving good stead as a potential threat. As the horses galloped towards the backstretch, Ted started to beat his program against the rail. “Come on! Come on!” he yelled before his voice was drowned out by the excited crescendo of the crowd.

My Lil Mensa began to be overtaken by A Lazy Day as That A Boy began to gain. Out of nowhere as the horses rounded the final turn, number three, Nothing But Speed came from the outside, her legs attacking the soil like mad. It was almost with a machine-like precision, thought Ted. The horse ran all out and looked as though it had gone into overdrive.

“Come on, come on, three!” Kathy screamed at the top of her lungs. “Come on!” Her voice escalated. “Look at her go!”

Nothing But Speed overtook A Lazy Day, My Lil Mensa and finally ran neck and neck with That A Boy, as they both reached the post, it was a classic dead-heat, photo finish. Ted could hardly believe it. When the results became official, with Nothing But Speed declared the winner, Ted was incredulous. A real closer, he thought.

Not only was his horse robbed, he thought, he was also shit out of luck with the twenty dollar quinella. If Kathy’s horse had stayed where it had been most of the race, he would have won enough to keep them betting comfortably all day. Now that Kathy’s horse had taken the race, they only stood to win as good as three times whatever odds the horse had been placed. He looked at the board. 10:1, shit, he thought. A whole thirty dollars. Kathy jumped up and down and screamed, “I won! I won!”

He nodded and smiled and gave his little happy wife a hug. “Congrats, hon.”

“I’m going to cash in,” she exclaimed excitedly.

“Okay, meet me at the paddock.”

“Don’t you want to come with me?” she moped.

“Not really.” He shook his head.

“Oh, lighten up, Ted. It’s only the first race we’ve bet on,” she countered. “Fine, then. Go to the paddocks. I’ll be busy collecting my money, sour puss.”

Ted walked off into the milling crowd. He was too upset to correct her use of the plural paddocks, when it was singular. He couldn’t get over how her horse had won. He needed a drink.

As he stood in line, an attractive blonde tapped him on the shoulder.

“My name’s Lynn.”


“So are you going to buy me a drink?”


“I’ll tell you more if you buy me a drink.”

“Can you tell me you play the ponies by handicapping them or by the jockey’s cute outfits?” he griped at her and turned back around. He got his Scotch off a lovely Latina and stormed off towards the paddock.

Again, he looked at his scratch sheet and played it against his latest handicaps and program tips. He took of the cheap, watered down Scotch and waited for the buzz. It was cheap liquor so it boarded the last car of the slowest train before finally arriving.

“So?” Kathy entered his consciousness, destroying a current handicapping thought.

“Hold on,” he said and wrote a number, scratched it and then looked up. “Oh, the hell with it, you broke my concentration.”

“Sorry,” she said. “Look!” She smiled and held up her winnings. She had the most perfect smile.


“Okay.” She leaned in and looked at his program. “Who do we like this race?”

“Well, I’m betting number four, Sharp-eyed Lady.” He pointed with his pencil. “She’s got pretty nice odds and believe me, I won’t waste another twenty. I’ll put her on the nose,” he reasoned. “She had a good blow-out at Del Mar two weeks ago and ran second in a eight hundred seventy yard race against the Quarter Horses here a week before that. The racing program says she is certainly a solid, a contender.”

“Well, I like Ain’t She a Beaute. She’s got a good physique and is very excited, look at her, you can tell. She’s got a nervous energy and I like that. Plus, the white and red outfit.”

Ted threw his hands up. “Why don’t you just pick them by their outfits?”

Kathy looked at him. “That would be silly, that’s why.”

Kathy’s phone rang in her purse. She pulled out the cell and looked at it and then at Ted. Her face flushed.

“Get it,” he mocked. “You know it’s him. That’s his number.” he said, looking at the i.d.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” she said nervously.

“Pick it up,” he taunted. “It’s his number.”

“Ted, please.” She shook her head. “I’d better pick it up, it could be work.”

“On a Saturday?” he berated her and watched her turn and answer the call. He could not believe she took the call just like that in front of him.

“Yeah.” She said and put up a finger. “Could you just…hold on…Ted?”

Ted looked at her.

“Could you place a bet for me on number six? Yes, six,” she said and confirmed the number. “Here’s ten dollars to win, huh?” She handed him a crumbled ten dollar bill and turned back around.

The balls on this woman, he cursed. Not only was she taking a calls from the guy she always said was a wrong number, but now he was running bets for her! As he stormed off he had no idea why he was doing this, but there he was, heading across the scuffed black and white floor tile towards the betting window.

Aggravated beyond cohesive thinking, he placed both of their bets and wandered back to where they had been standing moments ago. Kathy came along right before the next race started and was slightly sweaty and nervous.

“Here,” Ted said and shoved a betting slip towards her.

“Thanks,” she said and looked down at the track and then the ticket. “Oh, wait! I wanted number six to win, hon.”

“Don’t hon me,” he muttered. “No you said to place.”

“Ted, I asked for him to win.” She stressed the last word. “If you can’t place a bet right, I might as well do it myself.”

“No, you said to place,” Ted griped. “If you weren’t so busy with your boyfriend.”

“Stop, okay?” He’s not my boyfriend,” she corrected him. “He’s my, he’s just my, uh, friend. We’re friends, okay?”

“Uh-huh,” Ted said and took another swig of his drink. “He works fast. The guy goes from being a wrong number yesterday to being a friend. Smooth.”

“Look, I said stop it,” she snapped. “I don’t ask you about your friends, I know you have some. I know you’ve thought of them.”

“Are we here to watch the race or are we here to argue?” he retorted. “Cos, if we’re here to gamble, that’s fifty-fifty, but if we’re here to argue, that’s a sure thing.”

“Quit it! Now you’re being an ass,” she sniffed. “Let’s have fun today, okay? Have another drink while you’re at it. How many is that, by the way?”

“Oh, here we go…it’s my first and I haven’t even finished it. Calm the fuck down,” he barked at her. “The race is about to start. Watch, okay?”

The bell clanged and the horses broke quickly. The caller delivered the standard monotone soliloquy and was mercifully drowned out by the surge of the crowd noise. The race was for 1 1/16 miles and again was a tight one. Ted beat the outside rail with his program the way he did every run as Kathy’s horse did not win, but placed. He couldn’t even spot his horse. He wondered if the horse had somehow caught a ride with the ambulance that always followed behind.

Kathy jumped up and down as she had won again. The odds were better this time at 30:1. Ted could not believe his luck or lack thereof.  “So much for Mister Handicap,” she snipped when he did not congratulate her.

“You’re killing me,” he sputtered dejectedly into his seat. “Whoever heard of picking races based on the color coordination between the jockeys and their horses?”

“I’m winning, aren’t I?” Kathy gloated. “You’re just mad.”

“Don’t you have money to collect or a phone call to make?” he said without looking at her.

“You’re an ass,” she snapped and stormed off.

“And you’re just some ‘wrong number’s’ piece of one.” He smiled and raised his glass as Kathy glanced back at him through the crowd. She changed her demeanor and semi-smiled at him and waved. She hadn’t heard a word.

In the races that followed that afternoon, Kathy had picked more winners than he, much to his frustration. He began to do something dangerous to one who would strategize the art of the race. With each new win and phone call she received, he began to doubt himself. He started to wonder if he was now out of the race and had backed the wrong horse.


BIO: Joseph Grant is originally from New York City and his short stories have been published in 80 literary reviews and e-zines, such as Byline, New Authors Journal, Nite-Writer's International Literary Arts Journal,Howling Moon Press, Hack Writers, New Online Review, Literary Tonic, six sentences and most recently in NexGenPulp, the UK literary review, Bottom of the World and another UK review, Cupboard Gloom. He has written for The New York Bar Guide (as a reviewer) and has contributed various newspaper articles to The Pasadena Star, Whittier News and The San Gabriel Tribune. He has also published a work of verse, Indigo, with Alpha Beat Press and has completed his first novel. He currently resides in Los Angeles. Six stories of his have been recently featured in 6S Volume 1, a collection of short stories by various writers available at Amazon. He also had a story appear in the November 2008 issue of Grim Graffiti.