They were betting trifectas. This means you have to pick all three fastest horses in the right order. They already knew who would who would win and who would show, they were only worried about who would place.
“Madam Butterfly or Mary Jane’s Last Dance?” Juan asked.
“Most betters are going with Madam Butterfly but I don’t know…”
Dave looked down at his race sheet.
“…Remember Marshmallow Martini was favored in the last race–and he didn’t even place.”
“Yeah, that’s true.”
“Damn everything starting with an ‘M’ is bringing us confusion,” I say.
“Shut up and let us think,” Juan answers.
They were right. I was a terrible gambler with no knowledge of the mathematics or madness dancing like pin balls inside the minds of the addicts. They were scientists of the sport, and I was merely an admirer of the beauty.
“You go get some fresh air buddy,” Juan says. “Let us think for the last minutes we have to place this bet.”
My shadow was hovering across his race sheet like a ghost. He was scared and so was I. This was the last of our money: five thousand pesos. This was our last chance and though I couldn’t contribute anything to their discussion I certainly didn’t want to be blamed for the outcome.
I walked outside over to get closer to the track. I wanted to get a good look at the horses as they waited to make it into the stadium.
Madam Butterfly was black and very masculine, not at all feminine like her name suggests. She kicked at the dirt with her long legs, picking up sand as her jockey patted her head and kicked his heel into her chest.
I tried to find number four, Mary Jane’s Last Dance. She was golden and fantastic. One of the finest horses I’ve ever seen. Her legs were nimble and strong; longer than Madam Butterfly but looked much calmer, trotting slowly in little dance steps as her jockey smiled and spoke softly into her ear. Mary Jane’s Last Dance was worthy of earning her name, and I knew she was going to place.
I tried to find the two favorites. There was the number one horse, The Sky is the Limit off in the corner with his head down. He looked like a doctor just before surgery; complacent and confident in his capacity yet completely aware of what was required of him, not paying attention to any distractions. He was a brown stallion, and very large and it looked as if that horse was made to run like hell and do nothing else.
“Number two is going to start off strong,” Juan said. “But then he’ll be a goner and ‘il fall back at the end ‘cause he’ll have nothing left in the tank.”
“Hell yes,” he said. “The Sky’s the Limit will be spent by the time he reaches that final corner–and that short final straightway will be when Violent Storm gets into full gear and takes over the last couple lengths.”
“It’s designed for Violent Storm,” I said.
They looked at me like I was an idiot.
“What?” I said. “That short straightaway ending is designed for a horse named Violent Storm.”
“Please don’t talk,” Juan said.
I walked away to watch the horses enter the stadium. I always love it when they come out. There’s always a crazy one, with legs in the air, howling like a wolf.
“Errrrrrr,” bellowed Sugar Tequila in the corner. They were struggling to get her into the starting booth. The filly didn’t want to enter and her jockey was nearly knocked off her neck a few times. He was screaming at her, swearing in Spanish and sweating like a pig wrapped in bacon frying in the heat of the sun.
“Pinche pendejo chingona,” he said. “Vamanos–por favor Tequila–ahorita odale pues guey!”
They final got her inside and continued down the line at the starting gate. The Sky is the Limit was the next to enter. He did so with no hesitation at all; head bobbing back and forth slowly. I knew that colt was something special from the first time I laid eyes on him. Silver mane shining beneath the sweltering noonday Tijuana sun he danced leisurely onto the track. He was graceful and methodical and a vision to watch. Looking at the scoreboard the betting odds had her paying five for ten, and slightly favored over Violent Storm.
Madam Butterfly was paying thirty to one and Mary Jane’s Last Dance was thirty-seven to one. I didn’t know who we wanted, but I knew Mary Jane’s Last Dance was going to get it. I knew we would make a lot of money on the trifecta if we won. Winning: that’s all that mattered.
All the horses were in and ready to go. I looked back but couldn’t see Dave or Juan. Everybody was standing up and ready for the final race of the day. Almost all the money was on Violent Storm and The Sky is the Limit and rightly so. These two took off strong in the number one and two positions, inching ahead of the pack and then pulling further ahead after the first corner. They passed my position flying so fast it looked like their feet barely touched the dust.
There was no way anyone was going to catch them and The Sky is the Limit looked like he was pushing so hard he was trying to launch himself into space. But then his head started shaking lower to the ground and more violent. I was watching the jumbotron to get a better view and Violent Storm was making up ground fast as they made it around the final turn.
In the pack there were two horses fighting for third. They were trying to get ahead and both decided to go for the inside at the same time. The horses’ legs buckled in slow motion and “agggghhhh,” swept through the crowd like a broom rubbing across the faces of the patrons grabbing their mouths and chests.
An accident took down a couple horses, tossing anorexic jockeys through the air like rag dolls. They landed on the track and were immediately smacked like a piñata, horses somehow managing to continue as if their bodies were nothing but shadows.
The two favorites crossed the finish line and I didn’t even have a chance to see who won. The whole pack was fighting to place, five horses jockeying for one position on the platform. They crossed the finish line in a furious cloud of dust, whipping the horses with madness and hatred.
I sat back complacent and waited for the scoreboard. After a few seconds, number eight, Violent Storm, was posted in the highest position as the winner.
“Wooooooooo,” roared through the crowd.
“Yeeeaaaahhhhh,” I screamed.
Number two, flashed in red lights in the place spot right beneath number eight. The Sky is the Limit did it. They were right and I knew it would be awhile before the final number was posted. Everyone was waiting, frozen faces and no more shouting. A few women were laughing and a man drinking next to me tore up his ticket and threw it up into the air. His face looked sick and I had to turn away. I ran up the steps looking for my friends. We came to Mexico with twenty thousand pesos and this bet could double that if all went well.
“Come on Madam Butterfly sweetie–come on number seven–come on Madam Butterfly, come on girl…,” Dave said.
“Why is it taking so long?” Juan asked.
Juan wiped the sweat from his face. He was red like a lobster, sun burnt so bad he was glistening, looking quickly back and forth between the screen and the heavens like a demented lunatic. He was praying and pinching his cheeks, lips moving; saying nothing. Something had to happen.
Number 7 flashed across the screen in the place spot.
“Goddamnit,” Dave said.
“Ayyyyaaaaayyyyy,” Juan said, “Noooooooooo…”
Juan sunk back to his seat in silence. Dave pounded his chest like a gorilla. Now we had no money for tequila, only a little beer and tacos and weed. No heroin, only sunshine and senoritas and promises of better trifectas. I decided to brighten the mood and break the silence. This sadness is madness and we should have planed this trip better.
“Same old story–mañana, mañana, mañana–but I would have went with Mary Jane’s Last Dance.“