Billy Jack by Sandra Martin
While I was married to the father of my children and living as a suburban mother in Richmond, Virginia, I had a very strange day at the horse races.
As young married couples do, we had lots of friends and many of those friends were trying to sell us something and often it seemed to be insurance. Our insurance salesman friend was a great guy, full of life and a super salesman. I am pretty certain we were over insured. The friend was trying to get my husband’s company insurance account and so to push him over to saying yes; he’d invited us to go to the racetrack in Maryland. I’d never been to the races and neither had my husband, so we said sure, sounds like fun.
I’d never seen the insurance salesman without a suit. Even at backyard barbeques. H is wife bragged that her husband had never seen her without makeup. I asked how she did that and she said I get up before him and the children and do my makeup and my hair and I’m ready for the day. She seemed pretty uptight to me. But she always looked gorgeous, liked she’d just walked out of a fashion magazine. They were blond, tall and elegant. Conversely, my husband and I were short and extremely casual.
The car was loaded with coolers of drinks and snacks and we were off to the Pimlico Racetrack near Baltimore. It was a lovely spring Saturday morning. The men talked and the wives listened. They talked work, sports and business. We opened cans, bottles and handed out snacks and napkins. They assured us we’d have the time of our lives and that they went all the time. The salesman was a big horse racing fan and “quite” good at handicapping the races so the wife said. We were going for the fun.
We arrived and as we walked in, we were handed a racing form of all the horse races. It was a small, stapled, flimsy little pamphlet, just a page apiece for the ten races with the horse’s names and the jockey’s names. The insurance man had reserved seats and it was obvious he knew his way around.
My husband and the insurance salesman were studiously studying the racing form; the salesman suggesting who they should be betting on, being the expert and all. Apparently, he’d had a lot of luck at the races. They walked over to the paddock check the horses over and then up to make their bets.
The wife had gone off to the ladies room to check her hair and makeup, I guess.
I sat alone in our reserved seats nearest the track and just studied the list. I read each horses name and each jockeys name and after a few seconds of thought, one of the names would pop into my head. I’d put a check by that name. I’d go to the next race and do the same. I did the same process for all the races on my little flimsy pamphlet.
After about twenty minutes the horses were walked around the ring. It seemed to me there were a lot of horses. They seemed to me, very spirited, very large and very nervous animals.
The guys came back from checking out the horses, the wife from the ladies room and I asked my husband if I could place a bet. They laughed and said sure. Those were the days: asking your husband if you could spend your own money. I went up and placed my $2 bet. The wife never looked at her pamphlet and never bet. Race 1; my bet was $2 and I placed it to win. That is what I learned when I walked up to the window and this older woman with a cigarette hanging out of her mouth asked.
We chatted and waited for the races to begin.
Finally, they did. It was exciting and I immediately got caught up in the energy of cheering for my horse. And amazingly enough, he won! I was thrilled. The men hadn’t bet on him, so they weren’t quite as excited. They seemed happy for me and patted me on the back with “beginner’s luck.” I walked up to the window and got my winnings. Nice. I liked this horse racing a lot.
They looked at my list and asked why on earth I’d gone through and selected each of the horse races “winners” when I hadn’t even seen the horses. I had no answer.
I placed my second $2 bet on the next horse race. He won, too. Beginner’s luck. Again.
I placed my third $2 bet on the next horse race. Again, the guys were condescendingly solicitous but said, again patting me on my back, beginner’s luck.
Beginner’s luck was working for me.
By the fourth race, I was drawing a crowd. A little old lady in tennis shoes and no teeth, was peering over my shoulder while I was sitting. My husband shooed her off. A little nervous now that I’d won four races, I was agreeing, yes, it was just beginner’s luck and I was certain I’d lose the next one.
Inside I felt a growing enthusiasm mixed with excitement and that over-mixed with total anxiety. But I kept smiling.
Meanwhile the guys continued to bet on the horses that they’d look at, walked around to check them over, talked to the other men walking around and then they’d made their bets. They talked to the jockeys and often the owners. They were betting real money while I was still betting $2. They were not winning.
I kept winning: each race I had picked the winner.
They men had continued to bet on other horses after extensive examination of the horses and discussions with jockeys, owners and other men milling around. Still no winners. They seemed edgy and nervous now. And somehow they were not happy with me.
I continued to win. Now I had won nine races. I went from hyper excitement to a careful and quiet pondering on this experience.
After the fourth race I had people around me like I was a flower and they were the bees. My husband kept trying to shoo them away but they were determined. When they asked me who I was betting on I’d tell them. I was open to what was happening and amazed at it all at the same time.
The last race, both men came to me, took my list off my lap and checked my pamphlet to see who I was betting on: Billy Jack. He didn’t have a good race record they told me. He’d never win they said. I said okay I was fine with that. I was grateful I’d been so lucky so far. Yes, they said, that was definitely beginner’s luck. For sure.
When they came back from the betting window the two of them stood there, arms folded across their chests and said sternly, “You better be right this time because we’ve put all the money we have left on that horse.”
No pressure or anything.
“Well, as you’ve said repeatedly, it is just beginners luck.”
My coterie of tag-alongs, watching my every move, was listening to those two men announcing to me they’d made bets on “my” horse. Suddenly it seemed there was unrest in the air, instead of happy, anticipatory excitement. They were mumbling and scrambling about talking to each other. They were asking if it was a bad sign that these two men had finally bet on one of “my” horses. They’d been following along, ever since race three and they had money to show for it. Maybe it was a sign that my luck had run out.
The insurance agent’s wife was non-partisan. She had been quiet as a mouse, sitting with her beer and listening. She made no comments even when I tried to engage her — for support. None was forthcoming. She had to go home with him, she said.
Finally, the race began. Sure enough Billy Jack was dead last. Like by two or three horse lengths. My groupies, my fellow winners and, my companions, the losing men got really quiet.
Then very slowly Billy Jack began to pull up from the outside and pass the other horses. We were leaning onto that heavy wooden fence quietly begging him, urging him, willing him to win. As he pulled farther and farther ahead we all erupted into a screaming mass of hysteria.
Billy Jack won the race.
The entire place went into a wild pandemonium.
I think I left my body. Or maybe I was just before passing out from holding my breath.
I was so grateful Billy Jack had won.
I was grateful because of all those people had been betting on what I’d been betting on and I didn’t want to let them down. Of course, I had no idea how I’d tuned in and picked all those winning horses so each race I worried and wondered and agonized over whether I should bet my $2 but each time I did. I kept saying to myself, “it is just beginner’s luck — it won’t happen again — but it kept happening again. It was a wild ride. If I could’ve run down and kissed Billy Jack I would’ve.
We had dinner at a fancy restaurant in Washington, D.C. No one actually said “Thank you Sandra that was extraordinary.” The insurance man and his wife were sure it was beginner’s luck all the way.
Finally, my husband hesitantly said, near the end of dinner, “Sandra is really lucky and wins things all the time-I think she is psychic.” I demurred, “No, no, you’re right, it was just beginner’s luck. “
The next week the insurance man called my husband to see if we wanted to go to the horse races again. No, definitely not. My husband had had enough of that. He really didn’t like it when I had attention focused on me. He was much happier as the King of the Family.
The following week, the insurance man called me, directly, to see if I’d go with him to the races. I, of course, said no thank you. The following week he called and said he’d pay me to go with him to the races. I said, of course, no thank you to that, too. Finally, he called and said that if he gave me the names of the horses would I just chose the winners. Nope, that wasn’t working for me either.
Finally, after a couple of months he gave up.
September 30, 2016
Author of Snapshots: Memories and Recipes Heart wrenching, magical, funny, romantic: stories of my life.
SANDRA MARTIN’s career as a literary agent and executive producer for television has been devoted to bringing inspiring and boundary breaking books and television documentaries in the fields of spirituality, self-help and consciousness to the mainstream public.