March 1997 Hot Springs, Arkansas /
Everybody Bets, Arkansas Derby


How to Wager:

1st: State the AMOUNT of the Wager

(Any sum from 2$ to $250)

2nd: State the TYPE of Wager

(Win, Place, Show, or Daily Double)

3rd. State the NUMBER of the Horse

(Example: $5 to WIN on No.3)


Everybody bets. Old women, old men, the horse handlers, rub down guys, hot walkers, that guy in the little grey cap who weighs in the jockeys after the race, the red-jacketed guys who change the gate numbers, the bugle player, even the washroom attendants. All of the employees at Oaklawn Racetrack bet.

There is a racing form in their hip pocket, a pen in their hands, and a concerned conversation on their lips. ‘I’ve got Omi in the 2nd, whatduyuh think?’ ‘Look too long, you’re wrong,’ There is a statistic here at the track in Hot Springs, 80-85% of all racetrack employees, at payday, owe their employer money from wagers they made during their workweek. They owe their employers money.


The guys that kill me are the men who stand inside. Picture perfect day. Race #2 has started. These men crane their necks to watch this same race inside on close-circuited T.V. while it is running a few yards from them outside on the track. They place their bets at red neon 50 Dollar minimum windows.’ Bring me a winner!’ they yell to the jockeys as the horses are paraded through a narrow tunnel out to the gate.


Oaklawn is a smaller track on the racing circuit, a precursor to the Kentucky Derby. This year Crypto Star is favored to win and go on to Louisville.


It’s a game: a fever, even the parking lot attendants give us ‘hot’ tips. There’s a cash machine by the bathrooms. Even if know nothing about horseracing or how to read the forms, your favorite name or hunch or color of a horse gives you just as much chance of winning as anybody else.


In a matter of a mile and a half, bums can be transformed into kings. And kings cry ‘damn’ ripping their fortunes into thousands of little white forlorn losing slips of betting confetti that litter the floor as they leave.

You can box a bet, trifecta it, bet on the horse to win, place, or show. There are long shots and even money, and to be sure there is money to be made. But there is no such thing as a ‘sure’ thing. There is no such thing as a ‘sure’ thing.


© 2018 Lynn Pauley