Who do you like today?
That is the question that stared back at me from the Canterbury Park program I was holding in my hand July 14 when I and five friends went on a summer adventure to watch horse racing in Shakopee, with the hopes of hitting it big with our small budgets.
I was feeling confident going in, having correctly picked the winner in three of the past four Kentucky Derbies.
But this was no Triple Crown race with endless hours of exhausting coverage from the other Randy Moss (ESPN/ABC Sports thoroughbred race analyst), I would have to research the horses on my own.
As the lofty towers and waving flags of Canterbury Park came in to view, it felt as if we were approaching the castle of horses, and after taking one look at the Daily Racing Form I realized I was about to become its jester.
As a racetrack rookie, I can best compare the task of picking winning horses with trying to play fantasy football after only watching handful of NFL games and not being able to name one player.
The DRF is a daily publication that provides past performance information for every horse in every race for racetracks around the United States. The Canterbury veterans assured our band of naive high school graduates that the DRF was a necessity.
They were right, the DRF does possess more information than you would ever want to know about every horse, the problem is that a degree in code breaking is needed to read the lines and columns of jumbled numbers.
I don't know about the other race fans, but me reading about a horse named Bjellebo in race one and comprehending - 66 1 10 7 6-1/2 5-3/4 5 4 54 Nolan P M LB123 11.80 102 - was as likely as Michael Vick winning the Westminster Dog Show.
How was I supposed to know who was going to win from that chaotic mess?
I soaked the DRF in lemon juice and held it up to light, hoping the winning horse's name would shine through in invisible ink, but alas, the key to picking winners would remain a secret.
As post time drew closer, it was time to place bets. And I thought putting $5 on a round of golf with my buddies was tough.
At Canterbury, there was win, place (second or better), show (third or better), daily double (winners of two consecutive races), exacta (top two horses in order), trifecta (top three in order), superfecta (top 4 in order), pick three (winners in a row), pick four and pick six to choose from.
Unfortunately, my winning aura from the Kentucky Derby didn't make the trip to Shakopee. I only picked three of nine winning horses. Crumpling up losing tickets and tossing them in the trash became an unwanted habit.
My fortunes finally reversed on the final race of the day. Struttinherstuff, touted as the Play of the Day, was going to be my girl in a last chance attempt at victory.
My fists clenched in excited anticipation as the starting gates opened and the cluster of horses began their 5 1/2 furlong jaunt. Coming off the final turn, Struttinherstuff pulled away from the thunderous herd and sprinted through the finish line, igniting a raucous celebration of high-fives and impromptu dancing from the winning crowd.
But it wasn't about the money, it was about selecting a horse, convincing your friends you know what you're talking about, leaning over the railing hollering at your horse to hold off the others and going crazy with jubilation when it does.
Struttinherstuff took the win while I took the winning ticket and strutted my stuff (which consisted of jumping around and screaming incoherent praises at the three-year-old filly) all the way home.
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