When I was ten years old, my great uncle Farid took me to Longacres Racetrack in Renton, Washington. The afternoon is indelibly imprinted in my mind. It has — in the following 20 years — become gauzy and disconnected and bright in the way that old memories get over time.
Great uncle Farid gave me some advice that day: “Bet on the shiniest horse,” he said, arguing that the shiniest horse will be the healthiest — and thus the fastest in the field. I have since applied Farid’s advice with mixed results.
That day, Farid also told me a number of stories about growing up in Cairo — and how nearly every morning he’d take the trolley from their flat in Heliopolis to the racetrack. Horse racing was the sport of the Egyptian gentry; Farid was hooked at an early age by the pageantry and valiant strength of the desert-bred horses.
Later, when he was very frail and hospitalized with a heart ailment, Farid told me that they’d always called him “The Laughing Gambler,” because he was always laughing — win or lose. And that seems to me to be a wonderful thing.
This weekend, I went to Emerald Downs — the track that replaced Longacres. Now, instead of a chapped wooden grandstand and a row of pines, there’s a towering metallic grandstand and a series of luxury boxes.
But the allure is still there. I made 18 dollars on a horse named Padilla Bay, and lost 5 on Blackberry Hill. Blackberry Hill had — undoubtedly — the shiniest coat. He burst from the gate and held the lead for over half of the race; he was lengths and lengths ahead of the other horses. But then he got tired. He faded quickly, and ended up finishing last.
But Farid was — in some ways — right. For over 1/2 a mile, Blackberry Hill was the fastest horse on the track.