At the track: Betting on the Kentucky Derby is decadent and depraved |

At the track: Betting on the Kentucky Derby is decadent and depraved

Benjamin Welch
The Aspen Times
I once thought I would be a good jockey because I'm short, but balancing over a giant, sprinting stallion looks uncomfortable. I'm anxious enough just being strapped into a harness.

I have a strange relationship with sports gambling. In fact, I very rarely do it. I’ve noticed that anytime I place a wager, the opposite result seems to happen at a rate not aligned with traditional laws of average. I start questioning if Jesus is angry at me and enacting revenge as my mid-20s existential crisis rages on.

My betting strategy is generally to assume my team will lose, and if they win, it’s $15 well spent. If they lose, I can use my winnings to buy a bottle and drown my sorrows. I consider myself the sacrificial lamb of sports fandom, to continue with the Jesus allegory. (This kind of blasphemy is probably why he’s mad at me.)

One exception to the rule: the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes.

We only get three televised horse races a year, and you can condense your screaming and jumping around into two minutes as opposed to rationing it over four hours while watching a football game. Also, instead of making wagers where you’re risking more than you can win, a $1 superfecta bet on the ponies could yield thousands of dollars.

The night before Churchill Downs I read dozens of articles by oddsmakers, journalists, trainers, speculators and soothsayers to determine how to spend my allotted $50. The consensus suggested the smart money was, of course, on Justify, but there were a number of longshots in the 20-horse field that could return a nice payday. Winning $100 that I would have to go through the rigmarole of extracting from a hypothetical-and-for-entertainment-purposes-only offshore casino doesn’t thrill me like going against the chalk for a get-rich-quick cashout.

Six terrible mint juleps, 120 seconds and four “I’m going to turn that horse into glue!” threats later, I was broke.

The chance of redemption awaited a couple of weeks later at the Preakness. The winner was almost certain and a smaller field meant heavy favorites to place and show. Good Magic challenged Justify early and then faded into fourth place on the home stretch, and so thusly went my hopes of hitting a big trifecta. My friends watched as I shrieked and darted into the parking lot, enraged, but managing (this time) not to tear off my clothing in frustration. Maybe I should stick with spreading my emotions out across a longer contest, after all.

The Belmont was to be my resurrection. With Justify such a heavy favorite to take the Triple Crown, it only made sense (in my mind) to wager on an upset. I bet dozens of exotic combinations, and dreamed of a payday that would release me from the crushing weight of a lifetime of student debt. Visions of investing in Toys R Us and GameStop danced in my head.

I correctly chose the winner and third place, but Gronkowski came back from out-of-camera distance to unexpectedly place. I did not become a millionaire, as is obvious because I’m writing this and not relaxing in the Dead Sea or somewhere, but I feel my negative juju played a part in propelling Justify to the Triple Crown. If Bob Baffert wants to throw me a little kickback in appreciation for my efforts, well, maybe he can “harness” my energy for next year, too.