June 4, 1927

By Gregory Clark, June 4, 1927.

Since the opening of the racing season I have made twenty-one mind bets.

I lost then all.

Of all the forms of saving money none is more stirring than making mind bets. In the mind, I bet five dollars each on the twenty-one horses I picked with a pin out of the newspaper entries.

That makes $105 I have saved in a couple of weeks.

From now on I am raising my bets to $25 each, and by the end of the racing season I will have probably saved several thousand dollars.

The betting men around the office say:

“Wait a few days until you strike a skin that pays thirty to one. That will wipe out your entire savings. There’s the makings of a race fan in you yet.”

But there is a funny thing about betting. Last year Canada bet forty million dollars on the horses that ran on Canada’s tracks. Forty million dollars cash, not counting mind bets nor the money a man wished he had bet as he stands with his two-dollar winning ticket in his hand staring ruefully into space.

This forty million was all lost.

When you put up five dollars and win fifty, the fifty does not come out of the air. It comes out of the pockets of all the down-hearted people standing around you.

Forty million dollars was lost by race-goers last year. But forty millions was not won. Because the government took a share of it in taxes and the betting machines took some in percentages.

No money comes out of the air. It comes out of pockets.

This is a fact the ladies don’t seem able to grasp.

The ladies have the idea that they are betting against the race track company.

“Excuse me,” said a lady to one of the ticket-sellers in the case, “but this is the fifth bet I’ve lost to-day in a row. I wonder if you couldn’t give me back my two dollars just this time and let me try once more?”

In shooting the forty million Canada seems to have a lot of fun. The game would not be so popular if it were not amusing. But the peak, crest and topknot of the fun that is to be seen around a race track, funnier sure than the face of a cock-sure man who is licked, funnier than the conversation of the man who keeps repeating to his friends that he KNEW this was a good one, and why didn’t he put fifty dollars on it instead of two dollars – the funniest thing on a race track is a woman who bets.

Oh, yes, they bet. At the near end of the pari-mutuel machine sheds there is a compartment reserved exclusively for the lady gamblers.

This enclosure is funny to begin with. It has separate wickets for $2 bets to show which means betting $2 that the horse will be either first second or third. This wicket is the one where the long line-up of the ladies is.

Then there are wickets for the $2 bets for place and straight. There are in all a dozen $2 bet wickets.

Last of all comes one wicket where $5 bet tickets are sold for straight, place or show. And there are hardly any ladies ever at this wicket.

Ladies Are Pikers

The ladies are pikers. If the policeman will let you get near enough to the line-up of women of all ages and sizes, you will discover that there are many of them in pairs, and that they are splitting a $2 ticket between them, thus managing to make a $1 bet, although the race track company does not provide for such small bets.

From all that has been written and said about race tracks you might expect that these line-ups of ladies would consist, if not entirely of painted and powdered ladies with loud clothes, at least of ladies of fashion who have no objection to being photographed by crouching press photographers.

The line-up is absolutely astonishing. A girl with the least decoration on her face stands forth like a Jezebel.

The majority are drab, sober ladies, school-maamy, house-wifey, some of them a little threadbare even, and certainly most of them with a sobriety of face that one associates more with church work and welfare societies than with the race track. The impression given by the line-up in the women’s enclosures is that there are going to be a lot of tired men going to have late suppers tonight.

No air of gaiety hangs over the scene. The thing it is most like is the line-up outside a court room. Everybody concentrating on the story they are going to tell and determining to stick to it. No smiles. No giggling. No adventurous agitation. Most of them are slightly pallid and hushed. And it is $2 tickets they are waiting for.

These women did not accompany their men to the track. If they had they would have got their menfolk to buy the tickets. You know women. They have come on their own and in pairs and groups. Possibly some of them are placing their husbands’ bets, husbands being at work.

They line-up for their next bets much earlier than the men. The minute one race is over and while the men are still watching for “official” or studying the odds for the next race, the women are in line. The bargain counter habit, maybe. But there are no bargains in tickets.

One young woman arrives at her turn at the wicket in a tremendous state of confusion.

“Oh, dear,” she cries, “I’ve forgotten which horse it is. The names are so alike. I can’t remember whether it is Miguel or St. Patrick!”

“Please hurry, madam,” says the ticket seller. The ladies immediately behind in the line-up make impatient sounds.

“If I go and ask my friends will I lose my place in the line?”

“Certainly you will, madam,”

“You couldn’t wait a minute?”

Turning her head she cries, “Ellen! Oh. Ellen!” into space, and then staring fiercely at the card in her hand moans:

“Oh, give me a ticket on-on–High Heels!”

A $2 ticket.

“A special kind of a sap has to be given these jobs,” said one of the ticket men in the women’s betting enclosure. “You have to have tact and be polite, but forceful, you know. They come and ask you which horse you like best. They ask for either Black Smoke or Hamlet and leave it to you to select which. They accuse you of having given them the wrong ticket. They want to engage in conversation, and they have far, more nerve than men have with a line-up of excited people right on their heels. They often don’t make up their minds until it is their turn at the wicket.

“What do I think they bet for? Some of these women expect to outfit themselves for the year out of their winnings. Some have visions of a regular gold strike. They bet long shots, not the favorite, and they all think they are betting not against all the other people on the track, but against the company. I have had plenty of women try to beg back their money.”

They are not very quick, as a rule, in the little knacks of the racing game. They forget their colors, they mix up their horses’ numbers. A steeplechase was being run, and two girls standing up in front were screaming for their horse, which was several lengths in the lead.

The Torn-Up Ticket

They thought it was their horse.

It fell, and the two sat down in dismay. A whole two bucks gone! They stared at each other with that woebegone expression that comes so easily to the face of a girl. As the horses passed in the final spurt the two girls stood up grudgingly, drawn to their feet by the roar of cheers.

And there was their horse – their right horse – by the number of it – coming in first.

“You said yellow and blue!” accused one.

“It says yellow and blue here,” retorted the other. “Oh no. I was looking at the wrong horse.”

“Hurray!” they yelled together and waved their tickets for the multitude to admire.

Many of them know all the chatter about odds, past performance, what was his last mile, who he ran second to. They can find their way apparently through the intricacies of the form chart. But the words come oddly from their lips.

One elderly lady, stout, slightly dowdy, her spectacles low on her short nose, was the midst of a family party of sons and daughters around her.

“Oh, Albert,” she cried in a chagrined voice, “it was Tangler I was on!”

“No, Maw, you distinctly said Galloper.”

“I said Tangier! I meant Tangler. Oh!”

“Galloper you said and Galloper I got,” said Albert, while the rest of the family party listened in silence.

“Why, Albert, I had Tangler last night. You know it. I was talking Tangier all last night. Wasn’t I?”

“But you said Galloper.”

“It was a slip. It must have been. You were on Tangier, anyway.”

“I know that.”

“Well, I think we ought to split. It was a slip, I tell you. Why, I was talking Tangier all last night.”

The old lady tore her ticket on Galloper – he galloped last – into bits, and Albert retreated to a seat two rows further up the grandstand.

The peculiar gentry air that descends on many people the minute they even start for the races seems to affect women more than men. A slight, obvious pretentiousness, a certain air, a certain manner, so obviously play-acting that it is comic. If the homely baggage-toting immigrant ancestors of these people could see them at the races, how impressed the old ancestors would be. How their descendants had come up in the world! At the races! Gentry.

The ladies for the most part – except the accustomed ones, and you can spot them by their externals every time – go about with a conscious air. They are, it is clear, functioning socially.

It is hard to keep their minds on such intricacies as the weird names of horses, on colors, numbers and so forth, when you must at the same time be conscious, socially.

Taurus and Troutlet were a coupled entry in the King’s Plate. A lady had Taurus, number 15, but did not know about the elegance of such entries.

When Troutlet won, she tore up her ticket. Several dozen people had torn up tickets in her immediate vicinity before her.

When her friends whooped and congratulated her, if you ever saw a lady in need of a broom, there she was.

She must have picked up a bushel of ticket fragments before she was sure. Then she retreated up to an abandoned part of the grandstand to sort out the hundreds of bits, and spent the rest of the afternoon at the job.

Forty million dollars is a lot of cash to be popped around from hand to hand like corn in the griddle.

It is accompanied by more comedy than any other form of exchange, including poker.

But comedy often hurts. A man who has, in all confidence, been cleaned of a hundred dollars that he could ill afford is not exactly a merry sight, though he is comic.

There is only one sight sadder.

That’s a lady who has been cheated of a half of a two dollar bet.

Editor’s Notes: This is another news article in the vein of men being surprised at what women were now doing in the 1920s. It also has that snarky tone that women couldn’t possibly understand men’s activities.

$40 million in 1927 would be $638 million in 2022. $2 would be $32. It seems funny to me that $2 has remained the usual bet across the decades, despite inflation.