Mom and the Two Dollar Bet

Last night, a horse saved me. Not just any horse, but the most unlikely horse, Rich Strike, winner of the 2022 Kentucky Derby, late entry, dead last out of the gate. And yet…

“Who’s in for the Derby?” John texted a mere fifteen minutes before post attaching a link to the horses slated to run. Twenty-one in total. You only need to know Rich Strike’s number to know that fact.

I look at my watch, thinking the derby runs at 6PM and therefore Mary and I have missed it. Not that we regularly watch it.

“Cheryl picks Tis the Bomb at 29–1 odds,” he texts. I look over the field channeling my mom who’d walk down to Off Track Betting every year and place her two dollars on a favorite. I may have asked her how show picked, and she may have explained. Those details now lost to time.

“Always two dollars,” she’d say. “I don’t believe in gambling.”

Smile Happy, Tawny Port, Epicenter (today’s favorite), Messier and over a dozen others. None pop for me though I do remember Mom’s love of the The Maryland Hunt Club, a race she attended as a young girl growing up in Baltimore, more of a steeple chase than traditional track run, but mostly just a chance to meet boys. Different times. Before cars, and phones, and the present ease of social networks. She the daughter of two conservative parents, a federal judge and socialite. Mom likely found herself stuck at home, the youngest of four.

“Still processing,” comes via text from my older brother Jim twelve minutes before post time. We’re lining up as the do the horses for this hundred and forty fifth running, the first with full Churchill Downs crowd since lockdown.

“Tamra with Happy Jack. Me with Epicenter,” he adds.

“I’m Rich Strike 99–1,” John writes. The long shot. A horse added Friday when another scratched, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

“Two bucks, Charge it,” I respond, trying to be funny and in the spirit of my mom.

“What’s your horse? One minute,” John writes at 6:57. He watching on TV while Mary and I prepare dinner. Tenderloin from Tony’s in Roslindale.

Charge It 13–1,” I add, mimicking the famous Laurel & Hardy skit. Who’s on First.

“Funny,” he responds, now getting my little joke. Mom would have liked the humor.

“Bet’s locked,” pops-up in the chat.

Happy Jack stirring it up,” John announces a little after seven, though he doesn’t try to call the entire race from his cell. Mary and I wait for the result while peppering the steak and boiling both the beans and potatoes. Mom loved boiled red potatoes and green beans.

Finally, at 7:06, John writes, “Yeah, baby. Rich Strike!”

I don’t know what he’s talking about, more concerned with getting the order of heating and boiling right.

“You want the potatoes in first. That steak’s not going to take long,” Mary says. “Do you want me to shut up?”

Mary’s a fabulous cook, and you could say that my mom and I share something else in the kitchen. Call it get it on the table, practical. Buy what you need. Cook what you have. The double boiler her best friend.

“If only I’d put down real money, but Mom would still be proud,” John says, reveling in his big win.

“Yes she would,” I wonder to myself. Thinking now that maybe she sometimes picked long shots, but not sure. For the fun of it, and you never know.

After a bit, I finally watch the race on YouTube to see a horse come from dead last to win. “You have to see this Mary. Even in replay, it’s incredible.”

We call John and Cheryl to hear from the winner’s circle.

“Can you believe it!?!” John says.

“We all owe you $160 bucks,” I say, to which John posts to our family group chat that he will accept Venmo. I keep him talking until I can send him his winnings.

“He wait a minute, you’ve missed a couple of decimal points,” he cries at my $1.60.

“You said a hundred and sixty… cents. Right!?!” Mom would be proud of me too, for egging this on. For having fun during the Derby. For not taking things too seriously.

I have a lot on my mind, but last night a horse and my mom saved me from swirling too much. Eyes at half mast, tossing and turning while trying to fall asleep, I replay the race — Rich Strike coming up from the rear, stuck in the pack only to be let loose on the home stretch for a come from behind win for the ages. Wow! So surprising that not even the announcer saw that horse coming up the rail. But John did, and maybe my mother would have too.

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Steve Mooney

Steve Mooney

Writer, photographer, wannabe musician.