I want to continue the racetrack theme today with some additional Carlos stories integrated with a few snippets of the job career he hoped to avoid. When his early life of privilege ended, Carlos tried several shady but unsuccessful opportunities. His social exposure to Georgetown’s saloon industry afforded him secondary employment chances; some management positions utilized his well dressed, smooth and sophisticated style but didn’t provide the desired monetary compensation. He could enjoy meals and drinks as part of the benefit package, but the salary wasn’t sufficient for his lifestyle – especially money to wager on the ponies. The old racetrack adage applies here: “If you want to get a million dollars from horse racing then you had better start with two million.” So his restaurant career evolved into a combination of manager and bartender – the bar made him more money but was a bit too menial for him to pursue fulltime. This exposure afforded him personal contact with a lot of the bigger gamblers in town and he cultivated many relationships over decades before the crops went bad.
One of these was newspaper columnist and top horseplayer, Andy Beyer. He chronicled many of Carlos’ exploits and gambling failures in the local papers. I would love to see a book of Andy’s great articles published today – one of these detailed Carlos missing out on a successful pick-6 syndicate ticket – he normally was part of the investment group but some personal revelry interfered with his participation this time. What Carlos failed to realize or chose to ignore was the amount of hard work Andy and some of the others in his circle put forth in their racetrack study – when Carlos tried to bet horses for a living, he didn’t have the commitment to this regimen. His flawed solution was to try to glean information from these “wise guys” and then manufacture his own plays. Although he regularly learned most of the ingredients for a winning dish, the proper recipe was not included. He had easy access to a group of true professional horseplayers for many years but … as in his younger Georgetown days, he was a fun guy to have around – until he wasn’t.
This first story shows the dark side of Carlos. The old bartender fraternity from Georgetown of the 1960’s and 1970’s loved action. But if you wanted to bet the ponies back then you were limited by each track’s scheduled races. If someone had a tip on a horse running in New York, then you needed to put together a plan of action: a person to drive there after collecting money from many sources and then keep a proper accounting. Carlos was smart with numbers and loved to drive so he made a good candidate. However it probably was not a good idea to let him select the nag, which happened one time. He and a partner set up a trip to NYC and the prospective horse was going to be a good longshot, which always garnered more wagers from a group whose disposable income was never farther away than their tip cups.
The trip went forward, but the wagers went backward. It seemed just another hard luck story until some of the group gave it a closer look. Then it appeared to be a variation of the scheme in the movie “The Producers,” except off Broadway and onto the racetrack – more Damon Runyon than Mel Brooks. Basically Carlos had chosen a horse who couldn’t win and took all the wagers without making the bet. After a few victims examined the betting pools, the actual odds and the money supposedly invested therein, the numbers didn’t make sense. The selected horse was so bad that no one else could have bet on it with the amount said to be wagered by Carlos. Although the scam was never officially proven, Carlos’ days as a cash courier unofficially ended.
I should have known better when Carlos and I embarked on a Saturday trip from DC to Belmont Racetrack in NY. We were attracted to a high class day of racing and both had the day off. He was willing to drive up and back himself and having me there made the trip a little easier. It was a beautiful day and the drive went well. Our picks at the track ran slow but that happens. It definitely makes the trip home a real chore, but as we reached Jersey Carlos lifted my spirits with the promise of a great meal in the culinary wasteland of Delaware. As he drove, I would press for details but he danced around any specifics – all this mystery kept me excited about the prospect of turning around a disappointing trip. Naturally there was no grand meal – just the boring rest stop on the turnpike after we filled his car with gas. It certainly was no big scam by Carlos – just something to pass the time for a large chunk of the ride home.
Amazingly I have a positive tale in which Carlos acted as the messenger to Laurel Racetrack for my wagers. I was finishing a consulting project at Southside 815 in Old Town and my presence was required on an August Saturday – another big day of racing at Saratoga. Fortunately, by the 1990’s I could bet the race in NY here in Maryland. Carlos offered to take my bets out with him – he lived in Old Town at the time and could hopefully return with winnings for me. Luckily it was slow at work and I spent half the day explaining my wagers to the owner Ben – he was fascinated by the whole process and the lack of business allowed me time to give him a basic seminar on handicapping the races. Even better, the race was being shown on national TV and we could watch it live at the bar.
I had bet the race strongly – using my horse in exactas and trifectas as well as the basic win wager. Plans like this one seldom come together when the Racing Gods are involved, but that day the race unfolded exactly as I had forecast. We had discussed it so much that Ben was familiar with the pace scenario I had mapped out.. We rooted in tandem as the horses I predicted to lead the turf race did so and then began to back up as my filly made her move. I always remember her name – “You’d Be Surprised” – and as she took the lead for good in the stretch Ben and I started urging my secondary horses to get the correct placing behind the winner. All the bets were winners and I think Ben was more excited than me as we tallied up the winnings when the results were made official.
I had planned for a large payment on completion of the project the following week and then Marie and I were going to travel to Saratoga for a vacation. Now I had close to a grand to add to the racetrack war chest. Yet I still had to wait for Carlos to show back with the cash and hope nothing went wrong. Carlos completed his mission without a hitch, which was enough for me to forgive the false hopes of a great meal in Delaware he had planted years earlier during our miserable road trip.
As expected, Carlos’ work experiences later in life continued to chip away at the upbeat demeanor of his youth. He was holding out for some eventual inheritance but his mother’s long life hurt that chance. One beautiful summer day I saw him at OBIE’s By The Sea in Rehoboth performing a previously unimagined management task – his arms were elbow deep in a giant plastic bin full of coleslaw, mixing away. After that unappetizing sight, I didn’t eat any slaw for years. Several years later I saw him behind the bar during a preopening event at The Palm Restaurant in Tyson’s Corner. He was sweating and they were not even open yet. I knew that would not last and it didn’t – a job was bad enough but sweating was not for Carlos.
His mom died not long after that and he did receive an inheritance, although less than he had expected in his youth – about $230,000. I don’t think his sisters were pleased he received that much. But now Carlos finally had a chance to live the life of a professional horseplayer. Predictably it did not go well – much like his whole life – and he went from High Roller to America’s Guest. In less than two years that money had disappeared. On his last trip to Saratoga he was difficult to differentiate from his traditionally dour friend Danny. Siro’s maître d’ Jim Tarpey eyed those two at the track and famously made the sarcastic ID – “Hey, it’s Mr. Happy and Chief Dark Cloud.”
It seemed Carlos felt the weight of the world atop his shoulders but I think it was more likely the world had grown tired of lifting him.
I’ll try to recount some racing exploits which are more uplifting in upcoming posts. I’d love to hear some of your exploits at the track.
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