You save every dime you can, and the day finally comes when you get to go to Hawthorne. You know the horses racing there aren’t the best and the races are sometimes fixed, but you think that maybe if it’s your lucky day, you’ll bet on the one that’s picked to win.
Intuition has been nagging you all week, telling you names and numbers to play. The racing form is printed in black and white, so it must be right. “The hell with intuition.”
The bugle sounds, first race is announced. Horses stroll onto the track. Their riders flaunt satin colors so bright that women in the stands ooh and ahhh with envy of the hues these diminutive men wear when mounted upon their steeds.
The beasts that may carry them to victory react to the load they carry, so jockeys watch their weight closer than any of those woman spectators do. The mounts are bred for speed. Everyone has a silky coat, and bulging muscles that move in a rhythm beyond what a human could ever achieve.
You see the jockeys as puffs of fluff bouncing on the mighty steeds’ backs. Only one will be victorious, but they all spur and whip their mounts to the finish line. First to arrive will get to wear a bouquet of flowers to the winner’s circle. They’ll be photographed and admired. Then man and horse submit to performance-enhancing drugs tests.
You stand in line and count out every cent you’ve got and bet bus fare and all on horse number three, because he’s gray and the form picked his name as the most likely to win. In this sport of kings you look around and see that it’s supported by mothers with kids in tow who like you bet their last dime, believing they’ll win enough so their kids can eat tonight.
The horses’ line up to start and you see there are two grays. The one you bet and a smaller skinnier one, number nine, whose jockey wears faded silk colors, and both look like they don’t even belong in the race. Number nine is rambunctious and doesn’t want to get in the starting gate. He holds up the race until he’s forced in by three men.
The bell rings. Horses charge out of the gate. Horse number three is leading going into the turn. Number nine trails the field. Around the first turn number three widens the lead by a length. You jump for joy. Your horse is sure to win. Coming down the stretch three is in the lead, but the scrawny nine horse is moving up on the outside like the three is standing still.
Both jockeys’ whip their mounts with a surprising vigor. Do these small, colorful men have hearts of stone? They impudently beat these noble beasts, and are supported by the betting spectators’ cheers. The harder they hit their running beasts, the more they cheer. Are the jockeys simply doing their job, and not thinking of the cost?
Number three is first across the line. Your heart drops. You’ve won a bundle. The woman next to you with three kids breaks out in tears, and throws her ticket on the ground. She starts to get ready to leave with the brats bawling that they’re hungry for food. Tears stream from her eyes and you know she bet everything she had on a loser.
You’ve won plenty. Should you give this poor woman some? No, you decide, she’d just gamble it away. You ignore the kid’s hungry cries and figure out how much you have won, when suddenly an enquiry is announced. “Oh no,” you think. It can’t be, but it is and you nervously await the results.
You begin to sweat and pray, “Please God, I need the money, let my horse stay in front.” But it’s not to be. Number three is disqualified and number nine declared the winner. “God has abandoned me,” you think to yourself as you slump to the ground and feel as though you too will burst out in tears like those hungry kids who were now walking towards the gate. They’re still crying and so is their mother. You wonder if you would have decided to share with her, if God wouldn’t have been so cruel. Maybe he let you think you won, only to see what you’d do.
“Next time I win, I’ll be more generous,” you promise God. You look down and see the ticket the hungry mother had thrown away. Its got number nine to win printed on it and you realize she had really won. It will pay nine hundred dollars. You grip it tighter so it won’t blow away in the wind that suddenly gusts.
The ticket belongs to her, and you promised God to share the next time you won anything. Should you chase her and return her winning ticket, or maybe go cash it in and give her some money? You stand up and walk toward where a wheel has fallen off her stroller and she is sitting on the ground surrounded by three squalling kids while she tries to repair it.
“Do the right thing,” your conscience says. You decide what the right thing is and walk past her and the kids, and go to the cashier’s window and collect all your money. “Thank you God for letting me win,” you silently say. “I promise, next time I win, I’ll share.”