Musings, Guide, Postcard

Maxim Ludwig's Lessons in the Highs & Lows of Horse Racing

Recently Maxim Ludwig visited Los Alamitos Race Track in Cypress, California, just less than an hour out of Los Angeles. It was his first time playing the ponies but he came out with some valuable lessons on what to do (and what not to do) when placing equine bets.

Photos by Vlad Sepetov for Garrett Leight California Optical — read their interview with Maxim and listen to his mixtape

It’s the last race of the season at Los Alamitos Race Track. Parking is free and there is plenty of it. It costs $3 to get in and they hand me a racing form with the names of horses in it and their statistics.

Horse names include: Imagonnagetmesome, My Milkshake, Sayitdontsprayit, Soviet Problem, Make Me Money, Super Handsome Lucky Guy, Eat My Dust, Mercury Bar, With Legs Like That, Made You Look, My Integrity, Last Night’s Alibi, Bail Me Out, Zorro Garlic, Ima Cowboy Yes I Am. 

Band Name or Horse Name?

Is there a BuzzFeed quiz of "What is Your Race Horse Name?"

I tell the mustachioed, short, effeminate gentleman in the white polo shirt who takes our money, "We've never done this before." 

10 Rules to Picking a Horse (as Whispered by the Mustachioed and Short, Effeminate Gentleman in the White Polo Shirt who Takes our Money):

  1. Check the times of the races
  2. Go to the stable 15 minutes before the race where they parade the horses around
  3. Look for a beautiful coat
  4. Look for a strong muscle and cut in the back leg
  5. If there are two guys holding the horse instead of one, and the horse looks a little wild, that's your horse
  6. Pick your horse
  7. Go to the windows to place bets
  8. Bet to show, place, and win
  9. The easiest bet is to bet "Across the board"
  10. Minimum is $2

As we go up the escalator and pass a Christmas tree, a horse-racing Santa hands me a Los Alamitos Race Track ornament. I'll put it on my rear view mirror

I keep thinking about The Killing. I keep thinking about Sterling Hayden and the biopic I want to make about him. He's got a face carved from a mountain and a voice as resonant as a valley. Those interviews with him for French television are so sad and triumphant. A man who says that one should not have no regrets. A man that knows his regrets have shaped him. I think he slept with Marilyn Monroe. That Herman Melville beard.

Cigarettes are $7 here and they only sell Marlboro Reds. So I buy Reds, a domestic light beer and a Hebrew National hot dog while Vlad sets up his camera.

Having a photographer with me makes me feel simultaneously on edge and safe. Both my parents are photographers and some of my earliest childhood memories are not of their faces, but of these large people with cameras for heads telling me to smile or “look that way”.  I do like having my photo taken, but also realize that it won't allow me to fully enjoy and intermingle with the people. The same way I could never enjoy blowing out my cake as a kid because I had to do it 6 times until my parents got the right shot.

A girl once told me, “You are more photogenic than you are handsome.”

My fear of us getting kicked out for taking photos passes once I see a cop talking to some old-timer while he drinks out of a flask. No one cares. I am so happy to be here. I am an Angeleno who never got to experience Hollywood Park. I imagine missing out on that historical place, like it's what it would have felt like if I hadn't voted for Obama.

After standing in the stable viewing area between an old man wearing a cover-up in a double-breasted suit with cataract glasses and a ranchero with a cigar, I find my horse. She's a big brown beauty with two handlers with a giant orange "7" on her. I look at my form. Her name is "Cupid".

There are all types of ways to bet: Machines. ATM type things. Ticket takers. Digital screens. I opt for one of the dozens of windows with a real person inside. I notice that the vast majority are senior citizens. I go to one window and tell him "5 across the board on 7", not really sure what I'm saying. He tells me he needs $15. I realize I just made a $15 bet that I'm sure to lose.

I'm surprised to see kids running around. It's not crowded or packed. There are as many people inside as outside actually watching the race.

There are about 100 TVs inside with people yelling at them. People are placing bets for races at other tracks here and watching them. 

The only place I ever saw horse races on TV is at Club Tee Gee while the guy fixed the jukebox. That guy's been fixing the jukebox since the 1970s. He told me that he's had to adapt to the technology and the music has changed so much. I told him he has no idea how much I can relate.

There is one really terrific blonde girl here, alone. I ask Vlad what he thinks her deal is. I like Vlad. We head down to get some shots with the horses before the race.

The race begins and is so far away you can't see them start. I can't even tell what they're saying on the loud speaker, but I'm getting high from the energy. People are yelling their horse's name and number. An owner bites his knuckle. On the illuminated screen there are outlines of the three horses and the numbers are changing on them. It demarcates who is top three. Cupid is in third… Cupid is in first. Cupid wins. 

I go to collect and I have doubled my money. I get the rush. 

The next race I bet on "Dream of Me", $2 across the board, who comes in third. I go to a different window, hand the guy my ticket only to get, "You're not a winner." Gamblers — serious gamblers, who are addicted — enjoy that thrill of losing. It keeps them going. I get the rush. I not only have to show myself, I have to show this bastard that I am a winner. 

I win a few and I lose a few. My last bet, a black stallion named "You Think?" comes in first and I am high again. Magic hour is over and I come out completely even including cost of admission, hot dog, smokes, and a few beers. Not bad for a first timer.

I leave thinking about the jockeys and what they are paid. The jockeys are very short. Much more than I expected. I am not tall, but I am tall for my height.