Matt said, “It’s all fixed. There are only five horses in the race and, when she is at her best, no horse in the group is faster than Gypsy. Have you seen her come back to the stall after exercising? She’s still high; she wants to run. She is in good form right now and this is the time to race her.” Matt searched his friends faces for signs of agreement.
This time of day, the racetrack stalls were quiet, as the horses calmly nosed scraps of their evening meal and rested in preparation for their next racing event.
“You took a purse last week. What happened to that money?” Although only twenty-two years old, because of long days in the sun, Bill’s bronze face began to show signs of leathering.
You know the purse is not enough. I need $500 for my hay bill, and the purse was only $250. I need money to bet too, or I will never come out ahead.” Matt squirmed on the bale of hay, enough so that a sharp piece of hay poked through his soft blue jeans. He flinched.
The square piece of light from the open door of the barn revealed a man passing by. Gene made a motion with his hand as a sign to the others to hold the conversation momentarily. Gene walked to the barn door opening and looked in both directions for half a minute. No one there.
Smaller in stature and older than his friends, Gene’s racetrack experience towered over the others. He knew what the insiders knew about horseracing. His dark eyes shone brightly in expectation of disclosing the plan.
“Did you ever wonder why the hay contractor is treated so well?” Both men nodded, indicating, yes, they wondered.
“Matt, you are not the first racehorse owner to be in your position. It takes a lot of money to race a horse. The most important money is the betting dollars, without that, you never get ahead and eventually you check out.
It’s not even enough to know which horse will win the race. You have to bet and win. It’s a betting game, not a racing game. Gene took a Camel out of his pocket, and paused a moment as he lit up.
“I don’t have money to bet with now Gene. All I want to do is pay my hay bill and drive my horse back home to Sacramento.”
“Well, this is how you can do it.” Not many people know when a race is fixed. Not the jockey or the vet. They get in too much trouble if the fix is found out. But, the hay man has to know, if you need his cooperation, and you need a mule to place a bet.”
“Mules aren’t that smart.” Bill baited Gene to tell more.
“Human mules are. This is how it goes,” and Gene continued.
“As we all know, no matter what, the hay bill goes on. Even if the horse doesn’t win, or even if she does, she still needs food, every day and night. The hay contractor brings it.” Gene took off his worn tan leather jacket, as the heat of explaining the story warmed him.
“So, Matt, this is what you do. You talk with the hay contractor. Offer to give him the name of the winning horse in exchange for him agreeing to bet at least as much as your hay bill balance is. When your horse wins, the hay guy is paid, and you don’t have a $500 hay bill to deduct from your winnings.”
Matt drew a dollar sign in the dust on the nearby exercise saddle. “Will the hay man do that?”
“He does it all the time. Why do think the “powers that be” treat the hay contractor so well? The tract officials need to be on his good side so when they need some insider information they can get it.”
“Gene, if I had known this all along, things could have been different.” Matt looked toward his horse’s stall, and waited a minute before he spoke. “Where does the mule come in?”
Gene arranged his new yellow and black neck scarf, worn to keep dust out of his shirt. “You have to have a mule to carry the money to the ticket box, buy the tickets, and bring them back.
No one can know who the mule represents because, if they know the hay contractor is buying win tickets on a certain horse, they will all buy as well, and the odds go down. The mule can’t know what’s going on, and he can’t know who he is buying tickets for, or the deal won’t work.”
Bill asked, “Is this legal?”
“It’s not illegal, but I don’t think it is entirely legal either. It’s best not to test it; just do it.”
“What happens if the horse doesn’t win,” Bill wanted to know.
“There is a penalty. You owe the hay man three times your hay bill. This means, you probably pay your hay bill with your racehorse.”
The next day, without any other options, Matt spoke with the hay contractor and set things up. Matt also found a mule, a kid he went to school with. The fix was in. Now it was up to the horse.