Legendary author, poet and humor columnist Charles Bukowski, when he could afford it, spent most of his days at the race horse track. Bukowski toyed and perfected a number of tricks and systems to beat the crowds.
Despite his years of playing the track towards the end of his life he reckoned he was about ten thousand dollars in the hole.
Another scribe, Hunter S. Thompson, made his name at the Kentucky Derby. The mythological Rolling Stone gonzo journalist, aided by the deft hand of illustrator Ralph Steadman, turned a day at the races into a satirical disrobing of the great American dream.
So, why not pay homage to Bukoswki and Hunter and turn the Bangkok races into a pension plan?
Let’s start out with a small purse and walk away with that pension plan. Observe some of the characters in the stands in this, Thailand’s only legal betting event.
Let’s make a fortune gambling in Bangkok.
The race meets are twice monthly on a Sunday, alternating between the Royal Turf Club and the RBSC. Check their website for details.
I made it down there with a biro behind my ear, a beer and whiskey hangover, and one solitary thousand baht note to my name – this would be my golden ticket.
Yeah, I was going to turn that grand into a nest egg.
Legendary author of the first viral media missive and orchestrator of a new age handbook named the Yo Ching, Hugh Gallagher is alongside me. He looks at me curiously though his sepia tinted sunglasses and speaks.
“Good Luck is like a woman. She loves a man who has his head up, no matter what’s going down. She don’t have time for mothers who lose heart or feel sorry for themselves,” he tells me, quoting directly from Yo Ching — ancient knowledge for the streets.
“Yeah,” I say. “Who do you like in the next one?”
“It is not who I like that matters. It’s how I roll with it.”
Well, I’m gonna need more help. What I know about horse racing can be written in bold marker on the back of a postage stamp. I was going to need some more assistance than the ancient knowledge of the streets could offer if I were to turn my thousand baht into a small fortune and be drinking buckets of Champagne on Khao San Road later that evening.
Luckily for me, also here is a friend named Bee whose family once bred race horses and she breaks it down for me like this:
“The horse, male or female, usually runs its maiden race at two years of age. By three years you normally know if you have a long or short distance runner. Your average race horse retires at around seven years of age. Male and females are about the same but those who have been castrated are superior; on the track at least.”
“How do I spot the winner?”
“Things to look for when picking your winner are pointed ears, large posterior, strong thighs, nice spacing between the front legs, and a good white sweat. Try to avoid animals foaming at the mouth, shaking of the head, blowing through the nose; all these behaviors suggest an agitated animal.”
Bee’s boyfriend is named CP, and he looks across at us and says, “Wisdom, she has.”
“So how does the track and the horse make money?” I probe.
“The front runners get the money from the track. Owner gets the most followed by the trainer and the jockey. Trainers are often former jockeys who provide stables and ride the horses every day,” Bee tells me, before adding that Thailand isn’t one of the world’s leading horse racing nations, but they have a tidy set up here at the Turf Club.
In Thailand, all types of gambling is illegal but there’s an exception for the nags.
I wasn’t expecting a Royal Ascot type scene. There’s no requirement to dress up. Most of the crowd are blue collar to middle class — much like the late Bukowski would have witnessed back during his day.
Taxi drivers, small business owners and absolutely zero tourists.
There’s a wave of excitement as the horses leave the gates, cries of Chok Dee, good luck, binoculars are raised, and tensions are tightened.
I study the form and ask Hugh to check through the Yo Ching app on his phone for pearls of ancient advice. Wisdom read, I decide on a beast named Messi: the animal is snorting through flared nostrils, agitated, eager to run, the rump looks shapely and I’m feeling lucky.
I put the entire grand down on the animal to win, and at eight to one, I’m looking at a leg up in the rungs of Bangkok society.
The nags line up and they’re off. I try to follow Messi, but, it is all but a blur until, that is, they enter the bell lap and Messi is inches in front, nostrils flaring, before running out of steam and trailing back.
Hugh and Bee are shouting at each other, the ghosts of Bukowki and Hunter are waving phantom forms and shouting at the crowd.
“Go, go, go!”
And then it’s over.
Messi comes in third and my dreams of unearned wealth are dashed in Bangkok once again.
With the ghosts of Hunter and Bukowski following close behind, I head in search of a bar.
According to my figures I’ve only had 2500 pieces of ass but I’ve watched 12500 horse races, and if I have any advice to anybody, it’s this: take up watercolor painting. — Charles Bukowski
Featured image is by gabriella szekely and used under a CC BY 2.0 licence