ERNIE AND ERNESTINA: Searching
Book Two, Chapter 127: The Big Burn
I pay my admission to Churchill Downs and skim through the Oaks Day crowd, sure I’ll find Joshua. He’ll be the tall person hanging around the paddock watching the horses being saddled while also keeping a close eye on the Big Board for the latest odds. But where is he? I don’t see him.
It’s ten minutes to post for the seventh race. One of my filly choices in the turf race has been scratched.
“May I see your program?” I ask a man in a pink-plaid shirt, a cigar in his mouth.
He hands over his program. I pick out a third horse for my Exacta box, give the man back his program, and hurry to a pari-mutuel window. The crowd’s huge but the betting lines are short; most people have already bet.
The race goes off. The fillies float over the turf. One of my three choices wins, and a long shot is second. The Exacta pays over four hundred dollars. Would Ernie have had it? I don’t.
I play a small Oaks-Derby Double, pairing the Oaks favorite with Goldencents; both are number eight. Then I put ten to win and five to place and show on Goldencents. That’s it. All my money’s gone.
Where’s Joshua? I prowl through the crowd. I don’t see him, and I don’t want to hang around. There’s no magic here. Heading to an exit, I pass a first-aid station where an attendant is putting a bandage on a woman’s foot; her high-heeled sandals lie collapsed on the bricks.
I walk up Central Avenue to the bus stop. The bus finally comes, nearly empty. When it passes close to my brother Rich’s house, I decide to get off and wait at Rich’s for Joshua.
Finally Joshua arrives. His neck is seared a nasty red. Sunburn.
“The Oaks did me in,” he says. “I had all kinds of Double tickets on the favorite paired with everyone in the Derby, but the jockey didn’t try with the filly until the very end. Then it was too late. Her trainer had three fillies in the race. One of his other fillies — a long shot — won it.”
I think: Did the trainer tell the favorite’s jockey not to win so his long shot would?
Stop it, I tell myself. Stop the crazy thinking. Stop going back to the place that burns you.