International Writers Magazine - Our 19th Year: Horse for Courses - From our Archives
There: Sunland Racetrack and Casino
PASO- Waiting impatiently in a seemingly endless line for the buffet
at Sunland Racetrack and Casino lead me to start people watching.
I stared unashamedly at the people in front of us. A middle aged
couple comfortable in their silence. The family behind us with the
3 little kids. All clearly uncomfortable with silence.
guard just to the right of the line standing guard at the entrance to
the casino. A woman in her 50s walking nonchalantly, with who I presume
is her son behind her, into the casino. She breezes by the guard while
her son tries to strut his way in, but is stopped to provide proof of
identification. This is where I learn that the young man is underage.
After many more of these riveting revelations, my party is finally seated.
We give our drink order to the woman who doesnt speak much English.
We glutton ourselves with too much of food that looks amazing and tastes
kinda bland. And in retrospect I realize that the best thing I ate was
pizza. And Papa Johns is better. And cheaper.
After we leave the restaurant named Ventanas, we walk through the casino.
And yes, I was carded. Something I never know why women adore. We walk
by what looks like the AARP meeting of El Paso. Except this is technically
Santa Teresa, New Mexico, but still. This never ceases to baffle me.
I always believed the image of casinos portrayed by the movies. A place
where rich men in suits drink Scotch on the rocks and women stand over
their shoulder daintily drinking cosmopolitans. Just when I dont
think that I could take anymore of the binging and sirens of the slot
machines, we make it out of the casino.
Now we arrive to the place that brought us here. The racetrack. Right
away, you can tell its a different atmosphere. The Sunday church
clothes from the restaurant have been replaced with creased wranglers
paired with pointy cowboy boots, a big round belt buckle, and a matching
cowboy hat. The crowd is younger than the one in the casino, but I can
still see little, old ladies sitting at the tables with binoculars trying
to read the T.V.s with racing numbers. This crowd certainly doesnt
resemble the one at the Kentucky Derby. There isnt a big, floppy
hat to be seen.
As we make our way downstairs, past the food vendors selling beer, nachos,
hot dogs, and other sport viewing foods, I start to smell a certain
odor that has my lungs taking extra air for stock. Smoke. Here in the
patio just before the track, smoking is allowed indoors. It makes me
and my asthmatic lungs grateful I was born in the 80s and raised in
the 90s so I never really had to endure times like these: wishing the
guy two seats down from you would blow his smoke in the other direction.
My parents and brother get a race day brochure outlining the races they
have lined up. I sit and watch as they start selecting the horse for
the first bet. I dont participate. I like my money. We go outside
and stand before the gate as the jockeys bring the next races
horses out to be paraded by the public. My mother always likes the feistiest
ones. Probably because they remind her of herself. I keep this comment
It always amazes me when I see the horses. They are so much more intimidating
in real life. Their muscle tone alone has me in awe. Their movements
always seem precise. I have a moment of pity for them that they are
wearing a costume with a little man on their backs.
So after selecting their horses. They go to the automated betting machine,
or rather an ABM, to place "5 on 4 to show." Which to my ignorant
ears sounded a little like my French class always did. Later I found
out that it meant my brother betted $5 on horse four to place either
first, second, or third.
I learned a lot that day. For instance, a Trifecta means that you have
to guess which horses will show in precise order. The racing horses
are escorted by another horse to keep them calm. Practically all jockeys
are under 120 lbs. Which means they are probably malnourished, or as
my dad says: bulimic. Nobody looks at a racetrack when a woman keeps
swatting flies with her race day brochure. There are posters warning
about the dangers of gambling addiction while they urge you to place
your bet since theres only 2 minutes to post. That a horse will
finish the race even without his jockey.
We learned that one the hard way when my brothers horse #4, Memas
Sweet Run, came in last after loosing his rider within the first 20
seconds. Too bad they dont have a bet for that one. He probably
couldve made a lot of money.
So we make our way outside once again to see the winner as he stands
in the winners circle. The jockey disembarks and I am officially
shocked. It looks like an open casting call for the next Santa Claus
movies elves. As I stare at the jockeys in close proximity, I
noticed how odd it looks to see men with a 5 oclock shadow and
thighs small enough that women are envious. We leave the winners circle
to go back into the smoke infested patio.
As I sit waiting for the next race to begin, I start people watching
once again. A grandfather is teaching his grandson, a boy who looks
7, the basics of racetrack betting. Men walking around with children
on their shoulders. A woman who looks like she is in her 90s, is snoozing
in a chair in the corner.
The next time the horses are shown off, I pick the one I think has the
most interesting walk and I place my own bet of $10 just to see if I
would win. I never do. This goes on for a while. By the time we leave,
I have saved $40 of my own money. There is only one race left for the
day, the 12th. I wonder if the woman in the row ahead of us will say
what she always said as the horses rounded the last stretch of the race,
"Hay vienen ya los caballos" (Here come the horses).
© Lizette Espinosa June 2009
liza12_20 AT yahoo.com
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