On racing’s biggest days the information mill grinds with monumental force. And the rumblings can be heard everywhere, even in the equalizer of all stations lofty and somewhat lower—the men’s room.
An attendant in his early 50s, Gospel stands tall beside a row of sinks with a fresh towel draped across his arms. His red bow tie stands out like a stop sign against the background of his white shirt and surrounding porcelain.
“You hear anything special today?” asked a man clutching a rolled-up program, as he dropped a five-spot into Gospel’s tip basket.
“Yeah, I’ve heard a few things. But some things I consider to be a little more reliable than others,” answered Gospel.
After a brief pause, the man produced a second portrait of Lincoln to accompany the first.
“Two races down the line, in the baby race, they tell me the seven horse is really something. That’s the word. But I’ll tell you, mister. I like the three horse in that race,” said Gospel. “That’s my personal pick, and I bet him.”
“He didn’t like the slop last time. Today, it’s dry and fast.”
Without complaint, the man exited to contemplate these conflicting nuggets of advice, as a gentleman in a dapper suit approached Gospel.
“I heard what you told that fella,” said the newcomer, a legal bookmaker from across the pond, handing Gospel a crisp c-note. “I own the two horse in that race and he can’t lose, not with his breeding. You take this money and bet him to win.”
“Thank you, sir,” said Gospel. “I appreciate it. That was the horse I was really worried about.”
“Well, you were right,” confirmed the gentleman, before leaving.
However, Gospel pocketed the bill and never left his post to walk over to the windows.
Time has a peculiar way of passing at the racetrack—minutes to post, parade, running, and results—unofficial to official.
There are no clocks on the men’s room walls. But you can always tell when a race is about to be run, because the stalls empty out fast.
At post time of the baby race, Gospel stood in the doorway of the men’s room, squinting to see the running on a distant monitor. The blurred images and muffled race call were of little assurance to him.
“How’d they finish, mister,” he asked the first man back inside.
“Three-seven-two,” was the satisfying reply.
An hour later, Gospel got his 20-minute break, and it couldn’t have come at a worse time. The next horse he bet encountered serious traffic trouble in the stretch, getting beat for all the money by an irritating nose.
Back on his post, Gospel spotted an ex-NFL great hiding behind shades.
“Good to see you, Coach,” said Gospel, with a gushing smile.
But the response from the gridironer was cold and blank.
No words. No tip. Nothing.
“He’s usually not like that,” explained Gospel to a patron. “He either doesn’t want to be recognized or he’s having a bad day.”
“No. I’m the one having a bad day,” said the patron. “I got beat by a nose in the last race, with that horror trip.”
“I know what you mean, mister,” acknowledged Gospel. “I had that horse also.”
That’s when a classic-winning trainer with an admitted fondness for betting his horses stepped to a sink to wash his hands.
“That was my horse that got beat. An hour ago, I would have told you to bet your lungs on him,” said the trainer. “If you think that’s some bad luck, I had horses lose by a head and a neck at two other tracks today. And they couldn’t lose, either. How about that? Huh?”
Gospel listened politely, nodding his head in commiseration, as he handed the trainer a towel.
When he finished, the trainer headed for the door, walking past Gospel’s tip basket with his clean, dry hands at his side.
Then, suddenly, the trainer turned back around.
“You know what else?” he said, ready to add another misfortune to his case.
“I’m sorry, sir,” Gospel interrupted, spreading his arms wide, with his empty palms up. “I wish I had time to listen. I truly do. But I’ve got problems of my own.
Paul Volponi is the New York racing correspondent for The Blood-Horse.