The Sport of Kings (Not the subject of LL’s song in the ’86 film Wildcats)

When I was teaching in Hong Kong, I lived in The New Territories. If you compare Hong Kong to New York City, then Hong Kong Island is like Manhattan. That’s where most of the international business takes place and looks the most like a typical city with skyscrapers, commerce, etc. Kowloon, which is to the north and across a harbor, would be Williamsburg or Astoria. The New Territories would be Long Island. Few people in the New Territories spoke English. I lived in a complex that was equidistant between the university where I taught, and the racetrack where I spent a majority of my weekends. Throughout the year I lived there, I would go to the racetrack thirty-four times. I know the number because I still have the spreadsheet I kept of my wins and losses. My colleague James and I had embraced roles as degenerate gamblers. A few days before the races, the track would release the racing form. We would print it out, and using a system we had created would carefully analyze the form and make our picks. This might take an hour or two, but since we shared an office, we could just stay at our respective computers and swivel in our chairs. Our system was devised of equal parts math, philosophy, art, and science. We would use arcane and antiquated theories predicated on breeding and other equine understanding. I also had sayings I had adopted such as “Don’t do too much math.” A friend of mine who worked in finance told me his boss once excoriated a subordinate who had suggested the firm heavily invest in a stock because it tested well on his chart. The boss asked if there was research besides the chart? When the subordinate offered there was only the chart, the boss proceeded to ask him whether he had any idea how many ships were lying at the bottom of the ocean because all they did was consult a chart? One of the theories which we believed above all others was to avoid a specific patron. If you were to look at her, you would lose. That was how powerful she was. She was the Asian equivalent of “The Mush” from A Bronx Tale. If you happened to see her, you might as well tear up your tickets.

To paint a picture of what the track is like: the gamblers are never without cans of beer and cigarettes, though thankfully there’s no smoking indoors. I’ve seen a few wear jeweler’s loupes. They watch the horses parade through the gates searching for some clue to victory. With precious time left before the start of the race, the bettors sprint to the windows and drop what could be a few day’s pay on a single race. Silence ensues as the horses run except for a lone man yelling at one of the screens. The race ends, tickets are destroyed, and the ceremony begins again. The best night I ever had at the track saw me hit four Quinella/Quinella box combinations; when you select the first, second, and in some cases third place horses. The “box” means the order doesn’t matter. While on this incredible streak, I had James guide me to the betting window while I kept my eyes closed. Whether or not there were supernatural forces at play remained to be seen, but I wasn’t going to take the chance. I didn’t tempt fate. When I got to the betting window, I filled out my slip, shut my eyes again, and had James lead me away. Throughout the evening, I would spend $120 Hong Kong dollars and win $1164.75. At the time, the ratio of the US to Hong Kong dollar was 1 to 7.75, so I had bet about $15 US dollars and won about $150. If you’re guessing whether this streak lasted, I’ll quote from the movie 24 Hour Party People. 

“I’ll just say one word: ‘Icarus’. If you get it, great. If you don’t, that’s fine too. But you should probably read more.”

Andrew Davie received an MFA in creative writing from Adelphi University. He taught English in Macau on a Fulbright Grant. In June of 2018, he survived a ruptured brain aneurysm and subarachnoid hemorrhage. His other work can be found in links on his website:

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