Number 13: Who’s Your Momma? was an easy bet.
“What about Hello Darling, The Russian, or Where’s Johnny?” my friend Sandra asked. “Their odds are better.” Bookmakers Michael O’Neil and Anthony Donning outshouted each other, asking people to place their bets. We moved up in the line to make our own bets.
“Who’s Your Momma? seems lucky,” I told Sandra. “I love her name.”
“Thirteen is lucky?” she asked.
“Why not?” We reached the man in the little glass booth, Michael O’Neil himself, and placed our bets.
“Who’s Your Momma? is a long shot at 8-1,” Michael said, and I told him I’d take my chances.
We were at the annual horse races in Dingle, Ireland, and everything seemed exciting. The horses ran on a grass track, and the audience milled between the beer and wine tents outside of the track and the food vendors — Katie’s Kitchen, The Dingle Crepe Van, and Sheey’s Ice Cream — on the inside. Sandra and I split fish ‘n’ chips and an ice cream cone.
The crowd gathered at the track’s edge. Green hills rolled into the distance. Gulls lifted into flight. Umbrellas popped bright colors against a gray sky. The rain cleared for the moment, and everyone was in a good mood. The horses pranced around the track, showing themselves off before the race. Though it was my first time at a horse track, and we had only just arrived, I turned to Sandra and said, “I love horseracing!”
Sandra and I stood ringside as the race began. The horses galloped toward us, the ground rumbling as they passed. We were so close, we could smell their musty sweat and see their muscles working under their hides, the veins bulging in their faces, their nostrils flaring. A jockey in a pink-striped suit rode Who’s Your Momma? He whipped her, and I wondered if it hurt. The announcer shouted, “Number 13, Who’s Your Momma? takes the lead.” I jumped up and down and shouted for her. The horses ran the curve, and Who’s Your Momma? was in the lead, straining for the finish. She was going to win!
On the last straightaway, there was some kind of commotion, a confusing bunching of the horses on the track. A horse lost its jockey but ran on. Who’s Your Momma? was no longer in the lead, but she raced on, her ankle flopping around as if her hoof was no longer attached to her leg. The jockey pulled on her reins to stop her, but still, she ran.
“Don’t look, don’t look,” Sandra said, but it was too late. I could not un-see the horse trying to run on her broken ankle.
Who’s Your Momma? finally stopped and bucked; she flung back her head, her eyes straining from her skull. She shook the injured leg. A group of men came onto the track and surrounded her with a blue screen that looked like a giant shower curtain. A woman came over and briefly cried. Sandra said, “She must be the owner.”
The men put the screen up around Who’s Your Momma? and I went over and asked bookmaker Michael O’Neil what was going on even though I already knew, had already come to think of the men with the tarp as the “death squad.” He said, “I’ve been around enough to know horses are replaceable but people are not. Horses and cows are the same,” he continued. “And we like our steaks.” I asked him if this was common in horseracing. He said that it was, but only one had been lost today, and that wasn’t bad considering the rain. And then he told me, “This is nothing compared to the steeplechase. They lose horses galore each day.”
The dead horse was wrapped in the blue tarp. A yellow tractor trundled onto the track, lifted her with the giant shovel, and drove Who’s Your Momma? away. I wondered where they were taking her. Would they bury her, or would she be transported to a dog food factory? With the track cleared, they got ready for the next race, and everything continued on as if nothing ever happened.
I asked Sandra if she knew about the danger of horseracing. She said she had never seen a horse go down but knew racing wasn’t good for horses. “Everyone knows that,” she said.
I hadn’t known it, but if I had thought about it long enough, it was a conclusion I could have come up with on my own. Though never could I have predicted the precision with which the death squad would come remove the horse from the track and the easy way everyone would return to their ciders and their crepes and their 8-1 bets.
My own bet made me complicit. “I want to leave,” I told Sandra and she nodded.
The announcer shouted as another group of horses thundered past, but I couldn’t watch. We walked back toward the shuttle buses, and the rain started again.
STORY IMAGE CREDIT: Flickr Creative Commons/Victor Berezkin