CHRIS ERSKINE / FAN OF THE HOUSE

He's riding his luck at Santa Anita Park

When you're playing the horses, you've got to know when to hold 'em and when to fold 'em.

Day at the races, Santa Anita:

First race. Starter allowance for 3-year-old fillies who are a little conflicted and (supposedly) never dated. On the first turn, my horse goes into labor, then rallies to finish fourth. Good sign. Karma. I claim the foal just in case. Because that's how winners roll.

Second race. Stakes race for California-sired maidens who have never once been kissed. After betting, I get lost looking for a bathroom, then accidentally wander out onto the track and — amid a cloud of dust and confusion — finish second. More good karma.

Third race. Love this bug-eyed horse by the name of Niagara Falls, ridden by Julien Leparoux, who I think starred in one of the Pink Panther movies. Or was once mayor of Montreal. Bet him to win, because that's how winners roll. With Leparoux aboard, Niagara Falls finishes second.

I'm now a mere 15 bucks down on the day. Good start.

Fourth race. Pick Six begins. In order to more quickly lose $60, several of us pool our money. Savvy, right?

Hey, that's how winners roll.

Just before post, my buddy Craig talks about a case he once tried where one of the jurors was lead singer for the Squirrel Nut Zippers. I've never heard of the Squirrel Nut Zippers. But then I've never heard of most things.

At the last minute, I place an impulse bet — the 2 horse to win. When he reaches the starting gate, I realize the 2 horse is actually a zebra.

Nowhere in the program does it mention this.

Fifth race. I shred my racing form into a nice salad, then turn to freaky number combos, betting $5 on the 5 horse in the fifth race. Lucky Fitz, who races with blinkers off, zigs when he should've zagged, and winds up eating ice cream from a street vendor under an Arcadia overpass. Vanilla, I think, though track stewards later say it might've been peppermint.

Good horse, though. Definitely worth keeping an eye on.

Sixth race. The last of the Marx Brothers, track bugler Jay Cohen, stops by our table in the FrontRunner. "Tough times for the Chicago mob," Cohen reports. "The other day they had to lay off six judges."

There are no customers having birthdays to serenade, so we ask Cohen what song he plays for people getting divorced. Without hesitating, he launches into "Happy Days Are Here Again."

Yowza.

Seventh race. I can't decide between making another wager or getting a colonoscopy.

Wisely, I choose the colonoscopy. Cohen serenades me. The guy won't go away. Turns out he's now part of my health coverage.

Eighth race. Back at the table, I order something called the "picnic platter," full of creamy cheeses and leathery processed meats. Good but not filling. So I order the shrimp tacos. My buddy Mike orders the leg of lamb. When it arrives, I recognize the lamb.

"I bet him in the sixth race," I say.

"Better on turf," says Mike.

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