TrackNotes: Mom

One measure of time is B.C-slash-A.D.

In the racing game, you can carbon-date a horseplayer when he says "I SAW (horse name here)!"

It was the early 2000s, for sure, when I found the horses, for reasons I've shouted loudly and often.

It dawned on me that Arlington Park was a $5 train ride away, cheap (back then) to get in, and I might even be weighed down by winnings on the ride home.

"You've got a track right there, you should go," my mother said.

So I started going. Then there was the shorter trip to the OTB, a visit to the Beachwood Inn and, kismet.

These memories flooded back, presenting the opportunity again to remember that my MOTHER was not a small factor in me loving the ponies and the fun of handicapping.

Well, my mother, Emily Chambers, who dug the horses too, passed away last Friday. She was 88.

When I would visit her in Palm Desert, California, we always went to the OTB at Shalimar, a dingy, Aladdin-themed county fairgrounds in Indio, where, when you go just a couple of times, like every other horseplaying community I've ever known, they get to know you. And the old lady and her kid from Chicago, no problem. We're playing!

Back then, the now-demolished Hollywood Park ran during the holidays and Bay Meadows was more important to the Californians than it ever was to us Chicagoans.

She had moved back to Northeastern Wisconsin to be closer to family where the escapades of her beloved Chicago Bears made it ever so tougher in the face of the Green Bay Packers' exploits.

But she always loved the horses. It wasn't anything new. Her father, a mailer for the old Chicago Daily News on the Canal Street loading dock steps north of Madison, also dug the ponies, favoring the harness buggies.

She just enjoyed gambling, purely low-stakes recreation, of course. She was also a math and numbers whiz, working in a major corporate payroll department as the four of us flew the coop. While she would bet on a horse at times based on a cute name, she also enjoyed analyzing past performances, looking for the tendencies.

We both had visited several different tracks. While I had Arlington, Hawthorne, Oaklawn Park and Belmont, she topped me with trips to Santa Anita, Hollywood Park and Del Mar. Once, we went to Arlington for Million Prep Day, so I reserved a trackside table in the Million Club. The online adjectives were way better than the service and the prices, so that kind of became the beginning of my end with Arlington.

In the heyday, we'd watch the races together on the phone watching TV at the same time, in the days of Zenyatta, Goldikova, Roses in May, Ghostzapper and, towards the latter days of interest, big on California Chrome. She liked the 'Chrome a lot, and was aghast by his owner's behavior. She just thought Smarty Jones got beat and didn't fully understand why I was so upset. She got interested in Funny Cide, for those two races. Gary Stevens was her heartthrob and, for just a spell there, she had the nuances about a few of the top jocks. Stevens was in Seabiscuit and Castellano is pretty. She was flabbergasted with Calvin Borel. "That guy is crazy!"

I would place bets for her, as she didn't want to open an account, and if she lost, I'd have a check by Tuesday, always the accountant. I didn't always agree with her picks, but we always honored the horseplayers credo: You bet on who you want.

Mom certainly enjoyed American Pharoah's exploits, but she didn't care for Bob Baffert. "I just don't like him. Plus, he wins too much," she always said. I always had the feeling she just wanted to slap that grin off of Baffert's face.

Obviously, she was much more than just a horseplayer, but we sure had a lot of fun with the ponies.


Tom Chambers is our man on the rail. He welcomes your comments.

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