I LOVE horse racing. I grew up at OTB and am pretty comfortable around the ponies. Last week, I took my family and went up to Saratoga for the day. The grounds are quite beautiful, with picnic tables, a mini park, children’s tent, and plenty of fun snacks for everyone. Including beer tents.
You can spot the jockeys close up and see the horses cross the finish line in front of you. There’s nothing in the world like watching a gorgeous race horse hurtling toward the finish line: tail waving in the breeze, face frozen in concentration, a faint sheen of sweat on the body as muscles bunch and unfurl in a dance of grace. Dirt flies, hooves pound, the crowd screams, and everyone holds their breath, half praying they won, half in awe of the thrum of competitive sport bred in these magnificent animals. Good horses have the heart to win. But handicappers have a hard time cataloguing what’s a great horse when the animal is young and unproven.
They build the odds on a number of things: breeding, trainer, speed, workouts, and previous races. I’ve spoken with a variety of bettors who swear you can go by name or hunch and win almost as much as a person who maps out each careful detail in the race. I believe in a little of both. But this time, I took my son and he was old enough to be trained in the family tradition. I let him pick his horses.
When I took my niece up when she was younger, the first time she picked her horses she ended up winning five out of ten races, and I left the track with a lot of money in my pocket. There was an actual crowd sitting next to us, and they’d ask for her opinion. She was quite the star that summer – and I call it beginner’s luck. It’s like gold and leprechauns – they’re spurt a lot of money in the beginning, then leave quickly. I believe in pouncing on opportunity.
So, I laid out the program for each race, read him the names and numbers, and let him pick. My son won four races that day. His most profitable pick was a long shot. He loved the name, and though my family laughed at him and said the horse would still be running after the race was over, I put a wager on him. A hefty wager. When we stood at the rail and screamed our horse in, he came from the back of the pack and closed in like a demon, eating up space between the front runner until he shot across the finish line and the crowd reeled in shock. My son and I jumped up and down and claimed our ticket. And that began my thoughts on long shots.
Long shots are tricky. You never know when they’re going to come in and score. When they do, and you’ve played them, the benefits are huge. Beyond the payoff, there is an adrenalin rush that comes from taking a chance and walking the path less traveled. We feel alive. Even when we decide to make the bet, knowing it’s almost impossible to win, praying we will nail that one moment of glory, the whole process reminds us we are human. There is hope. We also need to know when to walk away. If we play long shot after long shot, we will eventually be broke, and broken.
So, how do we know the difference?
We need to learn to listen to our gut. Our hearts. That tiny little whisper inside that says, “Maybe it’s my turn” or “Maybe I just believe in this no matter what other people say.” It’s a reminder that not only experts and professionals win all the time. Sometimes, the person no one ever thought was in the game takes the whole pot. And how exciting is that?
I love betting on long shots. I love the feeling of something being out in the universe that could explode with big news. That’s why, no matter how many times my manuscript gets rejected, I always send it back out. Or send a new one. Or an edited one. Because as long as I have something out there, the sale is always possible.
I’ve had many ideas in my life when people have scoffed and told me it was impossible. But I just believed, went with my gut, and most times succeeded. Not all. But I don’t need all. In that wonderful movie, Soul Surfer, Bethany states, “I just need possible.”
Looking back, my husband and I agree our main regrets were being so scared of rejection. Whether that be relationships, work, or dreams. The older I get, the more I push myself, because I learned taking chances do not break you.
But not taking any chances, will eventually break your heart.
Next time you see an opportunity, and you waffle, take it. Play the long shot. Grab a lottery ticket, enter a writing contest, ask that guy you’ve been crushing on out, and go after your dream.
When your horse comes in, there is nothing as sweet as that taste of victory.