It’s Sunday morning, and I confirm that yes, mass will be celebrated on the grounds at Keeneland at 10 am. “I call it ‘Our Lady of the Sales Pavilion,’” quips a local acquaintance.
The little room off the main sales area is packed, with barn workers and racing fans, Keeneland employees and families. Out the bank of windows behind the altar loom the upper parking lots, which don’t look much like parking lots because verdancy is the dominant impression: trees in full leaf, grass.
This is no-frills Catholicism: no music, one reading after another. There’s a race day to get going.
The gospel talks about catching 153 fish, and the priest begins the homily, “Bet 1-5-3.” He reiterates this message throughout the sermon, as he talks about opening a church at Keeneland, the Polytrack Church, which will represent the myriad ways that people come to faith. “A church at Keeneland,” he says, liking the idea. “But don’t tell the bishop.”
He talks about logic vs. faith, handicapping vs. hunch betting. Sometimes, he says, it’s not logic that leads to a winning ticket; it’s belief, an instinct that can’t be proven, and all the intellect in the world won’t get you to the cashing window. At this point, I’m liking that thinking: betting cat horses is getting approval in church.
The sermon closes as it began: “Bet 1-5-3.” But…in what race? Trifectas? Pick 3’s? Exacta boxes? The priest isn’t telling.
So at Keeneland a couple of hours later, puzzling over the options, I try to cover all of them, which isn’t too hard, given Keeneland’s .50 trifectas and Pick 3 wagers. I bet rolling Pick 3’s beginning with the first race, and 1-5-3 triple boxes in every race except the second, in which the three is scratched. The investment is about $27.
In race after race, the #1 loses, killing the Pick 3; we have hope in the 7th, the final Pick 3 of the day, when #1, Project Rose wins; but the #4 wins the next race. Dead in Pick 3’s, 0 for 7.
We fare little better with the triples. In the #3-less second race, the exacta is 5-1…but we didn’t bet exactas. In the fifth race, the #3 wins, the #1 comes in second…but the #5 finishes next to last. In the finale, the #1 wins, the #3 finishes third, and those two races are as close as we get. The hunch bets on the day don’t do too well, either: Patti’s Kitten is second; Looks Purrfect is third, as is Kiawah Cat.
So maybe that 1-5-3 was supposed to be bet somewhere else? I struggle—where does God want me to bet? To what am I not listening closely enough?
I first check the Aqueduct results…and yes, of course, there it is: In the third race, the 1-3-5 triple pays $24; in the eighth, 3-5-1 pays $657. Naughty New Yorker, who is an automatic bet for me whenever I’m at the track, finishes third. God was at the racetrack, just not the one where I was.
I chastise myself: I’ve been Catholic my whole life, and I should have known better. Redemption—of the soul or of a winning ticket—is never that easy.