WE ARE ALL RAILBIRDS
The folks who religiously go to the racetrack are different. They are quirky. They are superstitious. They are impulsive. They are petulant. They are unpredictable. Just like you and me. But different.
These habitual devotees of the Sport of Kings, greyhounds and jai alai are collectively called RAILBIRDS. The railbirds keep the place engaging and mysterious. Within this colony we introduce dandy’s, misfits, degenerates, Mensa members and everything in between. No matter what race track in any country you are in….from France to Hong Kong, Chile to Saudi Arabia….you will meet the Railbirds. They’ll be a little difficult to identify at first; but over a short observation period they expose their daily regimen, their passport to winning the big one-- in some cases at the expense of others.
The group as a whole is bizarre. But individually, they become real and fascinating: There’s arithmetic wizard and betting savvy Binocular Bob; the Sheik complete with his security guards, food tasters, mysterious entourage; Meadowlark, the would be pro-golfer who mastered the new technology of wagering and used it to his own advantage; Miss Universe’s unannounced visit to the track; the professional wrestlers who always finished their bouts just before the next race started; El Senor, the legally blind Cuban refugee senior citizen with quirky bets ; Pete the Roofer with his constant fist full of cash and shady background; Park Avenue Willy, the dandy of the clubhouse but in reality a scammer….and more…..
Close your eyes and listen. Hear the gates slam open and bells ringing, feel the oncoming thunder of hooves; strain to hear the announcer getting aggressive, hear the crowd roar echoing all over the building: coaxing…coaxing….coaxing man and beast toward the finish line.
When every race ends, there’s a dramatic catharsis. There are winners and mostly losers with their woulda, coulda, shoulda bets. But for all the railbirds, there’s always another race…another superfecta paying five figures or another $200 win bet for a $2 investment.
As an added insight, the authors describe events and often unplanned circumstances to further add to track lore. There’s the night that the entire Miss Universe competition dropped by much to the chagrin and confusion of the inveterate gamblers; or the night the professional wrestlers had bouts in between races complete with “battle royal”, tag teams and a healthy number of good guys vs. bad. Another surprise involved a bogus Greyhound Racing Commissioner from Great Britain, who insulted just about every owner and trainer in a gin infused key note speaking engagement.
The railbirds we describe are all real. The names have been changed, and we’ve embellished them a bit: each one entertaining and a story in his/her own right. The writers, occasional RAILBIRDS themselves, spent a combined century watching, knowing, on occasion celebrating with Railbirds.
Bill Hutchinson, as general manager and vice president of four race tracks, got to know many of these characters intimately as he worked his way up from teller to executive. “The race track is a great people watching venue,” he said, “and, no matter where you attend the horse or dog races or jai alai, these same individuals are part of the daily fabric of the game. The names may change, but the personalities and their schemes do not.”
Baird Thompson’s marketing firm was in the forefront of promotions and events at many normally staid and conservative race tracks. “The nature of gamblers, their superstitions, their quirks, their scams, their garb, and their body language is very entertaining. Anywhere in the world the Railbirds are predictably unpredictable.” he said.