Daddy's Doggone Derby

For that which I do I allow not:
For what I would, that do I not;
But what I hate, that do I.

                                    — Romans 7:15


The Kentucky Derby’s coming up. The Run for the Roses! Most people try to pause and enjoy this all-American event on television. But one family we know really gets in to it.


It’s all because of the man of the house. He just loves the Derby. During Derby Week, this otherwise mild-mannered husband and father morphs into a combination mathematician, super-fan and cheerleader. He studies the charts on the horses intently, emails friends from all over the country who follow the ponies, and most of all, eggs on his family to each pick a favorite to bet on.


We’re not talking the kind of gambling that ruins lives, marriages, savings accounts and careers. We’re talking about a once-a-year thing within a family, just a fun tradition. His wife and now-grown children are nowhere nearly as “in” to it as he is. But they went along with him on his annual Derby quest. It was “A Dad Thing.”


Well, one year not too long ago, family members were all busy and distracted in the week leading up to the big race. It came time Saturday to collect their picks, but no one had bothered. Dad had to track them down all over town and practically pull their choices out of them.


This one picked a horse because it had a cute name. That one picked one because it was the only one of a certain color. The other one knew that one of the trainers had a horse that won the Derby last year, so that was that family member’s pick.


They were all kind of blasé about their selections. Dad got a little miffed. Hmph! I’m the only one who really cares, eh? Is that it?


He went to the off-track betting place, a little ill-humored. But he bought each family member $10 “to win” tickets as usual.


Then he hesitated. In each of the past several years, he had combined the “to win” picks of his three children, in age order, into another kind of bet, called a “trifecta,” and spent an additional 10-spot.


To win a “trifecta,” you have to pick the three horses that come in first, second and third, in that exact order. If that happens, you get a big payoff. And if those horses happened to be long shots, you get a REALLY big payoff.


But gee. His family had been so apathetic. Why should he blow another 10 bucks if they were going to be that way? Nah! He left the window without placing his traditional trifecta bet. He didn’t think another thing of it.


THAT IS . . . until later that afternoon. The family gathered in front of the TV for the touching tune, “My Old Kentucky Home.” They admired the beautiful Thoroughbreds as they paraded to the starting gate. Finally, the heart-pounding announcement: “They’re off!”


The family was mildly interested as the horses rounded the first turn.


Then they started to come alive, as the field started to spread out, and the horses they’d picked were all in the front-running group.


Next thing you knew, they were crowding around close to the screen, jockeying for position the same way the real jockeys were maneuvering their steeds across the backstretch. The wife and kids were crouched low in front of the set in excitement, eyeballs bulging, fists punching the air: “Come ON, Sea Biscuit (or Whomever)! Come ON! You can DO it!!!”


First this one was ahead. Then that one. Then a third surged to the front. Then another horse or two got into the act. How would it come out? Who would win?


It was soooooo exciting! And at the finish, there was whooping and hollering, because the three horses his three adult children had bet on had indeed come in first, second and third.


And what was Daddy doing?


He was having an out-of-body experience off in the corner with his head in his hands . . . because for once in his life . . . HE HADN’T BET THE TRIFECTA . . . AND THESE WERE ALL TREMENDOUS LONGSHOTS . . . AND IT WAS GOING TO PAY OFF REALLY, REALLY BIG.


Over $100,000, in fact.


He could have had that in his pocket. But he didn’t bet it.


Isn’t that just ALWAYS the WAY?!?!?!?


Doo dah doo dah doo dah doo dah!


As the song goes, “Weep no more, my darlin’.”


Ohhhhhh, welllllll.


So, anyway, this year, I’ll put on my straw hat and pour my mint julep to sit with the rest of America and watch our favorite horse race that Saturday afternoon. I’ll be thinking of our friend, who coulda, woulda, shoulda won that one hundred grand.


No doubt he’ll diligently bet the trifecta this time, and no doubt he won’t win, not now, not ever.


He won’t be mad about it. There’s always a glimmer of hope, though. Maybe! If you don’t try, you can’t win!


That’s why we have horse races! †

By Susan Darst Williams | | Fatherhood | © 2020