Fiesta at the Racetrack

By Georgie Bright Kunkel

Racing forms were never seen in my home of origin. In fact, gambling was almost a sin. But only we girls took that seriously. Well, all but my oldest sister who became a woman of the world after spending two years overseas as an Army nurse during WWII.

I thought my big sister was really cosmopolitan as she even dared to smoke and was one of the first women in our family to get a divorce. And she loved to gamble. You name it—bingo, punch cards or the horse races.
When she was in her eighties I drove her out to Longacres where she sat in the clubhouse with her racing form in her hands marking her favorites. Knowing nothing about gambling I decided to sit out the first three races and then I figured out a system of my own. If a jockey won a race and was slated to ride in a later race, I bet on this jockey in his second time around the track. It worked and I won some money.

Now, fast forward many years to the present. My fellow showed an interest in horse racing. He had stopped going to Las Vegas and didn’t frequent gambling casinos anymore so a one time visit to Emerald Downs seemed innocent enough. To sweeten the pot my neighbor gave us a two for one entrance coupon and another coupon for a free program and we were off and running. Actually, we drove there in the heavy Sunday traffic and ended up on the tree lined driveway leading to the grandstand and a place for watching the horses being paraded before each race. We arrived soon enough to get one of the free T shirts with a special design on the front—a black horse surrounded by an intricate pattern all in glorious blue tones. On the back was 2013 Fiesta Premio Esmeralda.

What a wonderful sunny afternoon with Mt. Rainier in all its glory and a parade of dancing horses between races. Each Mexican rider sported a sparkling outfit studded with jewels. One rider was a young woman in a long red gown and flowing black hair. The mariachi band in bright orange regalia added the final touch to the Mexican celebration at the track.

After people returned from the betting booth they lined up at the fence to cheer their horses on. Soon the horses rounded the final turn and the winner crossed the finish line. One young charro (called gaucho in Argentina) as young as four years old strutted about in chaps and sombrero oblivious of the race that his parents were betting on. Fast food was flowing and I wondered what a family of four must have put out for this afternoon at the races.

My doctor had advised me to stay out in the sun at least 20 minutes every day to get my vitamin D so this day was a plus. My fellow bet on every race and finally on the fourth race I decided to place a bet. Looking over the names was a hoot. There were AGOODLAWYERWILLDO, SHE’SONTOPYODELING and HOLY DAZZLE. No, I didn’t make a mistake in these titles. That’s the way they were printed in the program. I picked HOLY DAZZLE not because of the name but because I had read in the daily paper that this horse was the favorite. HOLY DAZZLE won and I earned $10, yippee.

Believe it or not, I had gone to the races to complain about the horses being whipped on the home stretch but now I can’t remember if they were whipped or not I was so excited watching my horse win. Someone told me afterwards that horses have a tough hide but then I wondered why they whipped them at all if the horses didn’t feel it. I had to tell myself to stop worrying over the horses. I went to the races for the ambience and there was plenty of that at the track that day. Yes, a day to remember.

Georgie Bright Kuniel is a freelance writer who can be reached at
or 206-935-8663.

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