Art courtesy of Jen Ferguson
This feature contains adult content intended for mature audiences
Note from author John Perrotta: This blog is the writer’s depiction of an imagined racetrack-based story, an ongoing saga, which includes some of the characters depicted in the ill-fated “Luck” series.
We hope you will enjoy this as an interactive experience and welcome your comments, questions and suggestions on for a live chat on Twitter - using the hashtag #OOL - with @ABRLive and @j_perrotta every Monday from 9-10 p.m. ET.
Cast of characters
Marcus - wheelchair-bound since falling from a tree as a child, he’s irascible but sensitive, and his world revolves around trying to pick winners at the track.
Jerry – Marcus’ best friend, a player in many senses of the word, he’s a clever horse handicapper with a weakness for Texas Hold ’Em poker and good-looking women.
Renzo - a sweet guy who’s not that great at handicapping but loves the familial relationship of a group of gamblers.
Lonnie – another good soul who has a load of self-esteem issues and deals with them by trying to be the “cool” one.
Ronnie Jenkins – a veteran jockey nearing the end of a career. He’s a former top rider and Derby winner but suffers from PTSD after a series of spills and wants one more chance with a “big” horse.
Joey Rathburn – longtime jockey agent, he has toiled in ambiguity for years and now has a shot at the gold ring.
Rosie Shanahan – the Irish import, she’s moved up from exercise girl to jockey and is proving she can hold her own with the boys.
Walter Smith – an old-school horseman, he’s come to California with his only horse to get away from bad memories in Kentucky. When the horse turns out to be a real runner, he gets more attention than he wanted.
Turo Escalante – a Peruvian misanthrope, he’s a skilled horseman with a big ego that gets tested when a talented horse with shady connections lands in his barn.
Ace Bernstein – mob-connected “businessman” who has done time for a frame-up, and now he is looking for revenge. Bernstein loves the track and has a dream of resurrecting the sport.
Gus Demitriou – Ace’s longtime driver, bodyguard and confidante. Winning a big slot jackpot fixed by Ace, he’s been the beard for the purchase of a talented Irish colt.
Mike Smythe – an evil mob guy who framed Ace and is obsessed with making his life difficult. Sometimes seems like the devil himself.
Goose – the “fifth wheel” of the Degenerates, he’s a lifetime racetracker who gambles every day and occasionally trains horses. He and Renzo bonded when they tried to claim Mon Gateau.
Bayou Bobby – the short-order cook in the Jockeys’ Room — a perennial wise guy.
Birddog – a shady jockey agent.
Chaz – Renzo’s little brother, done with a stint in rehab.
Moonbeam – Renzo’s waitress girlfriend from the diner.
Naomi – Jerry’s card-dealer girlfriend.
SEVERAL DAYS LATER …
The Flack, eager to foster a media sensation, follows “Old Man” Smith into his tack room. Smith digs in a cardboard box, looking for a piece of equipment, and does his best to ignore the public relations man’s persistence.
“I’m thinking this could be another Alydar-and-Affirmed-type rivalry,” says the Flack. “Could get national coverage next time they meet. I have all my people ready to put it on the front page of every sports section in America.”
“Could you do me a favor, son?” says the Old Man. “Could you save all your chatter ’til later in the day? I got to get my horse ready to breeze.”
Thus chided, the Flack retreats, hoping for a better opportunity to work the story he imagines might be his opus.
Gus turns off the horse path to Escalante’s barn to find Marcus, Lonnie and Renzo camped by the split rail fence like three kids waiting for a school bus.
“Morning,” says Gus to the trio.
“Howyadoin,” replies Marcus, as Lonnie and Renzo mumble greetings.
“Escalante here?” asks Gus as the assistant trainer, Miguel, approaches.
“They said he had a problem with his car,” says Marcus. “Be here later.”
“Your chestnut horse, he just gallops today,” Miguel says to Gus, and then to the Degenerates, “Mon Gateau, he’s galloping, too.”
“Okay if we give him his carrots?” asks Renzo holding up a grocery bag.
“Better you come back when we’re all done,” says Miguel, pointing to the busy walking ring.
Bernstein has notes strewn across his desk. He’s writing on a yellow legal pad when his secretary knocks, then opens the door.
“Mr. Cohen is here,” she says.
Bernstein motions to her to send him in.
Out of Luck Blog Archive
The Flack’s lingering at a respectful distance as the Old Man gives a new exercise boy a leg up on Gettin’ Up Morning.
“Back him up the wrong way, just jog to the wire and then turn and go an easy half-mile. You can let him stand and watch if he wants to. He’s a little on his toes, so don’t be in a hurry,” says the trainer.
“You got it, boss,” replies the rider.
The Flack has sidled up.
“Doesn’t Jenkins usually get on him to breeze?”
“Ronnie’s up at Arlington; went to ride that stakes race there,” says the Old Man as they follow horse and rider down the path.
The Degenerates occupy their usual table at the periphery of Clocker’s Corner.
“Did you hear from Jer’?” says Renzo to Marcus, who flinches like he’d just been poked with a stick.
“Mr. Las Vegas, only the best racehorse handicapper I ever saw, says he’s staying in sin city until he can ‘hold his own.’ I told him to get a Stetson like Doyle Brunson, so when he’s done, least he can hold his own hat.”
The harried Cohen is exiting Bernstein’s office as Ace’s grandson Brent arrives, nearly running into him.
“Sorry, kid,” he says.
Bernstein’s on the phone, motions to Brent to take a seat.
“That guy looks familiar, Gramps. I think I’ve seen him at that restaurant where I have lunch with the guys. Mister D’s.”
Bernstein seemingly ignores the remark.
“How’s the market? Remember what I told you?” Bernstein asks.
“Keeping my mouth shut and my eyes open,” replies Brent, which brings a smile to Ace’s face.
There’s an oil painting of the track on the wall behind Bernstein’s desk.
“You know, Gramps, this place could rock if you got my friends to come here.”
“And why don’t they?” replies Bernstein.
“You know where young guys go, Gramps? They go where the girls are.”
The warning siren growls as red sentinel lights flash at each end of the tote board, signaling to all that a horse is loose on the track. At the three-eighths pole, Gettin’ Up Morning’s rider is brushing off track dirt as the colt gallops back toward the Old Man at the quarter-pole gap, playfully ducking those trying to catch him. Smith steps onto the track just as his horse approaches. As Gettin’ Up Morning trots right to him, he grabs the reins.
“Trying to give a man a heart attack, are you big boy?” says Smith, amused as he leads the big bay toward the barn. “Hope you had fun.”
Marcus notes Goose’s approach at the steps to Clocker’s Corner.
“Hold on to your wallets, it’s time for a sales pitch.”
Renzo pulls a chair for Goose from a vacant table.
“What did you find out about that horse?” Renzo asks.
“Finest piece of horseflesh I’ve had the pleasure of seeing, “ says Goose, “and they’re willing to sell.”
“Oh joy, oh joy,” quips Marcus, “no doubt we’re eligible to be the lucky prospective buyers.”
“It’s like a partnership, a syndicate for when he goes to stud,” says Goose, “only ten thousand a share.”
“Prob’ly selling six hundred-fifty percent,” grumbles Marcus and Goose flinches.
High above the track in the press box, the Flack is feverishly typing on his laptop as a young reporter takes a seat on the corner of his desk.
“Heard your big horse dumped his rider and ran off this morning. Is he okay? Be a shame if he got derailed now,” says the kid.
“Nah, he’s fine. No worries, kid,” snaps the Flack.
“You sure?” says the kid, puzzled at his brusqueness.
Jockey agents are assembled at the counter in the Racing Office as a pair of entry clerks draw post positions for races several days hence. Joey Rathburn is studying his condition book when a plainclothes agent from the Thoroughbred Racing Protective Bureau taps him on the elbow.
“Need a word with you, Joey,” says the agent.
“One race left to draw. Can it wait a minute?” asks Rathburn.
The agent nods as the entry clerk shakes the pills for the next race.
Gus sits across the desk from Bernstein, hands in his lap.
“The horse just galloped around the track this morning. No Escalante. First time I’ve been at that barn he wasn’t there,” says Gus.
“Either got lucky or you should maybe check the jailhouse,” quips Bernstein with a wry smile.
“Cohen says DiRossi’s gone missing,” says Bernstein. “I told him, ‘lay low and we’ll cover his back with Mike’ and he should call you when DiRossi shows up. Says they’ll both be willing to testify.”
Jo’s at the counter signing a release form when the officer escorts Escalante from the cellblock.
“Thanks,” says Turo, looking disheveled from a night in the slammer.
“No problem,” replies Jo, “I always knew this day would come.”
“Very funny, you should be the standing-up comedy person,” he snaps.
As the policeman behind the counter hands Jo a receipt, Escalante remarks to him,
“And you should be getting that cowboy idiot, what needs a real good ass-kicking.”
Jo tugs his arm, pulling him toward the exit.
Rathburn heads the TRPB agent down the walkway toward a garden for some privacy.
“You know a guy they call Birddog? Telling trainers he’s working with you,” says the cop.
“Sure, everybody knows him,” replies Rathburn. “He’s not a bad kid, just had some tough luck. I been trying to help him out.”
The agent smiles in amusement at Rathburn playing a big wheel.
“He’s got a history with drugs and his jockey was ruled off in Texas for packing a battery,” says the cop. “I’d be careful if I were you.”
“Damn … ” says Rathburn, dumbfounded.
Outside the Old Man’s barn, Anna the reporter is alongside Smith as he grazes his horse. They can hear the announcer’s call in the distance as a race is run.
“I’ve uncovered some documents from the Kentucky farm, might support your position. May be time to put all the Delphi stories to rest, you think?”
Smith stops and points at the sky.
“Lord knows, them that’d do such a thing to a horse should go straight to hell,” snaps the trainer.
“Maybe if you let me print your side of the story?” she replies.