Art courtesy of Jen Ferguson
This feature contains adult content intended for mature audiences
Note from author John Perrotta: The following 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, beginning after the third episode.
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.
Santa Anita Park, several months later …
We join “Old Man” Walter Smith at his barn, barely tolerating an interview from the track publicity Flack, since his horse is the “big story” after a stakes winning streak.
Gettin’ Up Morning has won four of his five starts and rumors abound of Irish bloodstock agents making big offers.
Since his nose loss in the Western Derby, Smith has skipped the Triple Crown trail, reluctant to be exposed to legal chicanery by his enemies back in Kentucky.
“The only one’s beaten him is Pint of Plain,” says the Flack. “And that one was third in the Kentucky Derby. Word is the offer’s $8 million plus, in euros.”
“You know where I live, son?” says the Old Man, his patience wearing thin. “House trailer. Know where I eat my breakfast, my lunch and sometimes my dinner? Track kitchen.”
He points toward a dusty Ford 150 pickup in the parking lot.
“Drive myself a 10-year-old truck,” says Smith.
“I waited all my life for a horse like this.”
The Old Man stares down the shedrow at Gettin’ Up Morning.
“Know what I’d have if I took that money? Bunch of money, no horse.”
Poker legend Johnny Chan peeks at his cards and sees a pair of red kings.
We’re in a vast warehouse-like room, amid the background buzz of a few hundred players rattling chips and exchanging nervous banter as our “Degenerates” - Marcus, Lonnie and Renzo - crane their necks to watch Jerry play on a "Featured Table" at the World Series of Poker.
Sandwiched between two large people, Jerry looks uncomfortable calling a raise with ace-three of clubs and after two clubs fall on the flop, he finds himself involved in a big pot against Johnny and movie star Jennifer Tilly. Jerry has more chips than either of his opponents and they both shove all-in.
“Things that Feature Table dreams are made of … ” says commentator Norman Chad from the broadcast booth.
“Jerry Boyle’s flopped the nut flush draw, Jennifer’s got a straight and flush draw but Johnny’s way in the lead with his pair of Kings!” says commentator Lon McCarron.
“Forget the cards,” gushes Chad, “that dress Jennifer almost wore in Let It Ride is still burned into my brain!”
As the turn deuce of clubs gives Jerry top flush and Jennifer a lesser one, it also makes a pair of twos on the board …
“Nut flush,” whispers Renzo.
“Eighty-eight percent favorite to take it all,” says Marcus, sotto voice.
Marcus twitches like he’s hit by lightning when Lonnie exclaims:
“He can’t lose!” … only to have a third deuce hit on the river and fill out a full house for Johnny Chan.
“Living Legend sucks out on rank amateur!” says Chad.
Lonnie falls off the back of the wheelchair as Marcus growls:
“You put the horns on him … you effing Jonah!”
Ace Bernstein’s in his penthouse as he checks the knot on his tie, readying to head for the office at Santa Anita. His stock purchases have given him control of the track and he’s kept the track president on to assist in the transition.
Gus appraises the situation:
“First meet-up with the union guys; you look like new money.”
As the tone indicating an incoming text beeps on his cell phone, Ace puts on his reading glasses. It’s from his girlfriend, Claire LeChea. The text reads: “Sorry, no phones allowed, but I’ll stay in touch.”
In Bernstein’s kitchen, while Ace and Gus watch Escalante in Pint of Plain’s stall via their laptop, they begin to reminisce as the Greek recalls their trip to the Derby several months before.
“All those people singing ‘My Old Kentucky Home’ made the hair stand up on the back of my neck, Ace.”
Bernstein recounts the race he’s watched over and over:
“They run that Derby ten times, I guarantee you he gets through and wins eight, maybe nine. Too many horses in that race, too crowded.”
“Escalante says he’s back from the farm feeling like King Kong, says we’ll win the Breeder’s Cup Mile in November and the Big ’Cap in the spring,” says Gus.
Bernstein displays the message from Claire.
“She’s supposed to be at her brother’s parole hearing; just texts, all I get.”
On the Santa Anita Park horse path, the Old Man follows Ronnie Jenkins and Gettin’ Up Morning on the way to the track, and the horse-training attorney Hartstone joins him with bad news. Bowman’s farm in Kentucky has filed legal papers alleging an interest in the colt, and Smith will be forced to respond.
“This is ‘push comes to shove,’ we don’t have a choice, Walter.”
Bernstein’s grandson Brent arrives at the penthouse, clean-shaven in a suit and tie with a Wall Street Journal in hand. He’s ready for his first day of work in a stock broker’s office, looking more like a young businessman than a hippie. As they head for the car, his grandfather advises:
“You listen, ask questions, they’ll figure out quick enough how smart you are.”
“Buy low, sell high, kid.”
At the Santa Anita quarter-pole chute near Clocker’s Corner, exercise girl Lizzie is astride the Palomino stable pony. She has a leather strap looped through Pint of Plain’s halter, waiting to take the chestnut colt for the rider-less exercise known as “ponying.”
The distracted Escalante paces back and forth with a cell phone to his ear as he tries to reach Jo the veterinarian.
“She can’t answer? Has to make me call 20 times?”
Jo is at Escalante’s house, carrying boxes to her truck as the boy Eduardo follows her from room to room. The house has the lived-in look of a family with personal pictures on the mantle and toys on the floor, but it’s obvious she is packing up to leave for good. Her cell phone vibrates on the coffee table, unanswered.
As the break-time harrows roll past on the track, Ronnie Jenkins sips a coffee at Clocker’s Corner, a cool customer in the midst of an argument with his agent, Palmieri.
“I can’t see why in God’s name you’d want to ride Misty Kiss again after she broke your collarbone for you,” says the agent.
“I play this game on my own terms,” snaps Ronnie. “No goofy filly’s going to get the better of me.”
They’re bickering about the quality of the rest of his mounts for the day when a big-busted blonde groupie taps Jenkins on the elbow.
“Number-one fan, Ronnie,” she says as she hands him a program and a pen for an autograph, then slips him her phone number as she leaves.
“That’s not what I had in mind when I said you could be leading rider,” says Palmieri, nodding toward the girl’s short skirt.
“Eat your heart out, old man,” says Jenkins, his eyes following her derriere.
Break time at the poker tournament and it’s getting near the “bubble” point where players will start to get prize money. The Degenerates are in the snack bar discussing Jerry’s chances of making it to the Final Table.
“The ‘November Nine’ all get at least a million bucks,” chirps Lonnie.
“Never talk about the money ahead of time, you numb-nuts, it’s bad luck, like looking at the trophy,” says Marcus, as Lonnie retreats, chagrined.
“I’m card-dead,’” says Jerry. “I thought I could win this thing.”
“Absolutely necessary, you keep your wits about you, stay patient, time your moves,” snaps Marcus.
Art courtesy of Jen Ferguson
Bernstein and the track president are at the center of a packed conference room. They’re face to face with a bunch of suits and ties, the union reps there to hear Bernstein’s plan for promoting the track.
He pitches them with his horse giveaway scheme and a big-pool, lottery-type bet, but when it’s their time to respond they’ve turned hostile, and the track president seems taken aback:
“But we always had a good relationship!”
When Ace proposes to give the unions a stake in the track instead of their scheduled pay raise - “In essence, making you my partners… ” - the union reps storm out of the conference room, suggesting that he’s making a secret deal with the Indians and is cutting them out.
“Little Big Horn,” quips one of the reps.
Training hours are over, and Lizzie and Rosie, along with Rosie’s agent, Joey, are part of the crowd in the track kitchen enjoying a bit of drama as Escalante and Mulligan find themselves next to each other in line, the two trainers engaged in a stare down.
Along with his anxiety over the situation with Jo, Escalante’s pissed about Mulligan continuing to claim horses from him. Deciding that Mulligan’s sneer is the cowboy’s way of laughing at him, Escalante dumps a tray full of food on him, exclaiming, “Redneck piece of crap!” as they both start swinging.
When the kitchen’s proprietor and a couple of employees pull the two apart and send them packing, Mulligan raises a fist, calling Escalante a “wet-back piece of garbage.”
In the salon of Smythe’s yacht, Cohen and DiRossi display dozens of eight-by-ten photos on the coffee table. In some, Bernstein is with Claire, some he’s with Brent and others alone. The last photo is that of Pint of Plain in his stall.
As Mike fondles the crystal ashtray he killed Israel with he seethes:
“I want him to see it coming.”
The two henchmen begin to fear for their own lives.
“He’s crazier than ever,” whispers DiRossi.
At lunch in the track’s Turf Club, Bernstein’s perplexed when the track president confronts him about irregularities in their agreement for the takeover.
“It appears there are ‘pump and dump’ moves being made in the stock trades by a Trans-Vicor holding company, Ace,” says the president.
“Not what I’d expect from a man like you. And I assume the SEC feels likewise.”
Outside the Jockeys’ Room, Rosie complains to Joey about Escalante, saying he disrespects her and favors her rival Ramirez with the best mounts.
“He doesn’t ask Ramirez to walk hots,” she says.
“We win three yesterday, Joey. I shouldn’t be treated like a scullery maid.”
Afraid she’s going to get in Escalante’s face and lose his business, Joey warns her to go easy.
“Place and time for everything Rosie, place and time.”
When the Turf Club Maitre d’ hands the track president an envelope with a Trans-Vicor logo, addressed to Bernstein, he raises an eyebrow and passes it across the table.
“I was told to give this to you.”
Seemingly, his suspicions are confirmed, and Bernstein realizes there’s a trap in the making.
When Rosie brings home a longshot winner for Escalante despite nearly being knocked off her horse by Ramirez, the victory is spoiled as they realize Mulligan has claimed the filly. The trainers exchange looks of contempt, and Turo steams while the photographer snaps the win picture.
Walking through the tunnel, Rosie tells her agent she’s going to smack Ramirez in the mouth when she gets to the Jocks’ Room:
“I’ll wipe that smirk off his greasy mug … ”
Joey pleads with her not to:
“That’s just what he wants — you down at his level.”
In the final race of the day, Ronnie Jenkins is ready to get a leg up on Misty Kiss, the bolting filly that put him on the shelf. He’s out to prove something and remains totally focused until, as the horses step on the track, a cute blonde calls out from the rail:
“Hey, stud. Hey, Ronnie.”
And the pony boy chuckles:
“Ain’t that your ex-wife?”
Ronnie mutters to himself:
“Just what I needed.”
Misty Kiss breaks on top and Jenkins puts in a masterful ride, nursing the filly on the lead to a win. He’s smiling with satisfaction in the winner’s photo until his valet breaks the spell, saying:
“I see Kitti’s back in town.”
Returned home from the races, Esclalante’s in his driveway, trying to dissuade Jo from leaving. Her truck is packed and she’s ready to split with Eduardo in tow.
When Escalante complains that the claiming war with Mulligan has him upset:
“Sonofabitch cowboy driving me nuts!”
She tells him she’s gone and he should seek psychiatric help.
“I hope you two lunatics are happy. You can howl at the moon together.”
In a secluded booth at a Vegas diner, the blonde insurance agents, last seen giving Lonnie a beating after their “slip and fall” scam failed, are nursing cups of coffee.
They’re both wearing black wigs and dark glasses and planning another plot as Lynette’s cell phone beeps with a text.
“It’s him, says he misses us.”
“Probably a trap,” says Adell.
“I don’t think so. Look, he’s sex-ting us,” says Lynette as she displays a shot of Lonnie with the caption “Greetings from the Emperor.”
A young female reporter visits the Old Man at feed time — in from Kentucky to do a story on his horse — but she finds him a hostile witness when he recalls her as the one who treated him so unkindly in articles about the Delphi mystery.
When she presses him about why he skipped the Kentucky Derby with Gettin’ Up Morning, he snaps:
“That colt don’t ship so great and I kep’ him here so’s not to beat him up. My age, I don’t get another like him. That’s my story.”
In the Mercedes on the way home, Bernstein confides to Gus his suspicion that Mike is behind the union problems at the track and also likely trying to set him up with a stock scam.
They’d better be ready to duke it out.
“Been too quiet, too long,” says Ace.
The Greek nods in agreement.
“My neighborhood we had a saying, ‘never take a knife to a gun fight.’ ”
It’s Happy Hour in the bar at the Derby Restaurant, well populated by horse owners and trainers, where Rosie and her agent are “high-profiling.” Her win today has put her on top of the jockey standings and Joey is buying the drinks.
“Thanks to all your support.”
When Rosie goes to the restroom and the waiter brings their check, Joey has a panic attack, flashing back to a time when he was broke and couldn’t pay his bills.
Ronnie Jenkins proclaims, “a hundred and six days” of sobriety at his Alcoholics Anonymous meeting, secretly worrying what Kitti’s reappearance portends.
Jerry’s been moved to another table and the Degenerates hang at the velvet rope to watch him play. He’s made a pretty good comeback and has a sizeable stack of chips as he looks down to see a pair of aces.
When his bet gets re-raised after the flop by an internet kid wearing a hoodie, Jerry pushes “all-in.”
As they both turn over their cards, the Kid shows a pair of nines and Marcus whispers for the others to hear:
“He’s 11-to-1 favorite to double up.”
When the river card makes three nines to reward the kid for a bad move, Jerry’s aces are cracked and his dream of winning the World Series is over.
The Degenerates join Jerry at the cashier’s cage but the $75,000 he wins seems a bittersweet consolation.
Back in L.A. at the Degenerates’ new hotel, Renzo’s mother is readying to turn in for the night, applying a mud-mask when a man knocks at her door.
Shocked at first when she peeks through the spy hole in the door, she welcomes him in.
From his adjoining room in the Vegas Hotel, Renzo reads a text on his phone.
“Ma says, ‘Congratulations to Jerry and I have a big surprise for you when you get back.’ ”
“Prob’ly ‘Meet your new daddy,’ ” cracks Marcus, which is an unnerving thought to Renzo.
While the others pack to go home, Jerry announces he’s off to a private high-stakes poker game, provoking Marcus.
“Two weeks of poker’s not enough, playing day and night?”
Ronnie Jenkins slips out of bed, not disturbing the sleeping groupie as he heads for the bathroom. He’s got night sweats and stares at himself in the mirror.
As he splashes water on his face, there’s a commotion — breaking glass in the parking lot right outside his window.
Peeking through the venetian blinds, they can see Ronnie’s ex, beating on his car with a baseball bat. Resignedly, he tells the Groupie:
“Not so bad, last time she set it on fire.”
Bernstein’s annoyed at first when Gus tells him he’s been following Claire.
“Part of my due diligence, to cover your back,” Gus explains. “Like you said, ‘who we trust, who we don’t.’ ”
But when the Greek tells him he’s not the only one shadowing her, Ace reluctantly agrees to Gus continuing to “discreetly” clock her, and then waxes thoughtfully:
“Some ways, it feels like I’m still in jail.”
FADE OUT …
Copyright 2012 J.R. Perrotta