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.
Bernstein and the track president are having lunch in the Turf Club overlooking the track.
“There’s going to be an attempt to deflate our stock by a person who’s been a stone in my shoe for a long time,” says Ace.
“This type of business is extremely distasteful to me,” replies the president.
“It’ll be over soon,” says Bernstein, looking at the fans on the apron below.
“And we’re going to fill this place with people, you and me, just watch.”
The horses for the feature race make their way from the tunnel onto the track as the ponies wait to accompany them to the starting gate. Rosie’s on the six horse. She’s pulled out the rubber bands and runs her fingers through the filly’s unbraided mane, glances to her left to catch Ramirez on the four horse, glaring at her.
Jo parks her truck at Escalante’s barn and he pauses before getting out. The horses are all put away and the shedrow’s neatly raked as a foreman prepares the afternoon feed.
“Thanks,” he says.
“No problem,” she replies.
He steps out of the truck, keeping his door open.
“Maybe you don’t have anything to eat, we can have dinner later.”
“Maybe,” she says.
“Five minutes to post,” drones the announcer’s voice over the public address system. Marcus studies his program as he hands a fold of cash to Renzo.
“Try not to screw this up,” he says, looking daggers at Lonnie and Goose.
“Cold trifecta play, the six on top with four, eight over all for 20 bucks. And supers with all, all for a deuce. There’s nineteen-forty there.”
The three shuffle off to the betting window.
Out of Luck Blog Archive
Bernstein’s on the escalator heading down to his office as his cell phone rings, the caller ID showing “Claire.”
“Hello there,” he says. “I thought you got lost on the way back.”
“I had another family emergency; I’m in Chicago,” she says. “I’ll be here for a few more days.”
“You have family in Chicago, too?” replies Ace, as he’s seemingly sensing that something’s not quite kosher.
A few beats of silence, then …
“Miss you,” says Claire.
“Okay,” he says. “Guess I’ll see you when you get back.”
Two horses begin to edge away from the pack as the field turns for home. Rosie’s lapped on the outside of Ramirez as he begins to float her wide. As they hit the apex of the turn, Ramirez hauls off and slashes Rosie on the thigh several times with his whip.
“Jaysus!” she cries, flinching out of rhythm with her mount for a beat.
“Holy crap!” exclaims Goose, focused on the small television in the Degenerate’s box.
“Did he bump her?” says Marcus, as the two horses go under the wire too close to tell who won.
“He beat her a head, she’s got to claim foul,” says Goose, as Lonnie nods knowingly. Marcus rolls his eyes when Lonnie states:
“It’s a cinch to come down.”
Rosie’s fuming, on the phone to the stewards as the results flash on the tote board. She glances at Ramirez on his horse in the winner’s circle and as he blows her a kiss. She gives him a rude gesture in return.
“Wasn’t his horse he was hitting, judge, it was me. Wailing on me, he was.”
But as the replay runs from several angles on the big screen in the infield, it’s impossible to tell exactly where Ramirez’ blows are landing.
The chief steward looks to the other two and shrugs his shoulders.
“Right in the blind spot, like he knows we can’t tell for sure.”
“Make it official?” asks one of the others.
The Degenerates all react with a moan to the “OFFICIAL” sign posted on the tote board. Marcus smacks Renzo with his program while Goose and Lonnie begin tearing up the tickets.
“We got robbed by the biggest thief in town,” moans Goose.
Several reporters are finishing their day work, sending online stories to their papers as the Flack stashes his laptop and prepares to exit for the day.
“What happened to your big horse this morning, Don?” asks one of the hacks. “Heard he dumped the rider and ran off. Didn’t get hurt, did he?”
“Who said he got hurt?” snaps the Flack. “Who?”
“Don’t get so jumpy, man,” says the reporter.
As the Flack makes his hasty exit, the reporter looks to his pals.
“Something he doesn’t want us to know?”
Renzo, Lonnie and Goose follow Marcus through the paddock gardens toward the track exit, their heads down and shoulders slumped like schoolboys beaten badly in a soccer match.
As they pass through the gates and reach the spot where Goose customarily parks his bike, all that’s left is a severed chain, dangling from the fence.
“Is this ‘insult to injury or injury to insult?’ ” says Goose.
As the other three head for their car, Goose looks toward the bus stop.
“I’ll be over for the checks later,” he shouts.
Chaz is alone in the room he’s now sharing with his brother, Renzo. The shades are drawn and he’s carefully poking through the drawers of a large bureau when he finds a manila envelope wrapped with rubber bands.
He opens the envelope and removes a wad of hundred-dollar bills, quickly shoving them in his pocket before re-banding it.
Exiting an elevator, Jerry and another card player commiserate shoulder to shoulder as they follow a black-suited casino security guard down the luxuriously appointed hallway, when the guard makes an abrupt left into a vending machine area.
“What’re we doing, getting a soda?” asks Jerry.
As the guard swipes a key card and holds open an unmarked door next to the ice machine for them to enter, Jerry finds himself face to face with Johnny Chan.
“No-No says you a big horse guy, Jerry. Maybe we play that for you?” says Chan.
“No-No? Who’s No-No?” answers Jerry.
“Nomie – Naomi – we call her ‘No-No.’ ”
Jerry seems slightly stunned as he wonders how much else Naomi has told her friends about him.
Ace and Gus admire the well-lit L.A. skyline as they have a nightcap. Bernstein’s lost in thought for a few moments, then …
“I’m feeling like it’s time the snowball comes rolling down the mountain,” he says.
“That’s okay, right? Long as you’re pushing it, not standing in its path?” replies the Greek.
Copyright 2013 J.R. Perrotta