How it all began for me in this industry

By The Rex Factor

It all began when I had just turned 10, was given a pittance of an allowance and strongly urged by my conservative parents that nothing good came out of gambling. Still, May 2, 1987 would be a life-altering day for me.

I was a rebellious type growing up. My dad chose to let me experiment with my favorite sports teams, and by that age I had long established an allegiance to the University of Kentucky, even though I lived in Indiana and my dad was a high school basketball coach that patterned his style after Bobby Knight.

He rooted for the Celtics because of Larry Bird; I rooted for the Lakers out of spite. He rooted for the Reds, so I became a Los Angeles Dodger fan, a big NL West rival. Not all of my childhood allegiances (I loathed the Kobe/Shaq Lakers) have held into adulthood.

Yet I had cobbled up $5 somehow and when one of the neighbors down the street was selling horses to pick out of a hat for the 1987 Kentucky Derby, I giddily ponied up, hoping to turn my investment into an $85 windfall.

Imagine my delight when I drew Demons Begone. Well, it wasn’t delight at first. I knew nothing about the horse – or any of the horses – until a guy told me I had drawn the favorite. Even the advantage-player in me then knew THAT was a good thing. A 16-to-1 investment that was gonna go off at around 2-to-1 is all you can ask for when getting your money in the pot.

Looking back, the stars should have aligned. Demons Begone ran his three 3-year old races in Arkansas and swept the graded stakes there under jockey Pat Day, who was a Louisville and Churchill Downs icon by then. The trainer was Phil Hauswald, a Churchill regular who grew up in the hometown next to mine.

Instead, Demons Begone pulled up lame after choking up blood entering the backstretch, and Day eased him. Alysheba, ridden by Chis McCarron, clipped heels with Bet Twice one furlong from the wire but recovered from his stumble to win the race and pay $18.80 to win.

When doing research for this story, I was quickly reminded of how many things were different almost 30 years ago when compared to now. Back then, if a trainer entered multiple horses in the race, they were all lumped together as one betting entry. Hall of Famer D. Wayne Lukas has three horses in the Derby, so they were numbered 1, 1a and 1x. Because of two trainers having multiple entries, Demons Begone was the No. 6 horse for betting purposes yet broke from the No. 10 post.

Also, the No. 12, 13 and 14 horses were a part of the pari-mutuel field. Back in those days though, many more could enter, the computers who took the bets and the tote boards that showed the odds were only built for 12 betting entries in a race. So the three longest shots in the race were numbered higher than the others. A bet on one was a bet on all; this practice ended at some point around 2000, when the technology caught up with the times.

One thing that has never changed: the roar of the crowd as the largest field in American horse racing every year gets into the homestretch.

My first experience with gambling real money was a couple of years later. That story will be told with another one – my failure at beating kids older than me at Nintendo games – is coming soon.


The Rex Factor started his gambling career at age 12 when he began going to Churchill Downs and betting on horse racing. He’s been feeding the ponies since the early 1990s and has covered the Kentucky Derby and the Breeders Cup as a member of the working media.