A Very Expensive Nose by
(36 Stories)

Prompted By Priciest Purchase

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[By way of preface, I acknowledge that I am prompt-challenged.  I fancy myself an unbroken stallion bucking against imposition of a bit and rein, and a rider on my back, when confronted with the strictures of prompt compliance. I apologize for casting myself into this heroic, romantic, and self-aggrandizing metaphor. I especially apologize to the prompt purists, to the rule minders, and to the civilized orderliness of the system. I hear Linda Ronstadt crying Desperado (“…Desperado, why don’t you come to your senses?/Come down from your fences, open the gate…”).

I was wrapping up my three racing day visit, up to my elbows and knees in routines I had wallowed in most every summer since 1975. 

On the other hand, while the following story may appear to be orbiting far from the prompt, I anticipate that it will draw back into prompt proximity as it rounds the oval and approaches the finish line, in the sense that I was filled with desire for a thing, and at the cash register a lot of cash slipped through my fingers.]


The scene was the Saratoga Race Course in Saratoga Springs, NY, an upstate hamlet known to its admirers as the “Spa”, with a gamy and colorful history, including that its illegal gambling roadhouses were run by Meyer Lansky on behalf of the Mob into the 1950s, when political do-gooders (e.g., Gov. Tom Dewey) forced Meyer to close shop.  He took his talents to Cuba where he effectively ran the tourist and entertainment industries under (or in partnership with) General Batista until Fidel busted the show on New Year’s Day, 1959 (see Godfather II, with Hyman Roth playing the role of Meyer Lansky).

The time was Friday afternoon, August 5, 2022, at about 3:00 PM.

I was wrapping up my three racing day visit, up to my elbows and knees in routines I’d been wallowing in most every summer since 1975.  One of my usual routines is to lose money at the track, but not always. Other routines include embracing the ambience, swellness, and escapism of the place, eating and drinking like a forty-something (I’ve weened my way off cigars since I was a fifty-something), donning seersucker and madras, strolling the boulevard, and practicing the dark art of handicapping late into the nights. The New York Racing Association adjourns to the green and leafy Spa for two summer months each year, on vacation from the massive urban betting factories of Aqueduct and Belmont Park.

It came to pass, benefiting from good luck and a glimmer of savvy (for example, I savvily noticed the 7 horse in the 4th race, Gandy Dancing, while not showing much elsewhere, had twice won over the Spa surface in prior years, so maybe he had a liking for Adirondacks oats (there is a well-trod expression “horses for courses” which inspirits this equine conjecture) (for another example, I savvily noticed a comment in the Racing Form race analysis for the 3rd race that one of the horses, Jay’stalker, was “making a belated debut for underrated first-out trainer Levine [Bruce N. Levine, apparently a Jewish trainer]”, so maybe someone knew something), that I had a live ticket entering the 5th race in the Pick 5 betting pool.

Which is to say that prior to Race 1 I had bought a ticket with picks for the first 5 races, that my picks had won the first 4, and that I had 3 live horses on the ticket for the 5th Race, so that if any of my 3 horses won the 5th Race, I would win the Pick 5.  Reflecting the degree of difficulty of this feat (i.e., there were long shots among the winners of the first 4 races, including the afore-referenced Jay’stalker and Gandy Dancing, so that it was unlikely there would be many tickets to have survived the gauntlet so as to be eligible to share the winner’s pot with me), I surmised there would be a substantial pay day if one of my 3 horses won.

I was giddy with excitement.  I apologize to the humanities majors among you for the technical complexity of my situation, and of my prose.  I should have posted a prefatory warning: “Beware of the math!!”

I filled my time between the end of the 4th Race and the start of the 5th Race checking my pocket to see if I had lost my ticket, and also trying to figure out a way to effectively hedge.  I had 3 horses on my ticket, there were 10 horses in the race.  I win if any of my 3 win.  I lose if any of the other 7 win.  Should I, for example, make bets on some or all of the other 7 so as to assuage the ignominy of coming close to a pile of money, but ending up with nothing? I did spread some bets among the other 7, not pursuant to any mathematically coherent strategy, more like casting fates into the wind.

One of my horses, the 5 horse, broke into the lead in the deep stretch.  My heart nearly jumped out of my mouth.

But then in the last bound before the finish line, the 7 horse, unbet by me, nosed (half-nosed) ahead to win the race. My featured image shows this sad result, and the extreme closeness of it.

The Pick 5 paid $3,366.50 to the lucky winners.


Profile photo of jonathancanter jonathancanter
Here is what I said about myself on the back page of my 2020 humor/drama/politico novel "The Debutante (and the Bomb Factory)" (edited here, for clarity):

"Jonathan Canter Is a retIred attorney; widower; devoted father and grandfather (sounds like my obit); lifelong resident of Greater Boston; graduate of Harvard College (where he was an editor of The Harvard Lampoon); fan of waves and wolves; sporadic writer of dry and sometimes dark humor (see "Lucky Leonardo" (Sourcebooks, 2004), funny to the edge of tears); gamesman (see "A Crapshooter’s Companion"(2019), existential thriller and life manual); and part-time student of various ephemeral things."

The Deb and Lucky are available on Amazon. The Crapshooter is available by request to the author in exchange for a dinner invitation.

Characterizations: funny, well written


  1. Wow Jon, I couldn’t follow the race track betting stuff, but fun to learn of your annual pilgrimages to Saratoga!

    I once had a professional conference in Saratoga that ended mid-day on the first Saturday in May! My husband came with me, I brought along my fanciest hat, and we bought tix for dinner at a club that simulcast the Derby on a large screen as we hob-knobbed and drank and ate with the horsey Saratoga set!

    And one year we went to the Belmont – the year the filly won! We aren’t big betters, but what fun!

  2. Suzy says:

    Jon, you have cured me of being a “prompt purist,” if I ever was, with your fabulous tales that may or may not actually be on point. I agree with your analysis of how this was in prompt proximity, but even without that, it was a fun read! (Love your Beware of the Math warning for humanities majors.)

    I have two connections to your story. Thanks for bringing back these memories!

    On my only visit to the track, in about 1982, I picked the winner of one race, who was a longshot, based on very non-scientific intuition, but didn’t place a bet, because I was annoyed at the people I was with for insisting I should bet. I pretended to bet, and then when my horse won, they didn’t understand why I wasn’t excited.

    My only visit to Saratoga Springs was in 2002, when we did a college tour with my oldest daughter and went to look at Skidmore. Beautiful town, and the old campus must have been wonderful, but they had moved to a new campus on the outskirts of town and had built dreadful, modern, concrete buildings. It was the architecture that made my daughter decide not to apply there.

    • I regularly visited the “new” Skidmore campus (new since circa 1972) w my wife who was a Skidmore grad (aka a “Skiddie”) on our annual summer pilgrimages to the Spa (she introduced me to the place). I agree that it is not ancient and medieval-looking like Princeton or Yale, aspiring to Anglican Britishness, or ancient and ivied red brick like Harvard, aspiring to no frills proximity to God, but I always thought Skidmore was a beautiful modern campus (clean lines, clean shapes, Bauhausian) arguably free of hidebound ideologies in its design.

  3. Betsy Pfau says:

    I agree with Suzy, Jon. A fun read, even if only “prompt adjacent”. I appreciate all your details, the seersucker suit, wandering around the spa, almost winning the race, but losing by a nose, or make that half a nose. Elegant prose, indeed.

  4. Susan Bennet says:

    Hi Jon, from your title I was expecting a juicy plastic surgery story, but I like your story better. Super to be privy to your betting process, I always knew it required not just a knack, but knowledge. Watching the Derby once I chose, to win, an obscure horse whose name was a variant of my last name. He won. Not a strategy you can take to the bank, though, sort of like choosing a car for its color. If you’re ever in San Diego, don’t miss Del Mar.

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