October 24, 2014

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Growing Olds with unlucky 7s

From coast to coast, seven was the number Saturday. Those born on July 7, rushed to the race track or lottery window because the calendar read 7-7-07 — a date that turns up only once a century. Bill Olds, who now lives in Hollywood, came home to celebrate his 63rd birthday at Thistledown race track.
Olds insists he is not into numerology, astrology or voodoo, but there he was at the betting windows playing the seven horses.
“Seven has never been a lucky number for me, but you can’t avoid it,” said Olds. “It really is a number perceived as being lucky. You can’t just shoo it away. It’s there.”
I first met Bill on his birthday in 1977 — 7-7-77 — which he also celebrated at Thistledown.
“I did terrible that day,” he said. “The odds were crazy. The track was packed. There were a lot of professional gamblers — a lot of guys in silk suits, silk ties and bent noses. I can’t remember a seven winning and that’s all I bet, not even combinations of seven.”
If a three-legged nag with a baboon in the saddle wore the number seven, Olds would have bet on him.
Thistledown public relations director Bob “Railbird” Roberts checked the records and confirmed that not a single seven horse won at Thistledown that day. Thirty tracks were in action in the United States and only one produced a 7-7 daily double. The seven horse did not win a single seventh race.
Coincidence and dumb luck took a terrible beating.
“There is no such thing as a system — except in dog racing,” said Roberts. “I took my wife to the dog track in Florida once. I boxed 2-4-6 in every race for no reason. The numbers meant nothing to me. They’re not my waist sizes, not part of my phone number, certainly not my IQ. I walked out with $300 and a guy asked what my system was.”
Roberts’ father, who also knew his way around the ’Downs, always bet the 6-6 daily double.
“Whenever I went to the track, my father reminded me to bet the 6-6 for him,” said Roberts. “It never won. But on the day we buried him in 1985, the daily double at Thistledown was 6-6.
“I wasn’t there to bet it.”
That’s part of the perverseness of the track. The legendary horseplayer Junior O’Malley told the story of the man who dreamed of fives all night.
“He got up and noticed that the date was May 5,” said O’Malley. “Several other fives turned up that day so he went to the track and bet five dollars on the fifth horse in the fifth race.”
“How’d he do?” I asked.
“He came in fifth,” said O’Malley.
Two seven horses won at Thistledown on Saturday. They were Majestic Court in the first race and Loaded Soda in the 13th. But the feature race, the glory race, the race for the ages — the seventh race on the seventh day of the seventh month of the seventh year broke the hearts of numerologists everywhere.
Olds wasn’t the only one who bet on the seven horse, a six-year-old gelding named No Questions Asked. Under any circumstances, he was the favorite and should have gone off at about 3-1. But on the seventh race of the seventh day, etc., the horse players bet him down to 4-5 and he rewarded their hopes by finishing fifth.
“But I had two winners. That’s better than I did thirty years ago,” said Olds.
He’s getting the hang of it.
Contact Dan Coughlin at 329-7135 or ctsports@chroniclet.com.