It was about 20 minutes before the first race on Playfair’s opening night of the season.
There was plenty of daylight left as onlookers crowded the paddock rail and number-wearing horses were led around a circular crushed bark path.
No. 2, a chestnut filly named Tommy Ama, reared and snorted. No. 8, a calm gray entry called Crystzalu, looked ready for a nice little nap.
“Horsey,” exclaimed a young girl who had to be held up to peer over the shrubbery lining the rail.
It’s always fun to check out the muscular minor-league thoroughbreds. But the people-watching can be even better. Because the preliminary walk-around is where you get to see race-goers pretend that they know what they’re doing.
It’s where you see The Look.
That’s a supposedly poker-face pose that is actually an expression so satisfied and confident it shouts “I’m a keen judge of horseflesh and I can see things that will give me a huge advantage over the rest of you clowns when I place my bet.”
The truth is, it’s hard to resist.
A guy in a coat and tie was doing The Look. So was a fellow in a Bear Whiz T-shirt.
A few rail-huggers stroked their chins for emphasis. And one or two nodded knowingly as they studied their race programs.
OK, certainly some of the spectators actually do know what they’re doing. One older man in a straw cowboy hat and red suspenders did seem pretty convincing in the way he worked on a toothpick.
But if The Look consistently predicted results, everyone would be a winner. And that’s not reality. Reality is picking horses that fade in the stretch. Reality is mumbling “I knew I should have … “
Maybe next time.
Early Wednesday night, three TV stations had vans parked by the paddock. And the prospect of being on the tube seemed to overheat the imaginations of a few would-be experts nearby. One guy in a ballcap and sunglasses pointed to the passing horses and offered handicapping insights despite the fact nobody appeared to be listening.
Others just had a good time. “Here’s what you do when you get on camera,” one laughing man said to his son. “Say you’re from Westview Elementary and you’re here on a class project.”
The kid didn’t pay much attention. He was working on his version of The Look.
, DataTimes MEMO: Being There is a weekly feature that visits gatherings in the Inland Northwest.