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Win, Place, Snow

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Meanwhile, Mr. Buffum, 3-to-5 in the final tote flash, is in trouble. Hurried to the lead by jockey Smith, the horse is tired and soon fades into the pack, much to Gasper's dismay. "Why didn't he take back? This horse takes back. I told him that!" the trainer screams at Steve Adika, who squirms in his plastic chair. "Blame me! I made a mistake with this kid!" Gasper continues to boom, witheringly. "I was an idiot to put this kid on this horse."

Steve Adika pleads his case. He's already bolted inside to watch the replay and bids Gasper to do the same. "The replay, Gas-per! Watch the replay -- you will see, it is nothing like you think you have seen with your own eyes! There was no mistake -- my rider made no mistake . . . Gas-per! If I am wrong, I will pay you the money from the bet myself!"

But Gasper is unrelenting; freezing rain pelting his forehead, he keeps his back turned, staring at the flock of seagulls squawking in the late-afternoon darkness at the track's near turn.

Later, told that Adika has said Mr. Buffum was "due to lose anyway," that former $35,000 claimers just don't win four in a row, and that furthermore, when the horse runs again, "Gasper will put Ariel right back on him," Moschera allows a half-smile to crease his well-practiced poker face.

"He's right, of course," Gasper says. "The kid's a natural. Look, it's a horse race. If I win 20 percent of the time, I'm a genius. But I'm not telling him that, not now." Then, buttoning up, the trainer shrugs and announces that "tomorrow is another day," one more racetrack cliché that is always true, except during winter racing, since, because of ice and snow, the next two days turn out to be canceled.

More than likely the cancellations are just fine for Mr. Loon, a fortyish man from Taipei, Taiwan, currently in the employ of a seafood restaurant on Main Street in Flushing. "Every day, I say, 'Today I will not come here,' but then I come," Mr. Loon says, tearing up tickets representing wagers he's made on Mr. Buffum and others. The shreds are caught in the thermals off Jamaica Bay and rise into the leaden sky. "Summer or winter, no different," Mr. Loon says. "Money just flies away."


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