As the weeks wore on Sal drove me crazy. He became more and more frenzied as the stakes race drew closer. The Goose ran first in the semi-finals and Sal crowed about it more and more each day. I saw Jeff at the track one day. He had started to train at another kennel. He tried to hire me away from Sal but he understood when I couldn't leave my dogs. He didn't know about my big raise until I told him. "You know Sal only did that to keep anybody else from hiring you," he said.
"Yeah, I know. I don't care as long as I get the money." I laughed as I told him. He thought it was funny too.
Finally the night of the big stakes race came. The Goose had drawn an inside hole but he liked the outside. Sal had bets with everybody that would take one and he had plans to bet thousands at the window. "Support our dog, you know, youse have to support our dog. Confidence that's what wins races," he told me time and time again.
Personally I had already learned, "if you take care of the kennel, the track will take care of itself." That was a quote from Jeff, a dogman, as opposed to Sal, a gambler.
When I saw Sal and Terri at the track they were more dressed up than usual. So was every other owner and trainer - even the leadouts were in tuxedos. I hadn't realized the race was such a big deal. Of course $10,000 to the winner was a big deal. You were guaranteed $500 even if you ran last. The other helpers and I were in for a tough night. We all had to do turnout and catch all the dogs by ourselves while the rest of the track was one big party. I was excited though. My first stakes race looked to be a doozy.
Finally it was time for the race. They loaded the dogs in the box after an elaborate introduction. Sal and Terri magically appeared by my side. "This is it," he said. "Time to separate the men from the boys."
"Heeere comes Sparky," The announcer called as the rabbit shot around the track! When it glided past the box the greyhounds shot out of it. The Goose broke second. That was good, maybe the dog on the inside wouldn't knock him out in the first turn. As he ran around the first turn he swung wide and two dogs scooted in underneath him. He came out of the turn in fourth place. That was good. He was a closer. He could still win from there. Coming out of the far turn he was still fourth. He didn't gain any ground. He finished the race in fourth place. I was happy. I looked over at Sal. I could see storm clouds gathering. He was not pleased.
"C'mon Sal, he ran a good race. You still get $1500 for fourth you know." I said to him.
"Yeah, fifteen hundred lousy dollars. I got more than that laid out in side bets. Geeze" he replied disgustedly. I knew a tantrum was boiling just below the surface. "Friggin' Bearcat ran second."
I knew that but I wasn't going to bring it up. Bearcat was Jeff's dog. Things were worse than I thought. About that time Jeff walked up with Bearcat. "So Sal, time to pay up?" He asked as he smiled at me and reached down to pet The Goose.
"Of course I'll pay up! Youse insinuating I don't pay my debts! Youse would be here the second the race is over to rub it in." Sal's voice was raising.
"Ah Sal, c'mon. You would be doing the same thing if you had beat me and you know it. Don't be like that."
Sal fiddled with his waistband. "Don't I know it. Congratulations, alright. Congratulations, I really mean it." I thought he was going to upchuck on the spot as the words strangled out of him. "Pam put Goose in the truck. We have work to do."
"Yes, Sal." I said. I took Goose to the truck and loaded him up. Sal was starting the truck before I was finished. "Sal, are you sure you don't want to go back up with Terri? I know you didn't plan on being in the kennel tonight."
"Nah, I don't want to fool with those losers. I think I'm going home. Tell Terri to take the dogtruck home tonight."