The Finish Line

todayDecember 29, 2023

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Do you love horses? Have you ever walked down the shed rows on the back side of a race track, smelled the damp saw dust, and felt the electricity of thoroughbred racing? Have you ever spent an evening drinking with a bunch of characters who frequent race tracks and seedy out of the way bars? A menagerie of quirky, hard living, hard drinking free spirits from the early 40’s whose lives revolve around horse racing have a lot to teach us about hard luck, friendship, family, and personal courage.

Eight years after the start of the Great Depression with another world war looming in Europe a small close-knit family of social misfits live above a down on it’s luck bar in South Beach, Miami called The Finish Line. They eke out an existence living by their wits and doing entirely too much drinking and having entirely too much fun just being themselves and living the free life. The extended family who gather each night at the Finish Line like hanging around the paddock area at Hialeah, playing the ponies, making a living at the window, and living life on their own terms.

Willemina Hobbs, the matronly alcoholic owner of the Finish Line and her son, John, a disabled WWI vet, along with Richard, the Jamaican cook and dishwasher keep the Finish Line open and the booze flowing. Willie, as she is known to everyone, likes to start her day with an ice cold beer while John reads the funny papers to her.

Panama Boudreaux is a retired jockey and former trainer who makes his living at the betting window. He’s been close friends with the Hobbs family for many years and rents a small room above The Finish Line. He follows the racing season from coast to coast, beginning each year at Hialeah Park, described when it was built as the most elegant race track in the world.

Tad is Willie’s 16 year-old grandson. He comes to live at The Finish Line after his father is killed. Having lost his mother in child birth, Tad is shy, unsure of himself, and not at all certain what life at The Finish Line will hold in store. Panama takes the orphaned boy under his wing and offers to show him the hidden world of the back side of a race track. He gives him a job hauling water and mucking stalls and begins to teach him everything he knows about horses and the world of thoroughbred racing.

Into this extended family of working class, social outcasts walks a dark-haired, bi-racial young woman who is light skinned enough to pass for white. Her African and Caucasian roots have gifted her with lithe physical grace and strength and striking beauty. Lucky Stevens ran away from home at sixteen to escape domestic sexual abuse. She has learned to survive by her wits and good looks. Hardened by life on the streets she is now twenty two years old. She is talented, ambitious, opportunistic, and highly intelligent in a street-wise way.

Lucky enters the cool dark of the Finish Line to escape the Miami heat and after a few drinks becomes Panama’s live-in lover. Finding herself now the adopted member of a family of off-beat characters she begins to grow in new ways as Panama introduces her to life at the track.

She soon meets Nino Morelli, who runs off-track gambling parlors in Miami for the Mob. Hoping to get into her pants, Nino gives Lucky a job dancing in his night club. He offers to help her break into show business in NYC if she does him a little favor by fixing an important race leading up to the Kentucky Derby. Nino wants her to dope Panama’s horse and threatens to kill him if she refuses.

Detective Sergeant Patrick Concannon, a former NYC cop now on the Miami police force, suspects Nino in the murder of a trainer and believes he’s fixing races at Hialeah. There is a push on by Florida’s new Racing Commissioner to fight illegal off-track betting. After his eye witness to the murder turns up dead Concannon vows to get Morelli. It’s a race to the finish line. Who will get there first, who will end up as an also ran, and who will end up dead?

By John Christopher Roberts

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