This article is part of the series ‘Best Sports Betting Scenes in Television and Movies.’ There’s a lot of high-quality movies centered on gambling, including on horse racing and poker. All quality gambling scenes, whether strictly sports betting or not, the focus of the film or a short aside, will be included/considered.
The “zone” is a place seldom seen and still harder to describe. After all, at one point Michael Jordan was so hot during Game 1 of the 1992 NBA Finals he simply shrugged after hitting his sixth 3-pointer in the first half.
For bettors, “the zone” is a streak of picking winners, regardless, or even in spite of, methodology. Sometimes, that streak also gets helped along when picks don’t get made. Take that combination, a couple of hot tips and all-or-nothing wagers while trying to save a faltering marriage and you have “Let It Ride,” a 1989 comedy starring Academy Award winner Richard Dreyfuss and a supporting cast that all would eventually do fairly well for themselves down the road.
“Let It Ride” was directed by Joe Pytka, who is considered one of the all-time best directors of commercials and had also directed videos for Michael Jackson’s hits “The Way You Make Me Feel” and “Dirty Diana.” Pytka also expanded his Nike Super Bowl ad “Hare Jordan” into the movie “Space Jam,” which brings the Jordan reference full circle.
Jay Trotter (Dreyfuss) is down on his luck. He is a third-shift taxi driver who is not faring well at the track and down to his last chance to save his marriage with Pam (Teri Garr). Trotter’s luck, though, is about to change. His co-worker Looney (David Johansen, a.k.a. Buster Poindexter), who clandestinely tapes conversations from his fares, plays one involving two guys fixing Saturday’s first race involving a horse named Charity.
Trotter asks him to play the conversation on the tape a second time, and he instantly sees it as a chance to make a quick buck. Looney is more skeptical and a pessimist by nature, but Trotter listens to the tape the rest of his overnight shift Saturday morning while driving fares. Cut to later Saturday, and Trotter and Looney are off to Santa Anita in a red convertible, armed with an inside tip and $100.
What follows is a string of victories, some more improbable than others, in which growing sums of money are at stake each time.
One of the fun things about old movies and scrolling through IMDB.com is you can play “THEY were in THAT movie?” This movie was part of a ridiculously busy stretch for Dreyfuss, who was in eight films released in a span from 1986-89 but remained better known for his roles in “American Grafitti,” “Jaws,” and “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.”
Beyond Johansen, who also was a punk singer for the New York Dolls, “Let It Ride” featured one of Jennifer Tilly’s first breakout roles as the lovable yet ditzy Vicki. Tilly, who was nominated for an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress in 1994 for “Bullets Over Broadway” and starred in the underground favorite “Bound,” also would become the first female to win a World Series of Poker bracelet.
Among Trotter’s cohorts is 23-year-old Cynthia Nixon (Miranda from “Sex in the City”) sporting braces and playing Angeline, who is making her first visit to the track with her boyfriend Sid. Robbie Coltrane, recognized more for being Hagrid the Giant in the Harry Potter franchise, is Trotter’s ticket teller throughout the day and Michelle Phillips — best known as a singer in The Mamas and the Papas and Anne Matheson Sumner on the TV series “Knots Landing” — plays a socialite wife in the Jockey Club.
Garr was already well-known as a TV star and frequent late-night guest on “Late Night With David Letterman.” Last but not least, recently deceased David Schramm, more readily known as Roy Biggins from “Wings,” had a bit role as the loanshark Lufkin.
The early races
Trotter plays the hot tip on the first race, sweating out a photo finish with Charity at just over 14-1 odds to win $710. After discovering Looney’s audio tape in his pocket, he goes to the paddock to hand it to the two guys who fixed the race as a thank you. After convincing the two guys he’s not out to blackmail them, Trotter gets a second tip and lets his winnings ride on Faith Healer in the third race, cashing in at 7-2 odds for a cool $2,450.
Trotter deposits the winnings into his shoes, then enters the Jockey Club after one of the fixers gave him his ticket for the day. There he meets Vicki and her boyfriend Greenberg as well as Mrs. Davis (Phillips). As Vicki and Mrs. Davis vie for Trotter’s affection via footsie, the latter two debate the fifth race and settle on the favorite Lord Byron.
Vicki causes a stir when she excuses herself, leaving Greenberg and Trotter to stare at her legs as she’s wearing a short, form-fitting dress. When Greenberg comments on her legs, Vicki shoots back, “They go from my ass all the way to the floor.”
In a slapstick scene, Looney sends up Trotter to be arrested as a pickpocket to stop him from betting. The temptation to make the bet proves too great as Trotter crashes through a door and runs at a full sprint while handcuffed toward the window, only to be undercut by Looney before he can place it. It turns out to be a stroke of good luck as Lord Byron throws his mount down the stretch, which leaves Trotter to muse, “I didn’t lose.”
The big bet
Trotter wants to bet on the sixth race but has no idea who to bet. After an informal survey, he settles on Fleet Dreams — the only horse no one mentioned. He races to Coltrane’s window and makes the play, which prompts Coltrane’s character to quip, “You got more guts than you got sense” before they share a Lucky Strike in appreciation of the wager.
Pam — now at the Jockey Club — goes into a flying rage when she sees he let it ride and storms out before the race starts. Fleet Dreams does indeed win, which sends the Jockey Club into bedlam. Vicki is so excited she hugs Trotter and sends him flying over a table, knocking Mrs. Davis over as well, while the others in attendance are aghast at such a low-class celebration of winning.
Trotter collects $69,000 in winnings, but he’s just as quickly mentally spent all of it on taxes, rent, a car, and gifts for Pam and himself as Coltrane gleefully piles up the money. At this point, Trotter wants to make good and returns home to find Pam inebriated and sleeping on their couch, his diamond pendant necklace and celebratory champagne — the only notable things he bought after the win — for naught.
The other big bet
Bemused, Trotter idly stares at a deck of cards and mutters “five of clubs” before taking the deck, cutting it and turning up — to no one’s surprise — the five of clubs. He returns to the trackside bar and gets a hero’s welcome, which quickly turns silent after he makes the offer to put all of his money with everyone else and let it ride.
He forlornly walks to the paddock, where Vicki makes her play for him. After a vintage fourth wall breakthrough in which Trotter turns to the camera and says, “Am I having a good day or what,” he gently lets her down because he still loves Pam. Looney resurfaces asking Trotter what he’s going to do, then makes the off-hand remark not to bet on the horse they’re near.
Trotter turns and studies the horse, still feeling his mojo and a shared kismet with the aptly named “Hot-to-Trot,” a 40-1 longshot. Trotter goes to visit Coltrane’s window, though the ticket teller realizes he can’t pump out over 1,300 $50 win tickets. They go to the counting room to place the $68,000 bet, knocking the odds down to 8-1 with the staggering wager.
Trotter returns to the rail a celebrity and tells Looney and Vicki he let it ride on Hot-to-Trot, which prompts Looney to turn to the crowd and yell, “He’s pissed it all away!” to raucous cheers. The race goes off, and the initial anxiety of watching — to the point Trotter chews through a plastic cup — gives way to a stunning calmness down the stretch for the protagonist as it goes into slo-mo. He’s confident he picked the winner, even as it goes to another photo finish.
As they await the result, Pam shows up and the two tidily reconcile right before the announcement that Hot-to-Trot has won. Pam asks Trotter why the crowd is cheering wildly, to which he responds, “Because I’m having a very good day,” before a more tender kiss.
And up $544,000 to end the day, it was indeed a very good one for Jay Trotter.