Here’s to two thoroughbreds and the lucky family they raised

I spent a beautiful Saturday with my in-laws this week, thanks to the magic of memories and Churchill Downs.

Vince and Mary Jane Biskupic loved to spend an afternoon at the racetrack, he for the opportunity to test his horse acumen, and she for the chance to test her Irish luck.

Mostly, though, they both just loved to host parties and big family gatherings. Race tracks gave them the opportunity to do that. In fact, they celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary at Arlington Park and all nine of their children and their families gathered for the occasion. I don’t remember which horse won that day, but I do remember my mother and father in-law singing a duet for their guests and making sure every single person at that very large party had a great time.

One time at Hialeah Park Race Track, a bird pooped on Mary Jane’s head, after which she won so big that they decided to extend their trip by taking a train to New Orleans. First, though, they had to make a good-news-we-won-big-at-the-track-bad-news-can-you-watch-our-houseful-of-kids-for-a-few-extra-days phone call to Grandma Bauer, who kindly agreed.

The Outlaw Mary Jane’s favorite number was 8. Then and now we always bet the No. 8 horse in her honor. (I think it’s pretty hilarious that her favorite number was 8, given that she had nine kids. It turns out, though, that she’d been playing that number since she was a little girl and won a cake raffle with it.)

In 2009, we won big at a neighborhood Derby party, thanks to our loyalty to Mary Jane’s favorite number. That year the No. 8 horse, Mine That Bird, a 50-1 longshot, won and we cleaned up.

So, our main goal Saturday afternoon was to enjoy the warm Wisconsin sunshine and place a bet or two on the No. 8 horse. We drove to the Oneida Casino to place our bets, but discovered that none of the Wisconsin casinoes hosted Off Track Betting anymore. Not wanting to completely waste the trip to Green Bay, we played a slot machine and I happily cashed out with a $45 profit, which we used for our Derby bets.

Vince called his sister Carol and she placed our bets, along with hers, at an OTB in Portland.

Then, we returned to our little cabin in the northwoods, where I donned a blaze orange chapeau and made mint juleps for the occasion. My 55-year old rocking horse gamely added to the ambience.

We did not win any money with our Derby bets this year (though it is worth noting that Mary Jane’s No. 8 child, Nancy, did bet on the longshot Rich Strike, which paid 80-1 odds).

But, we came up big with a jackpot of great memories about two thoroughbreds we remember so very fondly.

My father and mother in-law loved to toast life.
They also loved horse racing. This is a group of us at Arlington Park for the big 50th Anniversary Party. Left to right are Grandpa Vince, Vince, Molly, me, Grandma Peggy, Katherine, Grandma Mary Jane and John.
This is them singing a duet at their anniversary party at a reception near Arlington Park.
We toasted them this year with mint juleps on the front porch of our cabin.
I wore my most elegant blaze orange for the occasion.
And proudly walked my humble steed to the gate.
Grandpa Vince wrote his own witty obituary, which he ended by saying “All in all, I’d rather be at Hialeah.” Here’s to two thoroughbreds and the lucky family they raised.

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