This is a short story about a man who likes to gamble. But maybe he gambles too much.
You can read this story and answer the questions as part of your own self-study for English reading. Or if you are a teacher, you can download the entire lesson plan and use it in your class.
Is there horse gambling in your country?
What kind of people play this?
Do some people lose a lot of money doing this?
What do you think about it?
The Lucky Horse
“Don’t worry,” said Blake. “It’s a dead cert. It’s a winner.”
“They all say that,” said Hedley. “They all say exactly the same words.”
But Hedley still went to the track and laid his money down. He still wanted to believe that this horse would make all his problems go away.
All the other nags before were just also-rans — total losers. But this one, this one horse, this would be different.
Hedley stood by the fence and stared ahead at the gate. The horses all lined up, hot breath panting from their nostrils and mouths in great clouds. Hedley could feel it on his arms and face.
He gripped the ticket between his fingers. He shook the ticket three times at the grass track in front of him and repeated a prayer to himself.
“Come on now, be lucky. Come on, be lucky. Come on, be lucky.”
He chanted out the three lines of his lucky verse.
Beside him stood another punter. He held onto his ticket with a strained look on his face of desperate optimism. Hedley didn’t want to be associated with him — didn’t want to be seen as any of these other losers and failures. He was not like them.
This was the last time. His last race. He knew that now. He would take the winnings from this last horse — his lucky horse — and fix everything.
The back payments on the apartment, his daughter’s college fund, even new shoes for his wife. He would give them everything. He would repair everything in his life and make amends.
Then he would never come down to this cursed race track again.
He had spent too many hours here, lost so much money. Some wins, sure. But he always lost it again later. It never worked out.
This time was different. This one last race. This one last lucky horse. Then back to a normal life again.
He would move back in with his wife and daughter. They would be a family again.
An announcement burst through the speakers above the rail.
“Ladies and gentlemen, the 3:30 from Happy Valley is due to start in a few moments. Take your places and stand clear of the racetrack.”
People edged forward. Hedley governed his place by the rail. His vantage point.
Then on a huge board on the other side of the track, the list of horses that were running in the race.
They all had typical racing horse names.
“That’s my boy,” thought Hedley to himself.
Wait, what was that?
Little Lucky? Little Vantage?
Those names were too similar. They had the same ring of fortune — or lack thereof — between them.
Hedley checked his racing ticket. It said Little Lucky. Was that his horse? He was sure it was. But was it?
Panic flew into his veins, and his heart pounded out a message. You have made a big mistake.
What if he had put everything on the wrong horse? Blake had told him it was a dead cert. What did that even mean? Some said these races were fixed. That all the winners were arranged by gangs.
It was Blake’s fault!
He had given him the wrong horse. It was all his fault. He had relied on him for information, for inside info, and instead, Blake had given him the wrong horse. It could ruin his life, ruin his chances to fix everything!
Hedley pulled out his phone and called Blake.
“What horse was it?”
“Hedley? What do you mean, what horse?”
“The 3:30. Quick, what horse was it?”
The sound of rustling paper on the other end of the line.
“Little Vantage,” said Blake.
“Little Vantage?” Hedley choked on the words. He pulled air into his lungs. “I thought you said Little Lucky. There are two horses here. Two. Both of them with similar names. I thought you said Little Lucky.”
“No, I didn’t.” Blake’s voice was very stern. No friendliness now. “I said Little Vantage. I even wrote it down for you.”
“I’ve put everything on Little Lucky,” said Hedley. “You said —”
“Not my problem. Yours.” The phone clicked off.
Hedley swore through his clenched teeth. He put his phone back in his pocket and then searched all his other pockets for the piece of paper.
An announcement came out of the speakers. “And they’re off.”
The horses charged out of the gate and there was a rush of air as the crowd of punters cheered their horses on.
Hedley found the piece of paper all scrunched up. He flattened it out and saw the letters.
Little Vantage. 3:30.
He ripped the paper to shreds and threw it on the grass at his feet.
He was ruined. He was finished. No more moving back in with the wife. She would never talk to him again. No more plans of making it up to his daughter. And he was behind with the rent.
He could be made homeless. No job, no money. He was done for.
Hedley leaned on the rail and watched as the horses tore into the ground towards him.
The commentator’s voice bellowed through the speaker: “And it’s Little Lucky taking the lead. Little Lucky in full forward position. Little Lucky right in the lead.”
Hedley stared at the horse in front. It was Little Lucky. It was the horse on his ticket. Blake was wrong all along. He gave him the wrong horse.
Little Lucky was the horse! It was going to win!
Little Lucky galloped ahead of the other horses. It was like it was no effort to him at all. The other nags trailed behind, long forgotten. Hedley could not see which horse was Little Vantage.
Little Lucky raced past Hedley, right in front of him, and Hedley cheered him on.
“Go on, my son! Go on!”
The crowd around him roared as one as Little Lucky stormed ahead towards the finishing line.
Hedley gazed at the back of the jockey’s shirt as he tapped Little Lucky’s rump with his crop.
The announcer’s voice lost in the lion’s roar of the crowd, but Hedley could see Little Lucky speed past the finishing line.
The crowd went ballistic.
Hedley jumped up on the spot. He punched the air with victory.
Yes, Little Lucky had won! He had won!
He left the fence and marched back to the ticket cashiers. Time to cash in his ticket. He would call his wife, tell her all his debts were cleared. They could make a new start. No more horses. No more gambling.
But what an absolute freak chance of a win. It came out of nowhere. It was like he had been given a gift.
Maybe it was that. Maybe today was his lucky day.
Why ruin a good run? Why not take advantage of his run of great luck? It would be stupid not to.
After all, he could go back to his wife with ten times the amount he had won now.
Yes, that was the right thing to do.
All he needed to do was pick the right horse…
The lucky horse.
You can download this complete short story lesson plan today!
Click the link below and you can find the PDF file.
Reading Comprehension Questions
What information does Blake give to Hedley?
Where does Hedley go? Why does he want to go there?
What does Hedley do with his ticket before the race?
If Hedley’s horse wins, what will he do with the money?
What does he plan to do with his wife and daughter?
What information does the announcement make to the crowd?
What is written on the board beside the track?
What causes Hedley to panic?
What mistake does he think Blake has made?
Who does Hedley call on the phone?
What does he find out?
What does he with the piece of paper?
Halfway through the race, which horse is winning?
Was this the same horse that Blake advised Hedley to bet on?
Which horse wins the race?
How does Hedley feel when he goes to cash in his ticket?
There may be a lot of new or unfamiliar vocabulary to you in the story. This is the perfect time to get to know these new and strange words and phrases.
Write down all the new words and phrases in your vocabulary notebook. Look up the meaning of the new vocabulary in a dictionary or online and write down the meaning next to the word or phrase.
It should look something like this:
Track — a prepared course or circuit for athletes, horses, motor vehicles, bicycles, or dogs to race on.
To lay money down — to pay for something, to be sure that something will happen.
Then write a sentence of your own that uses the new word or phrase correctly.
We went to the track to watch the horse race.
I was sure that I would win, so I laid my money down on the table.
If you do this in the correct way, it will help you learn many new words and phrases. This will build your English vocabulary and writing down all the words and phrases, making sentences of your own, will all help you to remember all of this new vocabulary.
What is Hedley doing in this story?
Where does the story take place?
Do you think he has a problem? What is it?
What is a gambler? What is gambling?
Do you know anyone that likes to gamble?
Why do people gamble? What is the attraction?
Just before the race, Hedley shakes his ticket three times and says a prayer. Why does he do this? Does he believe it can help him? How?
Hedley’s life with his wife and daughter is in trouble. What other actions could he take to fix these problems?
Why do the horses have their special names?
There is a mix-up between two horses, but in the end Hedley’s horse wins. What do you think he will do next? Why will he do this?
Is gambling a problem in your country? Why/why not?
If a person has a problem with gambling, what can they do? Who can they ask for help?
Have you ever gambled? Did you win? How much did you win or lose?
How did gambling make you feel?
Should gambling be banned? Why/why not?
Is gambling the same as drinking too much alcohol? Why/why not?
This is a role play activity with two characters.
2. Hedley’s wife
Hedley has come back from the racetrack. He has won a lot of money. Enough to pay off all the family debts and to buy some new clothes and go out for a delightful meal in an excellent restaurant.
Hedley wants to make amends. He says he will never gamble again. They have no debts, so they can start their lives again.
But his wife doesn’t believe him. She thinks he will always be a gambler and always make trouble.
In pairs, create a story that you can present to the class in a role play.
Take some time to prepare your role play.
When you are ready, show the class.
Debate: Gambling should be Banned!
This is a debate exercise.
Divide the class into two teams. Choose one person to act as chairperson for the debate.
There is a gambling problem in your town.
People are gathering in private rooms to play card games, backgammon, mahjong and other games with the purpose to gamble.
They are not doing this in public places, and they are very discreet.
You think that these private gambling rooms have become a serious problem.
It is causing people to become addicted to gambling and destroying people’s lives and families.
Some people have complained of family members spending all their time and money in the gambling rooms and avoiding work and family responsibilities.
It is time for this to stop. So you want the gambling rooms to be closed down.
You do not think the gambling rooms are a problem.
They are private and not in the public eye. No children can enter the rooms, only adults.
If people want to gamble, then let them. It is their choice and their right. No one is forcing them to gamble.
You believe that if the gambling rooms are banned, then people will go to illegal gambling rooms. The problem will not go away — it will just become hidden from view.
Each team should prepare their lines of argument.
When you are ready — begin the debate.
This is a creative writing exercise.
You are Hedley in the story.
You have lost a lot of money, and your life is in serious trouble.
You want to make amends to all the people you have hurt with your gambling addiction. So you want to write a letter to each person and ask them for their forgiveness.
The first person you will write to is your wife.
Write to her and explain what has happened. Then express your apologies in a sincere and heartfelt manner.
When you have finished writing your letter, read it out loud in front of the class.
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