I have seen the future of harness racing, and it is bleak. It is
also largely self-inflicted. As a friend of mine once said about
her consistently bad choices in men, "Stupid and unlucky is not
a felicitous combination."
Consider the Cane Pace, the first leg of pacing's Triple Crown,
in August at Yonkers (N.Y.) Raceway, the Shelley Winters of
harness racing ovals. Once the queen of its sport, the track has
fallen on hard times. Purses are down, handle is down,
attendance is way down, and nobody seems to care or even notice.
The New York media barely acknowledge the existence of harness
racing, except in an occasional column comparing it, often
unfavorably, to the wrestling twins, pro and arm.
The Cane Pace itself was down. Though not so long ago it was
considered the third most important harness race, after the
Hambletonian and the Little Brown Jug, by this year the Cane
Pace had slipped so far in status that only one quality
3-year-old pacer was entered. Western Dreamer was so clearly the
class of the field that he figured to go off at odds of 1-10,
rendering the race unbettable and void of drama. Moreover,
Yonkers management, resorting to the kind of graceless maneuver
for which it is justly celebrated, had picked precisely this
moment to announce that, thanks to the failure of New York State
to grant some sort of legislative relief in the form of slot
machines or a tax break or a larger share of simulcasting
revenues or something, this would be the last Cane Pace the
track would host. A rather shabby state of affairs, since the
Cane is named after William Cane, who in 1950 spearheaded the
modern Yonkers Raceway.
Still, if history has taught us anything, it is that while few
bother to attend harness races, those few cannot be kept away
with a stick. So despite the inhospitable conditions, 1,565
improvers of the breed showed up in search of harness racing's
Holy Grail: the life-changing bet. Just as well, for had the
track been shuttered and these rapscallions forced to roam the
streets this balmy Friday evening, looking for other forms of
entertainment, they might well have frightened the children and
womenfolk. I have my own theory about Yonkers: It was the
linchpin of the state's plan to deinstitutionalize the mentally
ill. To prove to the voters its commitment to fiscal
responsibility, about 20 years ago the state decided to close
down its mental institutions, and it dropped off the inhabitants
at the entrance to Yonkers, handed each a brand new $20 bill and
said, "This is all the help we will ever provide you. If you
need further assistance, we suggest you hit the double." And
here many remain to this day.
User-friendly Yonkers Raceway is not, even under the best of
circumstances. As attendance steadily declined, beginning in the
late 1970s, various sections of the track were closed: first the
upper betting level, then the indoor betting area on the second
floor, then most of the grandstand seats, then about half of the
lower level and finally a tiny indoor area well-loved for seats
and benches that were almost functional. Then, last fall, the
entire grandstand was razed to make way for a large patch of
concrete, and the third and fourth levels of the clubhouse were
virtually shuttered, though the track does open those sections
occasionally for a big simulcasting day, like the Breeders' Cup
or the Kentucky Derby. The thinking seems to be that no matter
how few bettors attend the races, they must never have enough
room to be comfortable. Or to sit down.
On the occasion of the soon-to-be-lamented Cane Pace, Yonkers
offered a special treat: the simulcasting of two stakes races as
part of the American Championship Harness Series, the latest
benighted attempt to gain harness racing some much-needed
national television coverage. The ACHS is scheduled for weekends
throughout the late spring into the fall, but not all of them;
is usually telecast on Friday night, but not always; is shown at
10 or 10:30 p.m., but not always; is live, but not.... Well, you
get the idea.
On this particular evening, in addition to the Cane, the ACHS
was featuring the Des Smith Classic from Rideau Carleton in
Gloucester, Ont., and the Hoosier Cup from Hoosier Park in
Anderson, Ind. It is indicative of the sorry state of the sport
that the Hoosier Cup, which was being held at a track most fans
at Yonkers had never heard of, had attracted six or seven
top-level 3-year-olds, as opposed to the Cane's one, and was
offering a larger purse than the Cane. Predictably there were a
few snafus with the simulcast. First, the Des Smith was
broadcast to Yonkers with a fuzzy picture, no sound and no
indication of what any horse was doing at any moment of the
race. The Hoosier Cup, though it appeared on the Yonkers
program, was almost impossible to bet on at Yonkers. Of course,
I didn't realize this when I invested $35--or so I thought--on
exactas involving Perfect Art, who looked like a lively 7-1
shot. As I watched Perfect Art sweep to victory on the TV
monitors, a guy standing next to me said, "Hey, was it possible
to bet on this race?"
"Sure," I said.
He shrugged. "Gee," he said, "when I tried to bet the race, none
of the tellers could figure out how to do it."
As soon as he walked away, I looked at my tickets, and sure
enough, the teller had placed my bet on the 11th race at
Yonkers, which hadn't been run yet. When I got my money back, it
was as close as I would get all night to cashing a winning ticket.
When Western Dreamer breezed in the Cane at the expected 1-10
odds, a menacing fat guy in a torn undershirt began screaming at
everyone around him, "First race in history where everyone goes
Hurrying toward the exit, the guy in front of me mumbled, "Just
don't start shooting till I get out of here."
My sentiments exactly. Broke, weary and a bit unnerved by my
fellow aficionados, I staggered out to the parking lot, hoping
my car hadn't been stolen. So ended a perfect night of harness
I love this game.
Do you believe in miracles? Until that cool late-spring evening
in 1959 when I found myself--bored, callow and legally
underage--at Monticello Raceway in upstate New York, I didn't
either. I can't remember his name, but I courageously plunked
down $2 to show on a horse who had won 10 or 12 races in a row.
The horse paid $3.20, a profit of $1.20, or 30% a minute. A
dangerous thought insinuated itself into my brain: Hey, they're
giving money away here.
Thus a life is altered and a third-of-a-century obsession begun.
But why? With so many wholesome sports available, what makes a
reasonably rational 16-year-old lose his heart to an obscure and
degraded pastime like harness racing? Can you imagine what my
friends thought, what my parents felt, when they saw me
squandering my adolescence at Monticello Raceway, one
irretrievable night after another?
That was their problem. These were mine: I was tall but gawky,
half-blind without my telescopic specs, balding, uncoordinated,
couldn't get a date and had a bad case of white man's disease
(my high school coach used to say that the difference between my
set shot and my jump shot was that I threw my shoulders up on my
jumper). Because my parents had moved us from the mean streets
of Manhattan's Lower East Side to an unincorporated hamlet in
the middle of upstate New York, I felt alienated from the local
kids, mostly farmers' sons whose idea of a good time was to get
drunk on Utica Club beer and rock the family cow back and forth
until it fell over. My second-generation immigrant mom and pop
were so uncool, I would rather have gone to school in diapers
than be seen with them in public. In other words (all together
now): Nobody understood me.
So like millions of demolition derby fans, jai alai bettors and
midget-wrestling wonks--to name just a few of the tawdry
possibilities--I turned to a sport that couldn't afford to be
too particular about whom it embraced, a shadowy secret society
with its own rules, language, mores and mysteries. Bad
complexions and sexual repression were not just accepted; they
were the norm. We went through puberty together, me and harness
racing, and puberty is the tie that binds.
Harness racing was dominated by outsiders like myself, mostly
Italians and two other groups--Canadians and guys from
Maine--who were so far out of it that there wasn't even a
pejorative name for them. Except for an occasional cafeteria
worker and a driver named June Dillman, women, let alone girls,
were neither seen nor heard. My parents were not going to
embarrass me by showing up unexpectedly. When I asked them, with
the kind of smug irony only a teenager can muster, if they
wanted to parlay our meager savings into a fortune at the track,
my father noted, "Son, Jews and horses don't go together."
To cinch this budding love affair, along came the best job I've
ever had. To get to the track, I had to hitchhike 25 miles each
way, put up a buck to get into the track, buy a program for 50
cents, pay for my own hot dogs and, truth be told, endure many
an evening of expensive handicapping lessons. I suffered gladly.
And faithfully, showing up almost every night that fateful first
summer. In the process I made a new best friend, a
preternaturally optimistic fellow from New York City who made
the 200-mile round trip every evening with a trunk full of
frozen pretzels that he would heat in a small revolving oven
until they were brown, bloated and tasteless. The pretzel man
was rotund and orotund, especially on the subjects of odds-on
favorites and his wife. (He religiously avoided both.) He lacked
only one thing to make his life perfect: someone to place his
bets for him while he was stuck in his phone-booth-sized stand
moving product. Since I had every qualification for the job, I
was hired for $10 a night, transportation to and from the track,
free admission, free program and all the pretzels I could eat.
Is this a great country or what?
That first summer flew by, and there was much to be learned.
Rule No. 1: Trust no man who drawls.
Rule No. 2: Trust no man who does not drawl.
Rule No. 3: Larceny is beautiful because it turns the existing
social order inside out.
Harness racing is assumed by nonfans to be nothing more than an
endless parade of fixed races. The endless part is open to
debate, but certainly a kind of casual thievery is one of the
sport's most salient features. That's just fine. Eliminate the
cheating, and harness racing would be about as satisfying as
double solitaire with grandma.
Most regulars, as I've mentioned, are outsiders in the eyes of
the straight world who want nothing more than to be insiders at
least one time. This is why the preferred road to cashing in is
inside information, not luck, handicapping skill or hard work.
(Luck is a clear second choice because that proves God loves
you. Hard work is by far the least favored path, too much like a
job.) To know nothing may be bliss, but in America to know
something nobody else knows is to taste life as lived by Michael
Milken before he learned about work release.
A refugee from the big city, I yearned to be a wise guy, or at
least to be influenced by one. In my old neighborhood, wise guys
were cool, well-heeled and popular with the kind of girl who
makes you want to strip down to your underwear and bay at the
moon. Sadly, though dishonest things happened almost every night
at Monticello, no well-connected mentor made himself known to
me. Forced to fall back on daydreams, I lapsed into fantasies
about my seven Sicilian partners and our much-envied stable,
Seven Vitos and a Yid. And I imagined myself dropping into
basketball practice one day to ask my former teammates, as I lit
a giant Cuban cigar with a $100 bill, "Well, wiry farm boys,
zone-pressing full-court like a bevy of berserk barnacles is
some marketable skill, but can you do this?"
Soon enough I was off to Harpur College in Binghamton. I guess I
wasn't ready to be functional though. After a few halfhearted
attempts to impersonate a student, I joined a crew of similarly
inclined desperadoes more than willing to make the five-hour
round trip six times a week to one of three conveniently
situated tracks: Monticello; Vernon Downs, near Utica, N.Y.; and
Pocono Downs, in Wilkes-Barre, Pa. On Sundays we rested.
My parents could never get me on the phone; I told them I was
going to night school. In a way, I was. My new best friend was
Stu Eisner, one of the few rich kids at the state school I was
about to flunk out of. On the subject of racetracks, the
Scarsdale-bred Eisner was a snob; he regarded "out-of-town"
ovals with the same disdain Lyndon Johnson expressed for Hubert
Humphrey--useful if nothing better was available. He preferred
the elegance of Roosevelt Raceway (which closed in 1988 to make
way for much-needed future commercial development on Long
Island). If a man with Eisner's excellent parents thought
Roosevelt was the one, who was I to argue?
That summer, before what would have been my junior year, a kind
of existential wisdom about harness racing began to reveal
itself. One Saturday evening, for example, as the card was
winding down, I scanned the entries in the 10th race for a
get-out horse. (A get-out horse is a long shot that gets you out
of the financial hole you have dug for yourself by too
aggressively pursuing the life-changing bet when the evening was
young and full of hope.) In the 10th, two of the best horses in
training stood out: Lang Hanover and Brown Jet. As I saw it,
they were evenly matched, but the crowd had made Lang Hanover a
heavy 4-5 favorite, whereas Brown Jet was going off at a tasty
7-2. "These people are crazy," I whispered to Eisner. "They
should not be allowed out of their homes." Eisner cautioned me
to take it easy, but I was giddy with desire, and no force on
earth, least of all reason, was going to stop me from making the
biggest bet of my life on Brown Jet.
At this point in my wagering career, I was intent on developing
my own "style," and my behavior at the track consisted of a
series of superstitious tics. After any reasonably meaningful
bet, for example, I would settle myself about 20 feet straight
back from the finish line and not move from that spot until the
race was official. I would hold the tickets in my left hand,
pressed against the side of my left thigh. Silently,
acknowledging no one, I would stare at the tote board, trying to
interpret the meaning of every odds change, no matter how
slight. And I would frown because I believed that God hated a
On this night, because of the large crowd I was forced to take
up a position slightly to the left of my usual spot, which may
explain all that followed. The race started well enough, with
Brown Jet settling in behind the front-runners, who were wearing
themselves out fighting over the lead, but well ahead of Lang
Hanover. Coming to the three-quarters pole, Brown Jet burst out
of the pack and flew past the leaders to open up a three-length
lead. In another breach of personal tradition--was this the
fatal error?--I brandished my tickets in Eisner's face and
screamed, "I got a freight train here! An immortal freight
train!" By the time I looked back at the track, Lang Hanover had
shaken loose and was closing on the suddenly mortal Brown Jet.
The two horses hit the finish line together, and I felt a
raindrop land on my head. "Who won?" I asked Eisner. He
shrugged, and it started to rain harder. Eisner urged me to join
him in a sprint for the grandstand. The finish was so tight, he
figured it would take track officials a long time to examine the
photo. But I remained true to my principles, refusing to abandon
my lucky spot.
As the minutes dragged on and the rain poured down and no
winning number went up on the tote board, I got drenched.
Finally, after 20 minutes, a number went up. The wrong one. I
ripped off my jacket, threw it to the ground and started jumping
up and down on it, Rumpelstiltskin in the wide concrete expanse
of Roosevelt's infield. Suddenly Lang Hanover's number started
blinking; the driver of Brown Jet had lodged an objection
against the driver of Lang Hanover for interference in the
stretch. If the judges upheld the objection, I would be a
winner. Where were those tickets? I found them under my jacket,
wet but legible, and I squeezed them ever tighter as time stood
still and puddles reached out to each other to form a lake.
Then, as suddenly as it had started, Lang Hanover's number
stopped blinking. The judges had disallowed the objection.
Eisner appeared out of nowhere and gently led me back to the
shelter of the grandstand.
Unfortunately Eisner had a ritual of his own. He liked to park
his expensive sedan five blocks from the track to save the
dollar parking fee. He could well afford the dollar, but he
refused on principle. "It's bad enough we have to pay admission
to be allowed to lose our money to these crooks," he would say.
"Besides, it's good exercise." Probably true, on drier nights.
On this night we arrived at the car bedraggled, broke, water
sloshing around in our shoes, to find all four tires slashed.
In retrospect this was merely the first of many pari-mutuel
disasters that, ironically, would eventually free me from the
dangerous delusion that it was desirable, let alone possible, to
win money betting on harness races. Before enlightenment
descended, however, it was necessary to wander in the wilderness
a while longer, specifically Hinsdale (N.H.) Raceway. By this
time I had made the acquaintance of the Buffalo, a growly,
grumpy, lumpy baked potato of a man who would soon lead me
further astray. Born and raised in the Bronx, the Buffalo exuded
a world-weariness that befitted an aging French whore, though he
couldn't have been much more than 30. When he conversed at all,
it was usually to dismiss some poor nag or other: "That's no
horse; that's hamburger." More often he communicated in
gestures. If, for example, you asked his opinion of something
suspicious or untoward or just unusual that happened in a race,
he would smile enigmatically, shrug and gaze off over your
shoulder, his eyes blank and pitiless, as if to say, "What can
you expect from these thieves." The Buffalo's religion, like
that of many a veteran horseplayer, was paranoia, an unshakable
conviction that the malevolent gods of his universe, the track,
existed only to toy with him. On those frequent occasions when
things did not go his way, he would mutter, "I'm so sick about
it," and casually threaten to commit suicide. A master of verbal
compression, he soon shortened this to "I'm so sick." Then "I'm
sick." Then "I'm ssss." And finally only a sibilant hiss that
would have perplexed any recent acquaintance.
Despite these and other equally Dickensian idiosyncrasies,
someone gave the Buffalo a horse to train. Well, three quarters
of a horse. In his prime Seldom Safe had been an honest
low-level claimer on the New York circuit, but that was
yesterday. Most cheap claimers are somewhat lame much of the
time, but like aging professional football players, they learn
to compete despite their ailments. Seldom Safe, however, was so
unsound that he had no chance to cash a check, and on those rare
occasions that he was healthy enough to start a race, he would
finish limping on his three "good" legs. Somehow the Buffalo had
convinced Seldom Safe's owners that he could nurse their horse
back into racing shape in the restorative hills of New
Hampshire. I would not have been more astonished if a mother had
commended her infant daughter to the care of Billy Martin.
After a few months word drifted back that the Buffalo--a
compassionate, nurturing Buffalo previously unrevealed--had
performed a veterinary resurrection. I tried to picture him,
week after endless week, patiently rubbing down Seldom Safe's
throbbing legs as cigar smoke rose in the chill, morning air.
Seldom Safe was not only ready to run, he was--psst! Keep it to
yourself!--ready to win. And perhaps at a generous price, since
his recent performances suggested he would soon be visiting the
Could this be it? Could this be the inside information I had
been dreaming about for years, the inside information that would
lead to the life-changing bet? In a state of trembling ecstasy I
climbed into a friend's car and we began the long drive north.
Ramshackle is too kind a word to describe Hinsdale Raceway.
Harness-racing-wise, this was the end of the line, the French
Foreign Legion, Death Valley. Waiting for Seldom Safe's race, we
dabbled and speculated, trying to get the hang of Hinsdale's
betting patterns. The fatal flaw in our plan soon became
obvious. The pools were so small that even a modest bet on
Seldom Safe would so significantly depress his odds that it
would be hard to make enough to cover our expenses. Sure enough,
thanks to strong action from Joel, one of Seldom Safe's
co-owners, and his driver-bodyguard, Whitey, our hero opened at
What to do? Thrown back on my handicapping skills, I came up
with three horses I thought might finish second, and I hooked
them up in exactas with Seldom Safe to win, a wager with
big-payoff potential but definitely risky. Seldom Safe was
heroic. Under heavy pressure all the way, he ground out a
half-length victory, a feat comparable to your arthritic
grandfather getting out of a hospital bed in the middle of
winter and outrunning a field of high school milers. That he had
to stagger back to the paddock on three legs made it all the
more amazing. Oh, did I mention that a hopeless long shot came
in second? So even with good inside information, I went home
Somebody was trying to tell me something: Time to get a life.
Because I could type and was willing to put in 40 hours a week
for $48 (after taxes), I wangled a job at the Binghamton
Sun-Bulletin as the third man on what had previously been a
two-man sports staff. I was assigned to the bowling beat by the
sports editor, a splenetic, ruddy-faced tyrant who seemed to
think my name was "Hey, Dum-Dum!" So at the very moment fellow
journalists Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein were positioning
themselves to bring down a president, I was typing out scrolls
of alphabetically ordered bowling agate.
To amuse myself, I invented the Tri-County States League, in
which obscure intellectuals I admired frequently rolled series
in the low 700s. Once, I got a little carried away and typed in
a 787 next to the name J.L. Borges, the Argentine short-story
writer. I was off the next day, but there was a news hole to
fill, and the sports editor apparently rummaged through my desk,
found my bowling scroll, ran his finger up and down the list
until he found the highest score, tried to call the Tri-County
States League and, when he couldn't find the number, made up
something about how Borges's amazing series was believed to be
the highest in league history, and ran a short piece under the
headline BORGES FIRES 787. For a while I feared my promising
career might be going down the drain, but the readers never
noticed, and my editor couldn't have cared less.
One day, while performing another of my vital
duties--underlining the capital letters for Vernon Downs's
Trackman Selections--I was rescued by a phone call from Eisner.
Or so I thought. Now running the family wholesale light-fixture
business, he had diversified into harness horses. In three days
Lenawee Special would be running and, for the first time in a
long while, trying to win. After being stiffed for weeks,
Lenawee Special had dropped down in class. He was now competing
against horses he could easily beat and, better still, would go
off at very long odds, since his last eight races had been
abysmal. If I wanted to get rich quick, Eisner suggested, I
should be at Roosevelt three days hence.
I wish I could say I recoiled at the idea of a setup race. I
wish I could say I was troubled by the notion of getting
involved. I wish I could say I hesitated even for a split second
over the ethical dilemma this opportunity presented. I wish, I
remember thinking, I had more time to raise money.
On the great day, I couldn't find Eisner at any of our usual
meeting spots, but I figured out where he was when the odds went
up for the fourth race: at the betting windows, shoveling in the
family fortune. The week before, running against pretty much the
same horses, from the exact same post, Lenawee Special had gone
off at 25-1 and finished so far behind the leaders that he
probably delayed the start of the next race. Off that
performance he should have been at least 50-1 this time. He
opened at 2-1. It didn't take those shrewd Roosevelt railbirds
long to figure out that something funny was going on, and they
wanted in. As a result Lenawee Special never rose above 2-1. I
could bet the $1,000 I borrowed from my brother on Lenawee's
nose and realize a profit of $2,000--which, after all, was
almost a year's take-home pay.
At the very moment I almost succumbed to the temptation to
settle for that modest reward--a reward too modest, as I saw it,
for years of fantasizing, hanging with lowlifes and shameless
efforts to ingratiate myself to the nouveaux riches--I noticed
something odd: Though everybody seemed to be getting down on
Lenawee Special in the win pool, nobody was betting him in the
exacta pool. In the exacta pool he was the unbettable long shot
his recent "races" suggested he should be. Yes, I remembered the
Seldom Safe fiasco. Yes, I went ahead anyway. But this time I
ensured a bright future by combining Lenawee Special to win with
every other horse in the race to finish second. Depending on who
finished second, I could win no less than $7,000 and as much as
$19,000. This was my ultimate moment as a horseplayer: I knew
something even the insiders did not.
What I didn't know is that a horse who has not been trying to
win for two months sometimes doesn't try to win for two months
and a week. Unchallenged, Lenawee Special easily got the lead.
At the half he was strolling along at a snail's pace, and still
nobody came at him. After a trip like that, even a cow should
have been able to hold on. But at the three-quarters pole, the
horse sitting second edged to the outside and, followed by the
rest of the field, breezed past Lenawee Special, who seemed to
have suddenly shifted into reverse. After the race a chagrined
Eisner explained that Lenawee Special, while in especially fine
fettle, was not "race sharp." Now he tells me.
Life went on. I worked out a repayment plan with my brother. For
the next 100 weeks, my social calendar was filled with canned
ravioli and soul-searching, thereby freeing up $10 per meager
paycheck. A few weeks into my blue period, Lenawee Special went
on a long winning streak, a gratuitous twist of the knife. Still
harness racing had seen me through that awkward 12-year period
between puberty and my first midlife crisis and had provided an
entertaining collection of cautionary fables.
As my existence became more stable and fulfilling--love, family,
meaningful work, social events that included women--the sport of
harness racing withered and faded, its natural problems
magnified, its charms lost on the lottery generation. Harness
tracks began hosting flea markets and simulcasting thoroughbred
races and begging to be allowed to book sports bets and
threatening to turn themselves into shopping malls. It was a
little like watching a beloved old philosophy professor run off
with a high school cheerleader: One can understand the impulse,
but whatever happened to the idea of a dignified death?
Still, I stay in touch. Four weeks after my oldest daughter was
born, she spent a pleasant evening at Monticello Raceway, asleep
in a Snugli strapped to my chest. Now 26, she seems none the
worse for it. When there was still a grandstand at Yonkers, my
two youngest daughters, now eight and nine, loved to walk up and
down its all-but-abandoned aisles, noisily snapping closed
hundreds of folding seats, one after another, as little
charcoal-like stalagmites of pigeon droppings broke off and
shattered on the cool concrete floor. The track was no stranger
to them than most of the world's wonders and not nearly as weird
as some of the other things Daddy liked to do, such as standing
up to pee and drinking orange juice right out of the container.
I spend a lot of time on the phone with Dave Saks, my last
friend from the old days, bemoaning the latest atrocity
committed by Yonkers management: canceling Dave's favorite
exotic bet; or failing to investigate, for the millionth time,
some criminally minuscule exacta payoff; or announcing that yet
another betting area or food stand or seating section was being
shuttered "for the convenience of you, our valued patrons."
It is harder than ever to win. The tourists, the amateurs, the
casual bettors have fled. Only the truly hard-core remain,
picking over the bones of one another's diminishing bankrolls,
the same 1,500 idiots savants of handicapping I see every time I
"So why go?" my wife asks, reasonably.
"It's hard to explain," I say.
When people call who don't know about this aspect of my
life--friends, neighbors, my boss, our therapist--my wife says I
am unavailable: "He's at the track, at the harness racing
track." Being truthful is the best revenge.
Later, when I return home smelling of cigarettes and hot dogs,
weary, frustrated, poorer and no less frazzled than when I left
four hours earlier, she asks me sweetly if I had "a good time."
A good time, I think. What an interesting way to put it.
Jay Lovinger, managing editor of LIFE, spent the summer teaching
his daughters how to handicap.
B/W PHOTO: NEIL LEIFER That first night at the racetrack, a dangerous thought insinuated itself into my brain: Hey, they're giving money away. [Jockey in sulky behind horse]
B/W PHOTO: JOHN G. ZIMMERMAN We went through puberty together, me and harness racing, and puberty is the tie that binds. [People on bench reading papers]
B/W PHOTO: HERB SCHARFMAN The sport was a shadowy secret society with its own rules, language, mores and mysteries. [Jockeys]
B/W PHOTO: MANNY MILLAN Could this be it, the inside information I had been dreaming about for years that would lead to the life-changing bet? [Horses and jockeys in race]
B/W PHOTO: JOHN G. ZIMMERMAN It is harder than ever to win. Only the truly hard-core remain, picking over the bones of one another's diminishing bankrolls. [Person walking on littered floor]