Novelist (An Unfortunate Woman, 1984, etc.) and chronicler (The Neighborhood of Baseball, 1981, etc.) Gifford lets those who wrest precarious existence from Thoroughbred racing speak for themselves in this fast-paced rundown on the sport of kings. Taking a leaf from the documentaries of Studs Terkel, tire author relies almost entirely on horse's-mouth comment from grooms, jockeys, trainers, owners, handicappers, outriders, parimutuel clerks, professional gamblers, veterinarians, and other no-name insiders to provide a behind-the-scenes record of an ultracompetitive enterprise that, for participants, is endlessly fascinating--and frustrating. If, as owner/trainer Max Milano argues, ""the racetrack is a game of experience,"" it seems also the triumph of hope over experience. Though clearly a breed apart, race-trackers are as one in their pursuit of winners and payoffs. While most members of the closed (albeit accessible) society play by the rules, many who live behind the backstretch look for angles ranging from pre-dawn workouts through state-of-the-art medication or tack that can coax peak performances from highly strung and invariably overworked Thoroughbreds. On the other side of the fence, up-from-the-ranks stewards, clockers, starters, and their fellow officials strive to keep the sport as honest as humanly possible to ensure the betting public's confidence, In general, however, the fraternity (women still being comparative rarities) senses it is being overtaken by events and forces beyond effective control. To illustrate, parvenus, including oil-rich Arab sheikhs, have shifted the loosely knit industry's financial focus from racing to breeding, while state takeouts from track handles spiral upward, lotteries proliferate, and soaring birthrates dilute the pool of blue-ribbon stock. In the meantime, horse-racing's hard-core fans are aging, so the sport must vie aggressively to maintain its share of the entertainment and wagering dollar. Whether racing will get its act together or finish up the track in this high-stakes rivalry remains a very open question in many minds. An often rueful, consistently knowing appreciation of an engaging community beyond the ken of most railbirds. The text includes 15 illustrations (not seen).