A dandy, in-depth look at the Sport of Kings, the $10- billion-a-year horse-racing business, and the ``weekend recreational gamblers,'' jockeys, trainers, grooms, and officials who work on the ``backside,'' behind the scenes. The appeal, according to Helm, a San Francisco journalist and publisher, ``is that it is the most complex and interesting form of gambling.'' But there are also the fabled traditions of the sport, the entertainment factor, and the camaraderie that draws a varied audience. Helm's trackside cronies include a chef, a blues critic, a ``street artist/grant hustler.'' a mail marrier, a retired black woman, and a wine salesman. It's the grandstand kibitzing, the arguing over horses and jockeys and odds, as much as their occasional winnings, that brings them back to the track. Helm became interested in the daily operations of Golden Gate Fields and Bay Meadows and gained access to the morning workouts on the backside, a world he learned was like a ``small medieval city'' with its own language and traditions. His lengthy interview with jockey ``Cowboy'' Jack Kaenel, who won the 1982 Preakness on Aloma's Ruler, reveals the finer points of a demanding profession. Helm delves into the arcane mechanics of horse-racing, such as the difference between ``claiming'' races, derbies, stakes, and allowances, and the weight and equipment requirements. But at the heart of the book are his profiles of trainers like Chuck Jenda, whose mounts have won an astounding 20% of their races; of the track superintendents, who attempt to maintain consistent conditions in all sorts of weather; of the veterinarian whose individual judgment decides ``racing soundness''; of the ``powerful, but largely anonymous'' stewards who are the arbiters charged with ensuring the ``integrity of racing''; and of the racing superintendent, the ``matchmaker'' who is like the ``director of a theatrical event.'' A sure thing for novices, but there's enough intelligently presented information and inside dope to attract even the most jaded track veteran.
Privately published by Strunk of Cornell in 1918 and revised by his student E. B. White in 1959, that "little book" is back again with more White updatings.
Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis (whoops — "A bankrupt expression") a unique guide (which means "without like or equal").
Noted jazz and pop record producer Thiele offers a chatty autobiography. Aided by record-business colleague Golden, Thiele traces his career from his start as a ``pubescent, novice jazz record producer'' in the 1940s through the '50s, when he headed Coral, Dot, and Roulette Records, and the '60s, when he worked for ABC and ran the famous Impulse! jazz label. At Coral, Thiele championed the work of ``hillbilly'' singer Buddy Holly, although the only sessions he produced with Holly were marred by saccharine strings. The producer specialized in more mainstream popsters like the irrepressibly perky Teresa Brewer (who later became his fourth wife) and the bubble-machine muzak-meister Lawrence Welk. At Dot, Thiele was instrumental in recording Jack Kerouac's famous beat- generation ramblings to jazz accompaniment (recordings that Dot's president found ``pornographic''), while also overseeing a steady stream of pop hits. He then moved to the Mafia-controlled Roulette label, where he observed the ``silk-suited, pinky-ringed'' entourage who frequented the label's offices. Incredibly, however, Thiele remembers the famously hard-nosed Morris Levy, who ran the label and was eventually convicted of extortion, as ``one of the kindest, most warm-hearted, and classiest music men I have ever known.'' At ABC/Impulse!, Thiele oversaw the classic recordings of John Coltrane, although he is the first to admit that Coltrane essentially produced his own sessions. Like many producers of the day, Thiele participated in the ownership of publishing rights to some of the songs he recorded; he makes no apology for this practice, which he calls ``entirely appropriate and without any ethical conflicts.'' A pleasant, if not exactly riveting, memoir that will be of most interest to those with a thirst for cocktail-hour stories of the record biz. (25 halftones, not seen)