A Chicago journalist spends a lively year playing the ponies.
You can make a life at the track, but you can’t make a living,” says McClelland, a columnist at the Chicago Reader, as he sets out to prove himself wrong. Spending ten months at Illinois tracks both seedy (Hawthorne) and bucolic (Arlington Park), he studies the art of wagering. He bets on maidens (horses that have never won), the chalk (the betting favorite) and suckers (horses that repeatedly finish second, leading bettors to believe the animal is due for a win). McClelland learns from personalities both inside and outside the paddock: there’s curmudgeonly Creighton Schoenfeldt, a devotee of a handicapping program called All-Ways, which ranks every horse “according to its speed from the gate, its class, its workouts” and its finishing kicks. And there’s mild-tempered Bob the Brain, who, in the late 1970s, was one of a group of horseplayers making a living wage at the track. (That streak ended in the early 1990s, when the Racing Form began publishing speed figures each day.) And there’s also Omar Razvi, a cab driver and gambler who buys a filly named Sassiness with his winnings. After months of “betting like a eunuch,” McClelland decides to go from tightfisted to two-fisted, and triumphs—for a time. He finally discovers the “secret” to winning. It isn’t in predicting the horses’ behavior, it’s in predicting how other gamblers will bet, and exploiting their mistakes.
Amusing, opinionated, rambling and filled with a dizzying array of handicapping formulas—in short, everything a horse-racing book should be.