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May 24, 1975 - Image 7

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Publication:
Michigan Daily, 1975-05-24

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Saturday, May 24, 1975

THE MICHIGAN DAILY

Page Seven

Saturday, May 24, 1975 THE MICHIGAN DAILY Page Seven

Betters'banquet: Riding on a hunch

By DAVID WHITING
"Just a quarter, man. Hey, you got a
quarter," pleads a tattered man, one
hand clutching a racing program, the
other reaching for a handout. There are
hundreds just like him at the harness
races flat broke but too hooked to be
ashamed, trying to scrounge up the two
buck minimum necessary to bet on the
next race.
The green stuff - thousands of dol-
lars worth - flows out of hopeful bet-
ters' hands and into the raceway tills
practically every night year round, rain
or shine.
Pulling into Detroit's Hazel Park Race-
way for the first or hundredth time is

blast introducing the loudspeaker's
whine - "The horses are entering the
track, you have nine minutes in which
to make your selections and purchase
your tickets" - and the final, "They're
off! ", a single race's betting kitty will
often swell to $35,000 before the win-
dow closes.
But it is not until the weekend - after
Friday's paycheck is securely in hand
-that the raceway's lighted scoreboard,
showing each of the ten races betting
totals, really gets hot.
When the Hazel Park scoreboard
glows, one of the three other tracks in
the Detroit area is being pounded by
thoroughbred hooves. The setup allows

sion, "Never bet on a catchy name or
a lucky number."
Track fever can be tough to kick, as
one young man putting five dollars on
Bedford Fury to "win" - a win ticket
pays off only if the horse finishes first-
discovered after recently completing a
stint with Gamblers' Anonymous.
More restrained gamblers may bet a
horse to "place", or pay if it comes in
first or second, but less lucratively than
a "win" bet. Betting to "show" means
the horse must finish in the top three
for the better to collect.
Anyone over eighteen can legally take

ing out a "sure loser" with stubby pen-
cils as they sip Budweiser from paper
cups.
Beer and stiffer drinks are sold direct-
ly opposite the ringing betting tills, a
convenient location for someone who
just laid a load on a number with the
only hope of a return hinging on an ani-
mal running faster than any of the other
eight horses on the track.
Women are noticeably scarce in the
strained unsure atmosphere where a
week's pay can be lost or doubled in a
single night. Yet a few women, many
also clad in nylon windbreakers but re-
placing the chewed cigar stub with lip-
stick stained cigarettes, shuffle up to
the betting window and hand over ten
and twenty-dollar bills in exchange for
the small paper slip with their favored
horse's number on it.
As the crowd hustles back to the
stands with their tickets in a deep poc-
ket or tight fist, there are only a few
seconds left before the excited horses
charge out of the starting gate.
The score board flashes, "Track con-
dition - fast," and the race begins
amidst screams and prayerful whispers
of, "Come on, come on damnit."
Within minutes it is all over and the
first four horses' numbers are on the
board. Tickets are disgustingly torn-up
and to the accompaniment of disap-
pointed curses and excuses. One man
biting the ever-present cigar between
his teeth
It is only a quick stride from the
grandstand seats to the swelling betting
ques. Off to the side and curiously out
of sight lie the windows where the win-
ners collect. The lines are conspicuous-
ly short.
David Whiting is a Daily Night
Editor.

"As the crowd hustles back to the stands with their tickets in The scoreboard flashes, 'Track condition-fast,' and the
deep pockets or tight fists, only a few seconds remain before race begins amidst screams and prayerful whispers of,
the excited horses charge out of the gate. 'Come on, come on, dammit.' "

an electrically charged experience. As
the grandstand - shrouded oval comes
into view, conversation instantly turns
to horses and money and will remain
there for the rest of the evening.
As they surge past the pan-handling
wizened man who sits massaging his
70-year old stump leg, all comers con-
centrate on finding that magic cambina-
tion of luck and logic that will make
a winner. Rich man and pauper, fond-
le their wallets, sensing the cash within
-cash to be redoubled or squandered
depending on whether the right horse is
picked.

prospective gamblers to choose their
poison at one of two kinds of tracks, but
most prefer to concentrate their efforts
on one or the other, either harness or
thoroughbred racing.
The thoroughbred jockey crouches
atop his mount, gradually cajoling the
animal into an all-out gallop. In harness-
racing, the rider sits in an ultra-light,
two - wheeled cart, or sulky, harnessed
to the horse, making for a somewhat
slower but no less exciting contest.
The factors that go into a harness
gambler's closely-guarded personal for-
mula, and the coveted "winning" equa-

his or her chances at the track, yet the
grandstand galleries are inevitably domi-
nated by droves of cigar-chomping mid-
dle aged men.
These guys, protected from the wea-
ther in nylon Ford or Chevrolet racing-
stripe jackets, start at the statistic-filled
four-bit program, occasionally scratch-

"Anyone over eighteen can legally take his or her chances at the track, yet
the grandstand galleries are inevitably dominated by droves of cigar-chomping
middle aged men."

The
Saturday
Magazine

2

Before the eager gamblers reach the
fed. Two bills will get you into the
grandstand, an indoor - outdoor affair
flanked to the right by the posh club-
house where dinner is served for the
fore fortunate. Still empty now before
the evening's races, the two-buck planks
face the 5/8 of a mile oval dirt track,
which engulfs a man-made lake and
the scoreboard, a featureless monolith
waiting to be brought to life by the first
race.
During the cool weekday nights this
summer, between the trumpet's taped

tions of the thoroughbred fanatic are as
.varied as the races themselves; thus all
but the most accomplished gamblers
tend to limit themselves to one type
of racing.
Unlike the fast and furious thorough-
breds, harnessed horses must maintain
a "gait", something akin to a trot but
startingly faster, or face being dropped
a few notches in the final standings by
the racing judges.
A horse's age, jockey, trainer, prev-
ious showings, and past showings on the
track all influence the experienced wag-
erers, who advise with scientific dispas-

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