Nine Quotes From Horseplayers, The Book

Before there was Horseplayers, the Esquire TV show, there was Horseplayers: Life at the Track, the book by author Ted McClelland. While Andrew Beyer and Steve Christ get most of the attention, and rightfully so, this book is a must read for the horseplayer. Author Ted McClelland takes us on his personal journey as he gambled with his book advance. He spent a year at tracks and off-track betting facilities in Chicago and across the country, profiling the people who make a career of gambling on horses. The book is his personal journey of what it means to be a horseplayer and the people he meets along the way. It was one of the horse books I bought on a vacation to Lexington, Kentucky as my horse racing passion was beginning to be unleashed. Below are some of my favorite quotes, the kindle highlights, from Ted McClelland’s Horseplayers: Life at the Track. I commend this book to you.

1. Getting hooked on gambling was the best thing that ever happened to me.

2. I had always loved games- dice, baseball games, war games, the puzzles in Games magazine- but horse racing was the most magnificent game I had ever experienced, because it was real. It was played with real money, bet on real animals. And it wasn’t a game of chance, like the slots or the lottery or Let’s Make a Deal. It was a game of skill and judgment.

3. Over the long haul, you can’t beat a slot machine, but you can beat the races if you’re smarter than all the other bettors.

“Getting hooked on gambling was the best thing that ever happened to me.”

4. I’d drifted through three colleges, lived in seven cities, and never earned more than $24,000 a year. But now, finally, I had found my passion. That August, my editor offered me a promotion to police reporter. I turned him down. The job would have doubled my salary, but it was an afternoon gig, and what good is money if you can’t gamble with it? He was disappointed, but he got used to hearing a bugle in the background when I called to talk about the evening’s assignments. When an old friend asked if I was interested in a job in Seattle, I told him I was tied to Chicago. “Ahhh,” he said. “You meet a woman there?” “No,” I responded vehemently. “Horse racing!”

5. Now I was out $142, my worst one-day ass-whipping ever. John tallied up his booty. He’d beaten all three tracks, for $272, but he seemed more exhausted than excited. He then had to drive twenty-five miles to Balmoral Park in Crete, Illinois, for an evening of harness racing. By the time Balmoral completed its card, he would have spent twenty-nine of the last thirty-four hours either gambling or handicapping. “I’m starting to get burned out on this,” he admitted, as he packed away his charts and notebooks. “I’ve been doing it for eight years. I don’t have a life. I don’t even have a girlfriend. All I do is handicap and go to the track. I feel like a bond trader”

“I’d drifted through three colleges, lived in seven cities, and never earned more than $24,000 a year. But now, finally, I had found my passion.”

6. Horseplayers make sacrifices that would horrify the most driven starving artist in his third-floor walk-up, because their goal isn’t money or fame, but rather simply to keep playing the horses.

7. Playing the horses had to be an all-consuming passion or it had to be a hobby, pursued with two-and five-dollar bets.

8. My schooling with John had taught me that dilettantes are doomed to lose their money to racetrack lifers. I always wondered, though, whether I could beat the races if I made it a full-time job. Andrew Beyer, the Washington Post columnist and high priest of American handicapping, once wrote, “As difficult as it is, anyone who loves handicapping ought to make at least one attempt in his life to do it seriously. Although handicapping can be wonderfully entertaining as a casual hobby, there is nothing quite so satisfying for a horseplayer as the knowledge that he can make a profit from the game.”

9. If you’ve got the kind of personality where you can sort things out, you become curious as to how things work. You’ve got to be able to retain knowledge. You’ve got to be able to picture a race. You’ve got to know whether a horse ran with or against the bias. I have a friend who tracks biases. I keep trip notes, and I know which jockeys ride to the wire, and which ones ride horses outside…You’ve got to be able to process a lot of information with six minutes to post time, all your information you picked up in your handicapping, whether this is a good bet for you.

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