By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
Dosik and his computers represent a great leap forward for the Form. Staffers with not all that much tenure remember a time when the publication's flood of figures was transported via teletype, a dark-ages technology compared with faxes and computer modems. Where union typesetters once agonized over tiny bits of hot type or the maddening cut-and-paste approximations of succeeding typesetting trends, Duke's computer now does it all. His job at the Form--one of his jobs at the Form--is to shovel pages all day, electronically, from Phoenix toward the paper's West Coast printing plant in Gardena, California. Dosik got into racing journalism about a decade ago, when his employer, an ad agency, went belly up. Left with some time to play golf and hang out in New York City's many off-track-betting emporiums, Dosik grew a new hobby: the nags. "I really kind of liked it," he says today. (Like many of his co-workers, Dosik tends to visit racetracks during his vacations. A recent trip home to New York, he says, resulted in "the obligatory $300 day" at Saratoga.)
Soon he was writing and editing for a New York-based racing paper. After that, he hired on with the Racing Times, the first serious competition the Form had seen. But the Racing Times failed in its attempt to end the Form's reign o'er racing, folding in less than two years and leaving the victor to buy out some of the vanquished's assets. Several key Racing Times staffers, including Dosik and editor-in-chief Neil Cook, were folded into the Form.
Also incorporated were several seemingly minute changes the Times had made in the tradition-bound reporting of racing statistics, changes largely made possible by the computer age. Chief among these changes was the addition to the Racing Form's PP charts of Andrew Beyer's Speed Figure, a one-number-fits-all handicapping tool. Beyer, among the most revered of all racing gurus, has a formula that concocts a double-digit rating for every horse in every race. The number theoretically gives the casual handicapper an edge over someone who, say, wanders in off the street having never seen a horse before.
At any rate, the Form now carries it. Philosophically, a great leap forward. "The old racing form was like the stock tables in a daily newspaper, providing the facts from which you draw an analysis," says the Daily News' Modesti. "It's just the nuts and bolts. There's nothing in there that would point you in a direction. "The new Racing Form is more like Investor's Daily. They actually have some numbers which extrapolate analysis." @rule:
@body:At about 10:30 every morning, editorial action ceases for a few minutes as Monroe, Dosik, Crowley and a half-dozen other staffers meet in Neil Cook's office for the daily shapeup. When he is out of town, as he often is, Cook listens from afar as the editors gather around his phone. The editors assembled here handle layout, copy and the all-important PP flow. (Is this beginning to sound like a story about urology?)
They take their instructions from Cook, a jovial-enough but ultraefficient 32-year-old graduate of the London College of Printing, who keeps a bullhorn under his desk for occasional paging purposes. In his pre-Form years, Cook worked for a time for The Sporting Life, the London equivalent of the Racing Form, and freelanced the occasional piece around Fleet Street. When the offer came to do the start-up of the Racing Times, Cook leaped the Atlantic and has not looked back. "Starting a newspaper from scratch is a dynamic thing, something you get a chance to do once in a lifetime," he says. "It was an offer too good to miss, really."
The comparatively brash Racing Times, staffed by younger, more freethinking racing fans than the Form would hire, has had a lasting influence on the Racing Form. It failed, Cook says, because its statistics weren't as accurate as the Form's (When you're up against the might of the Racing Form, it's very difficult to be as accurate.") and because it failed to grab the average racing fan by the, um, lapels. "Since racing straddles every social sphere, you've got to balance it so that the guy in the grandstand gets what he wants and the guy who owns a multibillion-dollar company gets what he wants," he says. "That's what we're trying to do at the moment."
At the moment, the task of Cook and his crew seems like a circuit race (a full trip around all four turns) on a muddy track. Racing appears to be a victim of the universal scramble for "silly money"--the dollars once bet at racetracks by casual fans who now blow their dough on state lotteries and slot machines operated on Indian reservations, riverboat casinos and in expensively marketed pyramids.
Case in point: Turf Paradise, the Phoenix track in operation since 1956, had an all-time bonanza last season, generating $94 million in wagering. But track officials are publicly fretting for this season, which just opened, due mostly to the casino-building boom on almost every rez around.
Nationally, the betting-on-horses business is not unhealthy: More than $14 billion was wagered on- and off-track in 1992, according to the trade publication Gaming & Wagering Business, almost $3 billion more than a decade earlier. But there's some trouble inside those numbers. As off-track betting has increased (up 13.6 percent last year), the take at tracks has fallen (down 3.35 percent). About $400 million more was wagered at racetracks in 1982 than in 1992. The concern in the business is that the OTBs attract longtime serious players who likely would have been gambling somewhere anyway, while the racetracks have failed to attract younger, more casual fans to the sport. A case could be made that the racing industry's fans are significantly older than other sports fans. The Form's own marketing staff says the median age of its readership is 45.8 years; Sports Illustrated's median reader is a full decade younger. "As the industry newspaper, we have to be upbeat about the industry when it's needed," says Cook, who has instituted plenty of editorial policies that call for Form writers to adopt a tougher reportorial point of view. "We have to work with the industry to help to attract more people, or our sales ain't going to go up! It's the bottom line! We've got to do everything we can to make racing fun. "We've focused a lot more on the novice handicapper, and it's our function in the newspaper to be educational.