By Monica Alonzo
By Stephen Lemons
By Jason P. Woodbury
By Dulce Paloma Baltazar Pedraza
By Ray Stern
By Pete Kotz
By Monica Alonzo
By New Times
"When somebody goes to the racetrack for the first time, they're surrounded by experts. Everybody's an expert in the stands, you know. I imagine it must be a pretty daunting experience. But if they pick up the Racing Form, they've got a form to bet with. We've got to make sure the first-time racegoer can find his way through it and use it as a tool. "We're failing in our duty to the public if that person goes away from the racetrack on that first day and vows never to return."
Naturally, the 1,000th-time racegoer weighs just as heavily on Cook's mind. The decrease in "silly money" means that ace handicappers are betting against one another for a smaller slice of cash pie every race.
To further capture and hold the interest of serious handicappers, Cook's newspaper is prepared to move into the 21st century along with the sport it covers. Simulcasting--by which races from one track are beamed to other tracks or off-track-betting parlors--has drastically changed racing already, and the technology will almost certainly test the all-racing-is-local bromide. In fact, it's inevitable that all-day racing from tracks around the country will soon be broadcast and bet upon in other tracks, OTB outlets and even homes. (Yes, someday you won't even have to get dressed to blow your bankroll at the track. You'll do it over the phone in your underwear, while watching a race from some track in Miami on cable channel 331. What a country!) For the Racing Form, this means a gradually increasing focus on the national racing scene throughout its myriad regional editions. "We have to adapt to the marketplace, and the marketplace will eventually be heavily involved with simulcasting on a national basis," says Cook. "We have to become a national newspaper. It's important we're not parochial." @rule:
@body:Lunch at last!
The midday respite from megabite manipulation is not signaled by a Klaxon or siren at the modern Racing Form. Instead, it is the call: "Have you got a horse?" In translation, this question means: "It's time to go to 40th Street. Today there are two simulcasts from the Del Mar track near San Diego. Have you found a potential winner, listed at suitably long odds, that will fool everyone in attendance either in California or by telecommunication device elsewhere, except us?" If the answer is yes, and even sometimes if it isn't, the Western edition of the Daily Racing Form's seven full-time professional handicappers, accompanied by various key supporters, hie themselves toward the 40th Street Grill, one of several establishments the great state of Arizona (state motto: "God Enriches") allows to take bets on racing beasts. Taking positions around the restaurant/bar among other regulars (Arizona State basketball coach Bill Frieder is one--we know it was him: He was wearing a tee shirt that said "Arizona State basketball coach Bill Frieder"), the most powerful posse of handicappers in the West orders lunch. There is time during this lunch break to bet upon and watch two Del Mar simulcasts, and the accompanying reruns. Local racing follows, but later. There is no shouting during the races from the Racing Form party. There is no boasting or chest beating. There is no weaseling and no caustic second-guessing. The amateurs who surround the table are much more vocal than the pros.
There is analysis, of course, lots of it. The workday of these men (yes, it's an all-male handicapping staff; the Form's readers, according to the marketing poop sheet, are 75 percent male) dangles on the presumption that the seeming chaos of a horse race can be predictable. For their paychecks, the staff handicappers review upcoming races at all the tracks in the Form's region, pick favorites and assign odds against the projected also-rans. Doing their picks from Phoenix, away from the major tracks, is not a huge handicap for these oddsmaking technicians. They have tapes of races flown in to review, but most do their predicting based on the hard figures printed in their own publication, anyway. "You're not going to get a more knowledgeable crew as handicappers go," says Chuck Badone of his co-cappers. Badone, track handicapper at Turf Paradise for several years, now is a member of the Form's crew. "People who handicap in general are considered to be egotistical and vain. You get a lot of guys in handicapping who were never athletes themselves, were never in competition. And this is now a competitive thing for them. They get the feeling that if they can't pick em, nobody can pick em. But I've never worked around a group of people who were this astute and less involved with ego than these guys. You never hear anybody criticizing anybody else's selection, and if they win, there's no chest beating. I've worked with guys, you'd want to shoot em, they were so disgusting. You'd want to throw em out a window."
Badone got the racing bug at age 18 (I'm what you call a self-professed handicapper. You handicap for a while, then you start telling people you're a handicapper.") while attending a fairgrounds track on the East Coast. He holds master's degrees in P.E. and education and rarely vacations where some form of gambling isn't available. "I don't know if I've ever been on a vacation in my life where you couldn't gamble," says Badone. "I wouldn't go. My wife and I talk about it. 'Do we always have to go where there's gambling?' I say, 'Well, you want to go where there's food! You want to eat!' That's what a vacation is about. You do what you want to do!"