Anyone who has ever made a $2 bet on a horse could consider himself a horseplayer, but that would be trifling with a term that shouldn't be used loosely. The fan who follows the form, gets out to the track on his day off and makes an occasional wager with a bookie is a real horseplayer. He does it for fun, as a connoisseur of bloodlines and performance charts, and only sometimes. For him, the race is the thing, as it should be.
There is another breed—the compulsive horseplayer. He is to the real horseplayer what an alcoholic is to a social drinker. For him, there is no play; the race is only a means. He is someone who, like me, can devote the best part of his time and most of his money to the pursuit of winners, knowing all the time that there will never be enough. Your compulsive horseplayer is like those people climbing mountains; he does it because it is there to do. He must.
What makes this kind of horseplayer I don't know, even after carefully examining the question in an intense psychoanalysis and studying it further in the almost four years since I made my last plunge. What is a compulsive horseplayer is a question I can answer from my own experience.
I made my first bet $25,000 ago in a dingy Brooklyn horse parlor. I was 19 and eager. From that moment on, I was in a battle to break even. I never had a chance. For 15 years I played the horses in a backbreaking routine designed to keep family and friends from knowing what I was doing, plagued always with guilt that made an impossible situation even tougher.
During that time I lost more than half of the money I earned. The horseplayer's Malthusian theory worked for me: my debts increased geometrically while my salary went up arithmetically. When I started I was making $25 a week and my debt limit was around $500. When I was making six times that much I owed 15 times as much. My creditors would stretch from here to bankruptcy.
As a horseplayer, I was interested in the things around me, but not very. Only through great discipline did I make myself meet enough of my professional and social obligations to maintain the facade of respectability that I needed to combat a constant sense of shame.
From this someone might draw the moral that horseplaying doesn't pay. But that isn't necessarily so. It depends. It ought to be clear that you don't do something voluntarily for 15 years without getting some satisfaction out of it. I had my kicks along with the frustrations, and there were laughs to lighten the misery. You have your high points and the low ones.
My highest point, moneywise, was a winning streak a couple of years after the war. In 15 years of playing dozens of horses each week you're bound to hit some winners. But this one was more than just a hit. This was big. And it began almost accidentally.
The day before I was to start a vacation I found myself with $4.25 and four hours to wait for my paycheck. It was a case of a big lunch or a small bet, on a horse I had been following for weeks. I ate a hot dog for lunch and bet $4 to win on the 8-to-l shot. He won, and I was off.
For two weeks everything I touched turned to winners. I bet horses solo and they won. I bet them in two-and three-horse parlays and if-and-reverse combinations and they won. A recent string of losers had left me cautious, so my opening bets were relatively small. Even so, on the Saturday night of the second week I could tally at least $10,000 in winnings.