First and foremost, go to the races to enjoy yourself. Racing fans know that wherever they go the day will be one to remember. You'll never find a lovelier backdrop for your spectator sport. Perhaps it will be the snowcapped peaks of the San Gabriel Range, towering behind Santa Anita. It might be the Queen Mary heading majestically out across the limitless expanse of ocean that you see over the napery and silverware of the luncheon table in a cozy parterre box atop the stands at Monmouth Park. Whatever it is, wherever it is, there will be the incomparable green of the turf speckled by the shade of ancient towering trees; the smooth brown of the track bisected by white fences; the colorful milling of silks and Thoroughbreds, and the unforgettable music of the bugle's call.
It's something to be savored, enjoyed—and prepared for.
I have a business to attend to, a family to support. I can't go racing every day. But when I do, I make it a production.
I dress properly for the occasion. I see to it that my brogues have a shine to them as sleek as Citation's coat. My slacks have an edge as sharp as the state's pari-mutuel cut. The only spots on my tweed jacket are the ones that were woven into it by an ancient Celt who had an eye for a pretty thread as well as a pretty horse. The kelly is worn at a stylish acey-deucey tilt, and the binoculars—earned years ago in a Pimlico double—hang at just the right Widener Chute slant.
The spendthrift money for the day is carefully totted up and kept where it is handy. Tucked away beyond temptation's reach in my watch pocket is an extra $50 for bail. A last look in the mirror and I'm ready to say: "Lady Luck, you can marry me or bury me—I'm ready!"
This careful preparation isn't all fooling. There's a method in my sartorial madness. It isn't just that being dressed right adds to any man's enjoyment of a special occasion. A little touch of elegance also pays off at the races. Especially when you're one of the many thousands who use my particular system of betting.
I'm a busy man, and I don't have time to read all the form sheets. The numbers in them may add up to sweet music in the expert's eye, but there are too many sharps and flats for me. So I play it strictly by ear. This calls for a first-class appearance, because nobody who knows anything is going to give a real horse tip to a man who looks like a bum.
But if you look well, it's easy to gather information. Racing fans are inordinately proud of their ability to pick winners. Give them a man who looks like an expert, and they ache to show off their knowledge, too, in appropriate professional phrases. All I have to do is drop a choice word here or there, and then listen. Rich man, poor man, beggarman, thief—they're all touts at heart, and after a while you learn to pick the good ones.
There are plenty of other ways of getting information on the horses, and my own penchant for handicapping horseplayers rather than the ponies themselves is not to be taken as a rap at any of them. "Kitchen handicapping," for example, is an engrossing and thoroughly worthwhile pastime practiced by thousands everywhere long before Three Men on a Horse swept the world. Quite apart from whether intensive study of the form sheets brings in money, the therapeutic value of kitchen handicapping is considerable. Witness the late, great and beloved National League umpire, Bill Klem.
Klem was a master in a profession that would drive any average man into a mental institution in short order. But the old arbiter knew that an umpire's greatest enemies are not threatening ballplayers, bottle-throwing fans or second-guessing writers, but his own nerves. These must be kept under control no matter what happens. So, after a day of enduring mass abuse on the ball field, he would leave it all behind him by the simple expedient of retiring to his hotel room and losing himself among the absorbing pony problems posed in his Daily Racing Form.