"You know, everyone at Saratoga, not only just the clubhouse people, can walk around in the paddock and be close to the horses and trainers and jockeys. I don't understand a lot of the things I see, but I love to be close to what's going on. As far as I'm concerned, Belmont is set up for the clubhouse people. Saratoga is for everyone."
John Karboski is another regular at Saratoga. Befitting his position as a 56-year-old statistician for a Wall Street brokerage house, Karboski is a man of routine habit. Aside from the necessary habit of commuting daily for 50 weeks a year from his Greenwich Village hotel to his office, he has developed another habit for Saturdays and holidays. Karboski boards the first race train out of Pennsylvania Station and goes to whichever of the local tracks is operating near Manhattan. For two weeks in August he takes his vacation at Saratoga, pays $25 a week for a room, eats out catch-as-catch-can, takes one glassful of spring water from a well at the head of the homestretch and then settles down to spend seven hours a day, six days a week at the race track.
"One of the main reasons I like Saratoga," says Karboski, "is the wonderful air and the chance to walk. In New York five days a week I never get to walk. There's no way to be outside and get a breath of fresh air in the bargain. Up here I walk three miles a day."
Until this year Karboski hadn't bothered to keep track of his racing finances, but estimates that maybe once since 1942 had he managed to finish the season as much as $100 ahead. "This season I'm keeping records: I'm about $40 behind for the Saratoga meeting and $175 for the whole season. But as a cold proposition on finances I know I'd be out a lot more than that—and without having had the fun—if I had spent the same amount of time going around to bars and nightclubs." Although he has a clubhouse pass for Saratoga, Karboski prefers to sit in the grandstand, where he can see better. "I always get to the track three hours before the first race," says he. "There are only 800 unreserved seats, so I get there early and lay claim to one of the best ones. Then I sit down and read The New York Times, and when I get through with the Times I start in doping the races. I do my own figuring, too. When I get through my figuring I rent a pair of field glasses
for $1, maybe grab a sandwich, and before you know it the first race is on. I'm strictly a $2 bettor, straight only—no big plunger me. Ninety percent of the time I try to beat the favorite; I'll play a horse from 3 to 1 up as high as 30 to 1—but I won't bet every race, either. I'm not in this to make money—I do it strictly as a sport."
GONNA BET UNTIL HE DIES
Jim Magner, at 77 and with failing eyesight, remains the typical example of the sharp, smooth-talking regular who is full of advice for everyone. Jim is unemployed, a some-time friend of most oldtimers, a giver of somewhat dubious advice and a self-appointed authority on all racing matters. By his own count he has never missed a day of racing in New York or any other city when he's been near an operating track. "I haven't missed a day in New York this year," he brags, "and I don't intend to until I die." Nobody can quite recall ever seeing Jim Magner pay his own admission, and yet there he is every afternoon in the middle of the clubhouse giving advice to those who will listen and insisting that his own meager $2, $6, $10 bets enable him to make expenses and pay rent money for his hotel. "I admit I'm behind $200 at this meeting," he told me somewhat sheepishly the other day, "but I'd have been ahead if it hadn't been that I got beat a nose
for a $320 double last week."
Jim believes that racing somehow prolongs the human life. "Racing occupies the mind, makes you sleep better and keeps you going longer. Sitting at home in a rocking chair you die at 45. Here, where I've been coming for over 60 years, it's an old person's paradise. You can watch the old ladies any day. They come and sit under the elms, bet $2 on the daily double and then spend the rest of the afternoon betting $2 to show—and loving it. Just look at their faces and you know they're having fun. Why don't I bet $2 to show? Listen, I bet to win. And I'm not fussy about betting favorites, either. The odds make no difference, for, as the old saying goes, half a loaf is better than an empty belly."
To me, these people are Saratoga just as much as the owners and trainers and jockeys whose names are familiar to every reader of the sports page. They're the people who help to make this track, with its rustic and friendly surroundings, one of the truly happy stops on the racing circuit.