"Perfect!" Beyer said.
Beyer's column was an immediate hit. He wrote, he says, with the idea that handicapping was "a participant sport" He used the kind of gambler's language that he loved. The "mortal lock" became the trademark of a Beyer column. "I always loved that phrase," he says. "I got it from watching pro wrestling on TV." He would also advise his readers to "bet both lungs" or "mortgage the house." The readers loved it. Graham was working as a beat cop to learn more about the gritty side of the city before he went to work at the Post, and he recalls that while his fellow policemen were thoroughly unimpressed by the fact that he was the son of Katharine Graham, "they were literally awed to learn that I actually knew Andy Beyer."
About a year after he had begun his Daily News column, Beyer—notwithstanding all his bravado as a writer—was down to his last $200 as a handicapper. But he had spotted a 2-year-old colt whose change in running style over his only two starts convinced Beyer that the horse was a solid bet, though he had finished fifth and seventh in those races. Beyer shared his insight with his readers. "I wrote that this was the bet of the year and, since it was December, I said that you should take your Christmas money and bet it on a horse called Sun In Action."
On Dec. 9, 1970, Beyer drove to Liberty Bell track in Philadelphia with his last $200 and another $200 that had been given to him by colleagues back at the Daily News. "Andy was so sure, and when Andy is sure, it's irresistible," Burgin says. "People in the advertising department, circulation, the mail room all gave money to Andy to bet on this cheap claimer."
Beyer made his bets, and back in the newsroom, people gathered around to watch the wire. The horse went off at 20 to 1. After three quarters of a mile, he was 14 lengths behind, and Beyer was tasting a kind of metallic despair much more bitter than his financial loss. But the horse rallied and began to close in the stretch. The consolation of a close finish, at least, appeared possible. As Beyer watched, filled with that helpless sense of hope that all horseplayers know, Sun In Action sprinted to a photo finish.
Beyer and his allies back in the newsroom awaited the results of the photo. Finally, after an excruciating interval, the results were posted. Sun In Action came in second. It was better than abject humiliation—but not very much. Almost immediately, the board flashed the word OBJECTION. Again, Beyer and the newsroom waited. When the numbers went up this time, Sun In Action was declared the winner on a disqualification. Beyer won $4,000 in money and vastly more in the elusive coin of confidence.
"The newsroom went wild," Burgin says, "and Andy became a celebrity." Shortly after this coup, Burgin left the Daily News for the other afternoon paper, The Washington Star. He immediately offered Beyer a job. "But Andy felt like the Daily News had made him," Burgin says. "So he stayed." Both papers were struggling, and it was clear that both could not survive. The publisher of the Star called Burgin into his office one day. "He asked me who we could hire away from the Daily News, the one person it would break them to lose. I named a few people and then I said, 'But if you want my recommendation, the one who would hurt them the most is Andy Beyer,' and he just said, 'Get him.'
"So I called Andy and told him I had an offer he couldn't refuse. He would be doing the same thing, only there would be some money for him to travel, do Florida every winter and Saratoga in August, and the salary would be more than he would ever have dared to ask for. When he came over, we saw it right away. Andy was good for selling another 3,000 or 4,000 papers, just like that."
Burgin showcased Beyer's column, and his celebrity grew. "Andy was the kind of guy who enjoyed it and played the role," Burgin said. "He'd go to restaurants and be seen, and he was great at the talk. He'd write about Bernie the Bartender and his misfortunes at the track, or George the Russian. He was a Runyanesque character in a town that wasn't used to that. He described all his dates as 'leggy blondes," whether or not they were leggy or even blonde. He had a wonderful way of enjoying himself. Andy is one of those rare people who has the ability to be genuinely happy."
The Burgin-Beyer alliance and friendship flourished. But when Burgin left the Star for the San Francisco Examiner in 1978, Beyer moved back to Donald Graham's powerful Post. By that time, Beyer was not only a celebrity in Washington but was also known to serious horseplayers everywhere. He had expanded his audience vastly with the publication of Picking Winners in 1975. The book was a distillation of all he had learned by then as a handicapper. The lessons were framed in anecdote and aphorism, delivered in the clean, rapid-fire prose that is a Beyer trademark.