Beyer and Crist sit at adjacent desks. Beyer's is a picture of chaos: old programs, Forms and reams of computer printouts in apparently random stacks. Beyer's speed figures are now available to subscribers through a data base, which he and four other handicappers keep supplied with fresh figs for horses running at major tracks around the country. With the help of data provided by computer, Beyer spends an hour or so a day working up his numbers, which he then calls up and prints out. It all adds to the considerable clutter on his desk.
Crist's work space is as tidy as a tax lawyer's desk. He folds his Racing Form precisely along the creases and writes his speed figures in a neat hand, using a red felt-tipped pen, across each horse's past performances. "These days, I'd say the figures are indispensable," he says. Speed figures alone are no longer the way and the truth and the light—not even for Beyer. He still arms himself with the figures but these days they are just one weapon in his arsenal: he is also what is known as a trip handicapper. This means that he watches races intently, analyzing the way a horse runs—what kind of "trip" he gets around the track—looking for clues as to how he might run in his next race. It is so esoteric and complicated that Beyer devoted his most recent book. The Winning Horseplayer, to its explication.
The one thing required of trip handicappers, above all else, is that they watch the videotaped reruns of the races. Dressed in khakis and a polo shirt, nicely tanned from riding his bicycle—"to relax, 10 to 12 miles on race days, 40 to 50 on non-racing days"—Beyer stands in front of a press-box monitor, intently watching the horses and scribbling on his program in a shorthand known only to him. As he watches and writes, he contorts himself as though trying to influence, through body English, a race that has already been run. Crist, meanwhile, sits at his desk, studying the Form and writing notes. He is dressed in a clean white shirt, a paisley tie and a suit with a distinctly English cut. He could be in the library stacks, researching a dissertation on John Donne. While he, too, studies trips. Crist likes to do so in relative quiet, an hour or two before the day's races begin, when the monitors replay every race from the previous day's card.
On this day at Gulfstream there is a carryover of nearly $200,000 in the Pick Six pool. Both Crist and Beyer have bets spread out all over the place, and both are alive in the Pick Six after four races. Beyer's adrenaline is beginning to surge. He checks his tickets, the tote board, his Form. He talks to friends. "This is the one I'm worried about," he says excitedly to Harvey Pack, SportsChannel's racing commentator. "I've got the three, the six and the eight. I'm worried about the four. He's a speedball and he's got inside position with a golden rail. But if I get past this one, I've got a real chance."
Crist makes a note or two, lights a cigarette and looks up at the monitor. He could be waiting for an airline to announce his gate.
For both Beyer and Crist, going for the big score is a crucial part of successful handicapping. Neither is inclined toward the prudent, patient wait for just the right bet on a horse that seems certain to win. Both men bet the exotics—exactas, trifectas, the Pick Six—and go for the big payday. In Picking Winners, Beyer defended the exotic bets disdained by traditionalists. Crist considers the Pick Six—meaning selecting the winners of six straight races—the ultimate challenge for the serious handicapper; in fact, his nickname is King of the Pick Six. Perhaps Crist's most amazing streak came at Saratoga last summer, when he held six winning Pick Six tickets in seven days.
Beyer, too, bets the Pick Six but says, "Steve is the master in that area. He's got some sort of special insight into the strategy, with key horses and backups and how to put them all together."
Crist says the basis of his system is "to not be in a situation where you lose the whole bet because your third-favorite horse wins the fifth or sixth race." He explains, willingly, how he uses key horses so that he has to be "terrifically right in one race but can be very well spread and have just about anything happen in another." And it all seems easy and not particularly involved, which is the way chess no doubt seems to Bobby Fischer. Friends who have watched Crist put together his Pick Six cards say that he simply visualizes the possibilities better than anyone else—and that cannot be either taught or learned.
The Pick Six and other exotics tend to result in big payouts, and what everyone wants to know about any horseplayer is, Does he win? If so, how much? Reticent as usual, Crist says only that he is "a lifetime winner." Beyer is more expansive. His second book, published in 1978, was entitled My $50,000 Year At the Races. "That was 12 years ago. Even allowing for inflation, I've had no reason to revise that figure downward in 11 of the last 12 years," Beyer says. "The IRS will no doubt back me up." Beyond that, how much they win is between them and their accountants. But nobody who regularly watches Beyer and Crist doubts that they bet big or that they win.
But if they both go for the kill, Crist and Beyer react in vastly different ways to success and failure. Jay Privman, turf writer for the Daily News of Los Angeles, remembers sitting next to Crist one day when his picks had won the first five races in a Pick Six: "He was absolutely calm when the horses came out for the sixth race. They went into the gate, and he just sat there. He had three horses in that race, and when they came down the stretch, they were one, two and three. Steve didn't jump up and start screaming or any of that stuff. He just looked over at me and said, real quiet, 'Easy game.' He'd just won about $90,000."