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Frank Deford
October 04, 1965
TALES OF NORMAN FORD or How to Save Your Hair, Make Perfume, Be a Best-selling Novelist, Take Years off Your Face, Move into Mrs. Astor's House with Only One Suit—and Beat the Races
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October 04, 1965

Tales Of Norman Ford

TALES OF NORMAN FORD or How to Save Your Hair, Make Perfume, Be a Best-selling Novelist, Take Years off Your Face, Move into Mrs. Astor's House with Only One Suit—and Beat the Races

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The Force Method began strictly as a mail-order project. ("What does it mean? I don't know, I just dreamed up the name," he says. But later: "No, it means that with this method you are practically forced into picking the right horse.") In the Force Method's almost three years, more than 5,000 people have "enrolled" for the course, and 2,000 are on the books now—which is a fair-sized student body, considering that the series is up to 28 books and each and every one sells at $3 a throw.

Ford has also begun meeting with individual students and in periodic lecture sessions with groups at Beechwood, which is referred to in his literature as The School for Millionaires. For tax purposes it is referred to just as a plain old school school. That is good enough for the Internal Revenue Service. This winter Ford plans to hold sessions in California and Florida and, if that works out well, he may arrange a speaking schedule covering many other parts of the country. Geographically his students are widely scattered. Some have traveled from as far away as California to meet with Ford. Nearly all who are still enrolled after receiving three or four books swear by Ford's theories. They swamp him with letters and send their copies of marked racing papers—The Morning Telegraph or Daily Racing Form —beseeching him to show them where they or (heaven forbid) the Force Method went wrong. Ford fires right back at them. He is extremely self-confident and persuasive, as glib with words as numbers—a rare trait but a particularly good one to possess in this game.

Ford has made good money at the races using the Force Method. So, too, by now have some of the students. The incumbent honor student is a dentist from Pasadena who played so much Force Method and so little teeth that his wife got after him. He settled things simply by winning enough at the races to send her on an extended Paris vacation so he could keep going happily to the track. Ford figures he himself could easily clear between $50,000 and $100,000 annually at the races if he could tolerate the existence. But he never could stand the tracks for much more than a couple of months at a stretch. He would make a bit and then hurry back to Vermont, "where nobody cared if your trousers were frayed," to work on one of those novels. Now, since he obviously can make just as much money sitting home in Newport and telling other people about it, he seldom ventures out on extended betting excursions, except to Florida in the winter. But he keeps up, reading The Telegraph religiously and reexamining and updating his system—uh—method.

One of the more surprising things about the success of the Force Method is that Ford did not have it all figured out at the start. He has been obliged to revise as he composed, and in a few instances he has completely contradicted earlier statements. The Force Method grows all the time. Like Hinduism, it will graciously incorporate any new revelation.

"I'm not the least bit interested in winners. I just want profits," Ford says. In the profitable, warm folds of the Force Method there is something for everyone. There is room for the chalk player and for the long-shot player, for the big bettor and for the $2-show timid soul, for those who like parlays, for those who go for the daily doubles, and for people who prefer to bet across the board, win or place or show or any combination thereof. Ford himself bets mostly place or show, contradicting an old wives' tale that betting to win is the only way to win.

So far in the 28 books, which comprise about 275,000 words, every racing contingency this side of the effect of Elizabeth Taylor up on The Pie in National Velvet has been meticulously discussed. Not surprisingly, then, exceptions to the major rules abound. But Ford is faithful to his basic premises. He believes that he has isolated the key past-performance factors that point to the winner. The Telegraph provides about 20 different ways of rating and comparing horses; Ford says he has determined the four that count in the long run. Normally he does not even consider such supposedly significant factors as distance of the race, track condition, speed of past races ("speed is a result, not a factor"), comments on past races, jockeys, trainers, breeding, stretch-running ability, money earned and workouts.

Instead, he says he has empirically concluded that the horses to bet are those that rate highest in these four areas:

1) RECENCY (his word) OF THE HORSE'S LAST RACE. Ford insists that a horse he bets must have run within 21 days; he prefers a 15-day limit.

2) WEIGHT. He has worked out a rating guide, which is derived by comparing the horse's scheduled weight with the average that he carried in his last three races.

3) CLASS. Ford has developed a method of assessing a horse's inherent class and giving it a rating. He believes this is his most significant gift to the art of handicapping.

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