"That leaves Rosy Future, a B-8; Penepopie, an R-5; and Miss Sheila, a D-17. No doubt at all, is there? We certainly don't want a D-17, and if Penepopie ran a rough race last time we can't allow her in ahead of Rosy Future. Now I want you to note that Rosy Future was nothing special—just a filly in a race. She has ten races on the record and believe it or not, she has never even been in the money once in all those times. She's the kind of nag that makes people ask—what's she doing in this race? Well, she was doing plenty. She had recency, enough class, a smooth backward race last time out, and she was dropping six pounds off her recent races. Of course, the blind horseplayers at the track let her go off at 13/1 and she won by a length, paying the golden sum of $27.80...That future really was rosy, wasn't it?
"Here's an easy and profitable handicap at Saratoga on 9 August 1962. ...won very easily and paid $13.60. Sometimes following the Force Method can be like taking candy from a baby."
Ford does make a point of losing a race or two that he describes at just about the time when all this winning is getting a mite suspicious. But he seldom varies from the upbeat and sometimes carries the students away in a rush of euphoria. "The best thing about Belmont Park," Ford writes, "is the lovely back garden where you can get away from the crowds and sit or lie on the grass and quietly decide what the Force Method indicates."
It is this combination—earnestness and charm rather than hard sell, together with the good, clean instructional value—that is responsible for the success of the Force Method. Its popularity is, however, only one of the remarkable phenomena that have occurred. There is also the simple surprise that Norman Ford, the disenchanted, found that he really liked the people who bought his books. "I've met better people in the last three years than in a whole life at the schools," he says, still shaken by the revelation. "The people you find in the schools—and I've been in enough of the goddam schools to generalize about them all I want—are usually hide-bound, insular and downright bigoted. But not the Force Method students. None of them are soporific or moping. They're wonderfully vital people. That's the one word for them—vital."
Fascinating, too, is the fact that the students have developed a clubby, fraternal view toward the Force Method that often transcends their educational or financial concern. There have been few professional handicappers attracted; rather, the nucleus is composed of dedicated hobbyists. To his complete astonishment, Ford found that several of his best students do not even bet. They just buy The Telegraph, "quietly decide what the Force Method indicates," and then check next day to see how they did. It is just like anagrams or crosswords. They can play every race and make all sorts of little numerical jottings and circle things and cross out others and underline. In short, there may be no pot of gold at the end of the course, but it is still a lot of fun to play Norman Ford's Force Method at your neighborhood racetrack.
"The front—Beechwood—is the biggest expense," Ford says. "But it is a proper expense and a worthwhile one. Don't you think that these people find a new pride and a self-respect in what is supposed to be a shady avocation when they can come to Newport and sit in Mrs. Astor's ballroom and listen to a composed, literate lecture on their favorite subject?
"Of course, the fact that I'm in charge helps, too. You know—that I'm a West Point graduate, a best-selling novelist and a real teacher. The personal touch is still needed. I answer every letter. It is a genuine student-teacher relationship."
The regulars are enthralled with it all and particularly taken by the Newport angle. Ford, appreciating this, feeds them plenty of it. For instance, starting with Book Eleven, an impressive rendering of Beechwood appears on the covers with the caption, "Beechwood Newport, R.I.: Force Method Headquarters." Then, in Book Fifteen (Class in Allowance Races), Ford describes all the homey little problems one must contend with in living on an estate ("the unexpected obstacles of having to trot a quarter of a mile in this 63-room mansion"), and in Book Seventeen (Weight Versus Odds) he goes into his personal financial situation, vividly attacking the income taxes as he goes, but taking plenty of time once again to let all of the students in on little homemaking details at Beechwood. "Heating a 63-room mansion is not easy," he lets on. If the students cannot win at the track, they can always vicariously experience the joys and minor trials of the teacher.
Today, his battle won, his pride restored and even his faith in mankind somewhat repaired, Ford is out seeking new challenges. He has a pamphlet planned, called Fortunes after Fifty, in which Cervantes will star with Norman Ford. (Cervantes, who did not make much of a splash in his group until he published
at age 57, is something of a hero figure for Ford.) He also has a book idea that he thinks even a publisher might buy—Dear Horseplayer, a collection of silly letters to the professor from his students. Among other schemes awaiting his pleasure is that novel blasting American education. But good fortune, having finally located Norman Ford, now just about keeps bowling him over.