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The Mafia at Saratoga
Sam Toperoff
November 11, 1968
The goal of horse racing is breeding for excellence, and it is a goal often achieved. The bloodlines of horseplayers are less consistent. Even at hallowed Saratoga the fancy ranges from aristocrats to $2 bettors and sometimes it has a salty seasoning of toughs. Meet Sal, Rocco, Vinnie—and a strong-minded dame named Sophie
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November 11, 1968

The Mafia At Saratoga

The goal of horse racing is breeding for excellence, and it is a goal often achieved. The bloodlines of horseplayers are less consistent. Even at hallowed Saratoga the fancy ranges from aristocrats to $2 bettors and sometimes it has a salty seasoning of toughs. Meet Sal, Rocco, Vinnie—and a strong-minded dame named Sophie

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Rocco backed off: "I meant she should lend it to me, not give it. I'd pay her back at the apartment."

The three men, I noticed, were all wearing white-on-white shirts. I remembered the punch line of a joke: "These days you can't be too white."

Where did Vinnie fit into this hierarchy of corruption, I wondered? "Here, here's da money. Take it," he said to Rocco. And I knew.

Rocco took the 50 and said to Sophie with the tenderness of a very cruel man, "C'mon, Sophie, dis is da feature, a fifty-t'ousand-dollar race." His sentiment had no demonstrable effect. The race, The Alabama, was very old and, as a result, respected. It is a stakes race for 3-year-old fillies.

Now the thought intruded: And where was I in this hierarchy of corruption? "Who da ya like?" Sal said to me.

"Prides Profile," I answered, and I suspected Sal was also wondering where I fitted.

"Yeah," he said thoughtfully, "she got a chance, but da favorite beat her last time out." The favorite was Lady Pitt, the 8-to-5 choice in the morning line.

"Yeah," I said, not wishing to contradict the man who could silence Rocco, "but in dat race Lady Pitt let Prides Profile use herself fightin' for da lead. Today, Prides Profile can make her own pace."

"No, it's da favorite," Rocco said firmly. Vinnie nodded and shrugged at me, making their choice unanimous.

"Let's see a program," said Sophie, and her words fell with such impact that everyone froze. "Let's see a program already," she repeated, and I handed her mine. She put aside her Tootsie and her New Yorker, flipped on a pair of sequined glasses and stared coldly at each of the entries. "Here, bet this on Natashka for me. Number two." She pulled four crisp $50 bills out of her bag. She was serious. She wanted me to bet $200 on Natashka for her.

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