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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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"Put dat away," Rocco told her.

"Take it," Sophie said to me.

"Put dat away," Rocco repeated.

"Go ahead and bet it for her," Sal decided. And I did. Rocco muttered. Vinnie crossed, uncrossed and recrossed his legs.

I got on the $100 line for the first time in my life. All I could think of was that I, thought by many to be a responsible teacher at a fairly respectable university, was in fact running bets for a—a—what?

Rocco and Vinnie tapped out on Lady Pitt, sure that she'd win.

When I brought Sophie her tickets Rocco was riding her unmercifully. Sophie lost control: "Shut up you, you...." She fished for a word but hooked nothing. "I know what I'm doing. I'm over 21...."

Rocco interrupted with a remark I didn't get, but Vinnie laughed.

"I earn my money myself," she continued, "and I can spend it like I want. So let me be. I know what I'm doing. Just let me be." Sophie was almost sobbing.

We got ready to go out and watch the race. The horses were just reaching the track. Sophie had regained most of her composure and was scratching Tootsie with one hand and leafing aimlessly through her New Yorker with the other. "Your horse is 5 to 2 now, Sophie," I said, and left her to take my position at the head of the stretch.

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