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CONNING THE CON MEN OF KENTUCKY
Joe McGinniss
May 05, 1969
Two college boys hitchhiked 1,000 miles to Louisville, drank freely (and free), sneaked into the Derby—and even got to see the race
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May 05, 1969

Conning The Con Men Of Kentucky

Two college boys hitchhiked 1,000 miles to Louisville, drank freely (and free), sneaked into the Derby—and even got to see the race

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The car pulled away. I threw the sign into the weeds. Five cars later I had a ride to Hartford.

The first track Larry and I ever snuck into was Yonkers, when we were 15 years old. It was easy because the guards were old men and we outran them. Larry's father was a $2 place cashier in the grandstand. He would give us the horse early, and we would hop over another fence into the clubhouse and run around begging quarters and dimes until we had enough to bet it. Once we asked Jackie Robinson for a quarter. He said no. Occasionally the horse would win and we could bet our own money for a while. We snuck into Yonkers so much that the next summer they put a sign on the barbed wire that said, "Danger. High Voltage." After that we not only snuck in ourselves but snuck dates in, just for spite.

Then I went to college in Worcester. The winter was soot and isolation. There was a track called Lincoln Downs 40 miles away. They ran in February. It was a very bad track, hard to sneak into and an impossible place to beg. Betting my own money, in the first three months of 1963, I lost 41 races in a row, hitchhiking down and back, alone, in the cold. I had to steal bacon-and-toast sandwiches from the college cafeteria for breakfast. Lincoln Downs was an ugly track, besides; yellow cement and glass.

It snowed the last week of April, a big, mean snow that killed the spring and broke the spirit. I called Larry on the phone. He was at Seton Hall in New Jersey.

"Let's go to the Derby," I said.

"O.K."

He gave me the name of a bar in South Orange. I said I would be there at 6 o'clock Thursday night.

By midnight Thursday Larry and I were only to Exit 6 of the New Jersey Turnpike, where the cutoff is to the west. Half the trouble was Larry, who had not wanted to leave his bar. The other half was that we were not getting rides. Once I had hitchhiked to Louisville—1,000 miles from Worcester—in 20 hours. This time I had been gone 11 and still was in New Jersey, with Larry complaining.

"Jesus, it's cold."

"Does no good to talk about it."

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