SI Vault
Robert Cantwell
August 29, 1977
The psychic could see a shining force field around the horses—but the hunches of other bettors were coming in as static over his ESP
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
August 29, 1977

Win, Place And Glow

The psychic could see a shining force field around the horses—but the hunches of other bettors were coming in as static over his ESP

View CoverRead All Articles View This Issue
1 2 3 4

In 1969 Harribance was invited to Durham, where he met Roll, whose foundation provided an opportunity for testing. You can read some of the results in statistics-studded papers bearing such titles as Free Verbal Response Experiments with Lalsingh Harribance, or Further Forced-Choice Experiments with Lalsingh Harribance, or ESP with Unbalanced Decks: A Study of the Process in an Exceptional Subject. In some of the experiments, volunteers were brought one by one (unseen by Harribance) into an adjoining room. He recorded his thoughts about their physical appearance, family background, love life and other private matters that he claimed his extrasensory perceptions, or ESP, communicated to him. These notations were then compared to the biographies of the volunteers. The testers say that Harribance's impressions coincided with fact far more often than they would have by mere chance.

"It was a matter of personal satisfaction to Sean that he could produce high scores under tight experimental conditions," says Roll. "From our point of view, it was important not only to obtain evidence for ESP, but also to bring some understanding to the nature of the ESP process. We may all have some psychic field around us, all sorts of thoughts, which we may try to keep to ourselves. Sean would not exactly create a disturbance, but, well, he might go up to people coming out of a movie theater and tell them about themselves. Apparently he received an onrush of psychic information about them and had to get it out."

"Apparently" is the key word here. While Harribance worked with the people at Durham for six years and had test results that seem remarkable, the findings were nonetheless scientifically inconclusive.

As a contribution to science, the Jefferson Downs experiment also had mixed results. The third race was a disaster. Harribance selected the No. 8 horse, Diamond Belle, and backed it heavily out of his winnings. Diamond Belle ran fifth all the way. The fourth race posed a more puzzling problem, possibly psychic in nature. Here Harribance picked My Friend Luba, a 35-to-1 shot, to show, and while that is exactly what Luba did, it developed that Harribance had not bet that way, buying instead a fistful of exacta tickets when he got to the windows. Two losing bets in a row.

The fifth race was a different sort of disaster. Harribance picked Fanny Jane, a recent winner at the Fair Grounds, to show. This time he didn't change his mind at the window. I know that he didn't, because I went with him. A friend of mine had asked me to put a bet for him on the strongest choice the psychic had, and Fanny Jane to show appeared to be the one. At Jefferson Downs there are no separate windows for place and show bets. Just before the windows closed Harribance put down $60 on Fanny Jane to show. I did also, though I bet only $30, and we hurried back.

It was almost a three-horse dead heat, a nose, a head and a neck, with Fanny Jane the show horse, just where Harribance had said he visualized her finishing. But he had not looked at his ticket, and the seller had inadvertently given him Fanny Jane to win. Harribance had lost again. He announced that he was almost broke, and Chris gave him the money he had given her. In the next race he put $60 on Royal Sten to show, and the horse did finish third, although it paid only $3. Nonetheless, by this time Harribance seemed markedly less confident. After the seventh race, in which he had Yes I Did to show—and Yes I Did finished fourth by 3� lengths—he concluded that this must be one of his bad days.

"ESP works best under relaxed conditions," he said. "A racetrack has too much noise going on. And it is such a small time between races to get the information. You see, the public do not understand what ESP is. ESP is a hunch. It is a feeling. We all have ESP. Some people have more than some, like a talent for music. Everybody has a potential for music, but only a few are naturally gifted. All persons have ESP, but it doesn't mean they can go to the races and predict horses. ESP is a confident feeling, like, yes, yes. Guessing is like, I'm not sure. What I am doing is trying to realize when I am using ESP and when I am guessing."

The feature race was a seven-furlong, $5,000 event for 4-year-olds and up. The favorite was American Balcony, which had won an earlier race at Jefferson Downs after doing moderately well at the Fair Grounds against stronger competition. But Harribance was taken by Seaside Flirt, a dark bay gelding making a first start at Jefferson Downs this year. His thoughts ran like this (he said after the race): "I am sure. The horse wants to run. But I am weaker for this race. I lost my money. If I play the horse to win it won't win, it will come second."

But he said nothing before the race except that he was going to bet on Seaside Flirt. He came back with a single $2 ticket on Seaside Flirt to win, which he gave to Chris, gesturing that this was the last of his money. Then he disappeared again moments before the windows closed.

By major track standards the Jefferson Downs feature that day might not have been much—the time was 1:24[4/5] against a world record of 1:19[4/5]—but I never saw a more exciting race. Seaside Flirt took a long lead in the backstretch and held off American Balcony down the home stretch to win by a head. It was Harribance's big moment. He looked at the board, which showed Seaside Flirt paying $6 to win, $3 to place, $3 to show, and displayed his last-minute purchase: four $50 win tickets on Seaside Flirt.

Continue Story
1 2 3 4