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We are in the clubhouse at Jefferson Downs, a tidy little horse track about 20 miles from New Orleans and a furlong from Lake Pontchartrain. It is a few minutes before post time for the first race, 7:15 on a windless and comfortable spring evening. Fading sunlight falls on the greenery beyond the tote board. The crowd (3,715 according to the next day's Times-Picayune ) is quiet by ordinary standards, and very quiet compared to crowds at Aqueduct or Santa Anita.
But it is not quiet for Lalsingh (Sean) Harribance, who is a psychic. In fact, he might well be the most thoroughly tested psychic in the country, if not the world. His supposed extrasensory powers were studied for six consecutive years in the various parapsychological centers located at Durham, N.C., around Duke University. (It must be mentioned that those who "tested" and "studied" Harribance were already convinced of the existence of extrasensory powers.) Unlike most psychics, mediums, clairvoyants, sensitives, whatever they're called, Harribance is also a horseplayer. He has been going to the track regularly for the past two years and picking horses, not by their bloodlines, performances, jockeys, or any of the other factors bettors ordinarily depend on, but, he claims, by extrasensory perception. He contends he never so much as glances at the Racing Form.
A dark and stocky, restless individual, Harribance impresses one as earnest, sincere and dedicated to the task of showing that psychic abilities can be of use in everyday life. He readily agreed to tape-record his selections before each race, place his bets and see what happened, but stressed that the results were not likely to compare with what he accomplished under purportedly scientific conditions. "When I am doing scientific research I have to get in a meditative state," he said. "It takes me about 10 minutes. But most psychics get licked at the racetrack because of the noise—people's thoughts. You see, at a racetrack people think in numbers. They think, 'The No. 9 horse is good.' The tote board says to them, 'The No. 6 horse will win.' So many things are going on, they throw you off your extrasensory perception."
So here we are at a little, ordinary, six-furlong racetrack, where everything is outwardly normal, ready to step into the spirit world. I personally have no opinion about psychic phenomena. I agree with an English authority on such subjects who reported that 13 at dinner is unquestionably bad luck when there is only food enough for 12. But at the same time I was intrigued by the experiments in the parapsychological laboratories at Durham, even though many reputable scientists look askance at their methods and controls, see no evidence of the existence of psychic phenomena and are concerned at the public's uncritical acceptance of parapsychology, astrology and the like.
At the Psychical Research Foundation, Harribance reclined for hours in an easy chair in a windowless, soundproof room, wired to an EEG and a polygraph machine, or lie detector, and identified cards bearing five different symbols while an experimenter drew them at random from 120 decks. The EEG was recording his brain's alpha waves. These are associated with quiet states, closed eyes, dreaming, reverie and meditation, and the object of the study was to find out if there were any significant differences in these waves when his scores were high and when they were low. The experimenters say that Harribance scored well when his brain showed a higher proportion of alpha waves.
The track is unobtrusively hospitable, with 100 seller's windows, 50 cashier's windows, a spacious grandstand and a comfortable clubhouse. It is altogether an agreeable place for letting one's ESP take over. It is the sort of place where no one pays any attention to what anyone else's ESP is doing.
Harribance sat quietly at the table after dinner, during which he had no liquor or tobacco. He will look at you quietly for a long time and then suddenly tell you about your health, your problems at work, your troubles with your wife and whether or not you should have become a lawyer rather than a journalist. His wife Chris, a tall, pretty woman, sat beside him and, while she sometimes glanced quizzically at a horse he picked, never commented on his choices.
Shortly before the first race, Harribance walked briskly to the dining room windows at one end of the grandstand where he could look at the horses being saddled. He had no strong feelings about the 10 entries in the first race, a six-furlong, $1,500 claiming event, 4-year-olds and up, for a $1,800 purse. "I like Seven to be right in front," said Harribance nonetheless. "Seven. Seven." Seven was Treble Hook, a 6-year-old brown gelding that had won at the Fair Grounds five months before, but had placed once since for 1977 earnings of $768. Only one of the experts whose choices were noted in the Daily Racing Form even mentioned Treble Hook. "Six is actually the best horse in the race," Harribance went on. Six was Right N' Bright, with two seconds in nine races and 1977 earnings of $2,493. He was the first choice of almost all the experts. "Five will come from behind and do well," Harribance concluded as he gathered additional vibrations from Vern's Destroyer, winner of two races in 29 starts.
"How can you tell?"
"In animals and people I look at an aura. You know, in my book. This Man Knows You, I talk about the energy field around (he body. Each living being possesses this life force. I have even felt it in trees and plants. Even a leaf. We have a spiritual body and a physical body. Well, the aura radiates from the physical body, and I see that in animals."