As Blum says now, "Either you read Blum, or you didn't read." The gods continued to smile upon him. Right in the middle of the newspaper strike, Penn National racetrack near Harrisburg, Pa. invited Blum to enter its World Series of Handicapping contest. Public and amateur handicappers from all over the country and Canada competed over a three-day period for a prize of $12,500. The best in the business were entered. Andy Beyer of the Washington Post, Bill Boniface of the Baltimore Sun and Russ Harris of the New York Daily News were just a few of the 25 pros Blum was up against. The other 24 were amateurs. Blum won. He returned to New York and changed the headline over his picks in the News World from THE TEN GRAND SPECIAL to THE TWELVE GRAND SPECIAL. "Now I'm the greatest," said Blum. "I'm surely No. 1, the best handicapper in the world."
Came November and it was time for the NYRA's Invitational Handicapper's Challenge II. As defending champion, Blum was automatically a finalist. More than 50,000 people entered. The rules were altered slightly. This time the public handicappers had to go through the same eliminations everyone else did. You also couldn't bet more than half your bankroll on any one race. The finals were at Aqueduct on Nov. 18 and 19. Twenty-five people competed. At the end of the first day Blum wasn't in the top 10. He had only $188 left of his original imaginary bankroll of $500.
He waved his dead cigar around and expostulated. "One hundred and eighty-eight bucks. That's a fortune. I once came to Aqueduct with under $200 in my pocket, and when I walked out at the end of the day, I had $7,000." His brother Paul, an electronics engineer and fellow bettor, looked horrified. "You want to just mail that information right in to the IRS, or what?" Blum shrugged. Nothing worried him. He was confident he could win. By the end of the second race on the final day of the contest, he was down to $90. He was wearing his usual outfit, a two-tone Western-style shirt hanging over baggy jeans, which were hanging over pointy-toed cowboy boots. His Stetson was planted firmly on his head, the sides of the brim rolled up just so.
Blum couldn't walk through the clubhouse without being stopped every few feet by someone in need of advice. "Hey, Marty," a guy shouted, "who do you have in the fifth?" Blum told him. "I believe in being nice to people," he said. A scruffy-looking bettor who hadn't shaved in three days was hanging around the rail outside the clubhouse. "Hey, Marty," he yelled, "I'm going to Texas on this race. Ask me what that means." "O.K.," Blum said, "what does it mean?" " El Paso," came the reply. Blum smiled—a little.
Blum admits to being terrible at remembering people's names. He only remembers numbers and the names of horses. He called the scruffy-looking bettor Mr. Dirt (although not to his face). Blum said the man is allergic to water and hasn't washed in four years. "Hey. Marty," Mr. Dirt shouted, "Galetti [who was leading the contest] didn't pick nothing that wasn't obvious. He wasn't inventive or creative, you know what I mean?" Blum heaved himself up onto the railing. "Galetti's got class," he said. "He only got 10 out of the last 12, right? Tell me about it. You can't take nothing away from him."
At the end of the fifth race, Blum had parlayed his $90 up to $130.50. He still had hopes, and things started to look a little better after he hit in the sixth to up his bankroll to $416. For the first time all day, his name got on the board, in 10th place. He decided to make a big plunge, so he bet $199 on the nine horse in the seventh.
Blum said, "At least we're giving them a run, right? If Miss Marty comes in, I bet $1,000 on the next race and I win, right?" Wrong. Miss Marty, No. 9, went off at 5 to 1 and finished second by a head. It was all over for Blum. He was gracious in defeat. He also had $600 in real money in his pocket. He may have lost the contest, but he'd been winning at the windows all day.
An amateur handicapper and professional bettor named Norman Ostrov, who has a degree in psychology, was the new champion. Blum presented the $10,000 check to him on Harvey Pack's show and made a little speech. Afterward someone asked him how he felt. "I'm happy," he said. "I won two out of three. I'm working. I won real cash. What more do I want?"