"What does he want for him?" Sam asked.
"He wants $25,000," said Ferrara.
Sight unseen, Rubin bought the 3-year-old John Henry. That was risky, to be sure, but Rubin had been gambling most of his life. Born on the Lower East Side, the son of Jewish immigrants from Russia, he grew up scrounging to survive. "We used to steal coal off the trucks," he says. "We used to steal fruit and vegetables off the stands on the corners. A good beginning. I delivered groceries. I sold newspapers on the subways. I had my brains knocked out at Yankee Stadium selling banners and things. Kids tried to rob me."
Rubin quit high school when he was 16, inspired by a movie called The Wolf of Wall Street, and he set out to make his fortune. "Unfortunately, they didn't need any more wolves in the market," he says. "So I got a job driving a laundry wagon. I drove the fastest horse-and-wagon in the Bronx. I was on the ASPCA's most-wanted list for two years. We had races around the block."
Rubin also worked as a part-time clerk in the post office to help supplement his mother's income as a knitter. He was 20. He was already betting with bookies on games—football, baseball, basketball—but then he got into horses. The first horse he ever bet on paid $82. One afternoon he picked a $218 winner at the old Empire City Racetrack in Yonkers, N.Y. and brought home $4,000. That sank the hook.
"That was my undoing," says Rubin. "I couldn't bet small anymore."
His undoing was long and painful. "I always overbet," he says. "I was never satisfied betting what I could afford." In the late '40s, when Rubin owned a hand laundry, he once overbet with a bookmaker and dropped $11,000.
"So I borrowed $6,000 from my mother, may she rest in peace, and sold my hand laundry for $5,000. One of the biggest bookmakers in New York used to handle my action through a runner. The runner found out I'd borrowed from my mother and sold my business and he couldn't get over it. He told his principals, and they came to my house. I thought they were going to kill me."
"Did you sell your laundry?" one bookmaker asked. "And borrow $6,000 from your mother?"
Rubin told them this was true.