"But not always," says the two-cigarette bettor, who complains that this day's Tierc� was switched from steeplechase's second-largest prize, the Prix La Haye Jousselin at Auteuil, to an earlier jumping event with a much larger and less distinguished field. A quick count of the Jousselin scratches on a nearby monitor reveals that if PMU had named that race and its diminished six-horse field as a Tierc�, millions of households in France would have collected.
"Jumpers," the despairing bettor says loudly. Calling out across the room, he asks, "Anyone know jumpers?"
No one replies immediately.
"My wife here," calls a voice from another table, "she says Rocker.... She likes the name." There is general derisive laughter. Pelou delivers an order, then lifts the two-cigarette bettor's pen and checks an entry. Winking, he says, "I give this to you."
The lights dim. The screen fills with images of horses at the starting line. On a judge's flag the call commences and a chorus of bettors shouts, "Allez! Faites vite!" As the pack races over Auteuil's course of bales and hazards, the voices in the caf� become louder. Words of encouragement are shouted in Italian and Arabic. At the far turn, an entry stumbles over a gate, and Pelou, running his hands through cropped hair, cries, "Ce n'est pas un cheval, c'est une ch�vre!" ("That's not a horse, it's a goat!").
At the finish, the long shot, Rocker, is a late-arriving surprise, placing second. There are only three winners in the room, and the crowd resumes its study of the form. Watching his wife hurry to the window, the would-be tout grumbles, "Picking horses by names. Quel syst�me!"
PMU also has a system for the bettor who would rather stay home. You can open your own betting account through the French in-home Minitel network and have your winnings/losses automatically recorded by an electronic banking system. "We all know that's the service of the future," says Von Oertzen. "And we're introducing a high-tech self-service machine nationwide [similar to one used by some U.S. tracks] into common-usage areas like supermarkets, theaters, railway stations, airport terminals."
Now, if they could only come up with a high-tech, surefire method of picking the winner.