There are a lot of horse players who grew up in big cities, crowded into tenements, who wouldn' recognize a horse if they saw one on a farm. A horse to them has a number on the side, a jockey on the back and runs only when he hears a bell ring.
Charlie Mauro, who grew up in Paterson, N.J., was that kind of horse player.
I met Charlie when he was a news artist on the old New York Herald Tribune. He was the old-fashioned kind of newspaper cartoonist who bounced from one city to another just to keep from becoming bored.
Like many of the old newspapermen, Mauro owned little except the clothes on his back and a couple of mementos of an earlier family life, all stuffed into a battered suitcase. He lived in a cheap hotel near the paper and ate in restaurants.
In those days there were a lot of horse players working on the paper and the section of the paper they read with more interest than the rest was the racing page. Horses and jockeys were talked about more than movie stars.
A game created by the horse players, played during the idle periods after the edition was put to bed, had to do with microfilm of back copies and dealt with only the racing page.
Two men would go to the microfilm in the library and turn to the sport pages of 10 years earlier, to some track in California. The game was kept honest. It had to be or they would have wiped themselves out.
A date would be picked, the race page photographed and brought to the art department. Then selections were made for one or two races, money bet and a committee of three would return to the library to turn the microfilm to the next day for the results, and the winner would take all.
Mauro liked to play with a bookie for serious stuff and usually had something moving in about six areas of America each afternoon.
For awhile he was losing heavily and it was suggested that he book himself. He would make his selections, write the slip and put the money along with the slip in a cigar box.It was simple; if he won he could take whatever was there, or leave it to pile up.
At the end of a week he had about $75 in the box, which was a lot of money in those days.
One night he was grumbling about some horse that ran out and he was told that there was a little nest egg in the cigar box.It was then he admitted that while he was putting money in the box he was still out trying to bust the bookie, and it was more fun than the cigar box, which didn't count.
Mauro reached the age when he began to think of retiring, and horses were getting him down. His estranged wife was living in a small town outside of Syracuse and he planned to visit her to take a look at the town as a place for possibly setttling down.
One day while visiting the small town he stopped by to check the only bar in town. He sat sipping a beer while scouting the place, and his ears perked up when he heard a couple of patrons talking about on a race. His first thought was that the town might not be bad after all. Picking up a paper, he pored over the entries and found a horse he liked.
Mauro pulled $10 off his vacation bankroll, wrote the name of the horse on a piece of paper and handed it to the bartender.
Seeing the money and the horse's name, the bartender laughed. He told Mauro, "We all pick a horse and each one belts a penny, then we turn on the radio to see who won the race."
Later, sitting in a corner booth of the old Crossroads Restaurant in Times Square, his neighborhood bar, a retired Mauro would tell the story on himself and always ended with, "I took the bus out in the morning. How the hell could a guy retire in a town like that?"