STAdvocates of legalized pari-mutuel racing in Texas are a persistent breed. They are a little like Alydar against Affirmed. They keep losing, but they keep coming back. Texas' "Affirmed" is the Baptist Church.
"So many people down here keep bringing up threat of organized crime when the subject of thoroughbred racing is introduced," said Tom Russell, a Red Oak rancher, "when what they really should be worrying about is organized religion."
Russell and the Texas Thoroughbred Breeders Association are, in effect, accusing the opposition of having taken an unfair advantage in the most recent statewide referendum on the racing question. The defeat for the horsemen was the fourth in 40 years, and they are not taking the latest less kindly.
"I know these are fighting words, but what the hell, I've been crucified by the best of them already," Russell said. "At first, when they counted the votes, they said we had lost by 55,000. Then, the other day, after we had forced a recount, they said we had lost by only 24,000.
"There were two questions on the ballot. The other had to do about whether the 1979 legislature should authorize higher interest rates on bank loans under $5,000.You didn't have to be a very slow cowpoke to know how the public was going to react to that now.
"So those were the two propositions - Proposition One and Proposition Two. All the racing question asked was whether the legislature should consider a legalization bill. But in various counties Proposition One was one thing, and in other counties it was the other, and vice versa.
"The computer set to count the ballots, meanwhile, was set up for a constant count. What we have here, accordingly, is a hell of a mess, with doubt on all sides. It was a straw vote, and under state law such votes are not reported and kept like they would be in other elections. The new result is we never will know whether we won, lost or came out in a draw. And it means, on Jan. 2, 1979, we will present a bill in the state legislature to legalize racing in Texas."
Not all of Texas raicing's problems are from the organized opposition, however. Unfortunately, the TTBA and the Texas Horse Racing Association don't always see things eye to eye. And the THRA are the rich guys, the Bunker Hunts, the Bill Farishes, the Clint Murchisons.
"The THRA is going to introduce a bill which would surrender the Dallas-Fort Worth area," Russell said. "We'll never agree to that. We're talking local option. We would not be putting a race track into any part of the state where the people didn't want one.
"You can take a pencil on the map and easily show what parts of Texas want racing and what parts don't. From Fort Worth straight to the Red River, then straight to the Louisiana border, that's hostile country so far as we're concerned. Then draw a line from Fort Worth straight to the New Mexico border, then up north to Oklahoma, that's the Panhandle, the Bible Belt, and everybody knows how they feel."
But the proposition on the racing issue carried by 700 votes in the Dallas area, so Russell believes the battle should be continued for the state's biggest and wealthiest city. San Antonio, Houston and Golveston overwhelming support the sport.
Texans have long helped assure the prosperity of tracks in neighboring states - in Louisiana, New Mexico, and a little to the north, the wondrous successful Oaklawn Park, in Hot Spring Ark.
"We're convinced a majority of the people want racing," Russell said. "But it's also true, in my opinion, that the opposition will stop at nothing to prevent the majority from getting what it wants, when it comes to parimutuels.
"Why, they even used Timmy the Greek and Tom Landry against us, in this last referendum. They got on TV and said Jimmy the Greek was against legalized gambling on horse racing when what he's really against is the legalization of gambling on sports like football, basketball and baseball.
"Then there was Landry, the Cowboys' coach. He got on the air and said he was against gambling on horses, too. I challenged him. I said 'Mr. Landry, I dare you to have your players take the same urine test, after a game, that my horses would take after a race, and we'll see who comes out ahead, so far as who is being given what in order to perform.'"
Tom Russell obviously is one of those Texans who does not scare easily. He is ready to go into the pits with Harvey Martin and Too Tall Jones, if need be, in order to make his point. And Russell does have a little something going for his cause if John Hill, the Democratic candidate, becomes the state's next governor, as expected.
"Hill actually owns race horses," Russell said. "The opposition doesn't know that yet, and we're not telling them."
No, but they know it now, and the fight for the legalization of pari-mutuel racing in Texas is going to be a long and difficult one.