For most of his 30 years, Marty Blum has been the quintessential gambling degenerate, never permitting his job or financial obligation to interfere with his passion for horses, sports and dice.
Like every gambler, Blum longed for and pursued the one great score that would change his life. But even he could not have dreamed that fate would one day tap him on the shoulder and make him the most famous horseplayer in New York.
Fame was never what Marty Blum sought; more often he was happy with anonymity that would keep him out of the sight of impatient creditors. He had made his first bet on a horse when he was 13, under the tutelage of his father, and by 18 was a full-fledged addict. At the age of 21, he ushered in manhood with a year of unmitigated disasters.
"I bet the Colts over the Jets," he remembered. "I bet the bullets over the Knicks. I bet the Orioles over the Mets. I bet a 38-to-1 shot who was on top when he stepped in a pothole. I bet $5,200 on Majestic Prince in the Belmont Stakes. I had to go to Household Finance after that."
In the spring of 1977 Blum's perennially fluctuating fortunes were in an upward cycle. He was gainfully employed as the terminal manager for the Z and Y Trucking Company and was faring well at Aqueduct at a time when the New York Racing Association staged a handicapping contest as a special promotion. Patrons were given entry forms on which to pick winners and bet imaginary money, with the top finishers qualifying for a final round that offered $10,000 in real money as the first prize.
Blum got into the final field of 50, and came to the last race of the contest sixth in the standings. He liked a colt named Junction whose speed and breeding figured to help him on the sloppy track and with nothing to lose he ventured his whole imaginary bankroll. When Junction splashed to an easy victory, Blum found himself being ushered before the network television cameras and being hailed as New York's champion handicapper. "Where's the money?" Blum demanded.
The next morning Blum went to a bank (where he cashed his $10,000 check), to the Z and Y Trucking Company (where he said goodbye) and to an airline office (where he bought a ticket to Las Vegas). He sensed that gamblers' fortunes runs in cycles, and that the handicapping contest might have been a harbinger of things to come.
"I threw my suitcase on the bed and went to the dice table at Caesar's Palace," Blum said. "I'd won about $1,500 when the dice came to me. I held the dice for an hour and 20 minutes. I felt like superman."
Blum came back to New York four days later with a $15,000 profit from the dice table and with those former trips to Household Finance now seeming like a vague bad dream from the distant past. He not only was prosperous; he was a celebrity.
In Vegas, everybody had recognized him from his national television appearance. At the New York tracks, he began to appear regularly on Harvey Pack's closed circuit television show, with Pack goading the fans by saying, "Here he is, the man who beat you all the best horseplayer in New York Marty Blum." And Blum waving a cigar wearing his omnipresent cowboy hat bulging shirt and faded blue jeans, the very picture of a busted-out sickie horseplayer, would raise one finger to signal, "I'm No.1."
Blum parlayed his success into further success. A New York paper, News World, financed by the Unification Church of the Rev. Sun Myung Moon, hired him: Blum is the first Moonie handicapper. A publisher has approached him about doing a book.
As incredible as these developments might seem, Blum is not surprised by them. He has had ample previous experience with the mysterious workings of fortune, and he knows that this is fate's way of getting him even in life. "I've been a degenerate so long and lost so much money that they owe me this," Blum said. "I think I deserve everything that's happened."