Eddie stared at the past performance charts for the upcoming race at the Hollywood Greyhound Track with the intensity of a man expecting to see a vision. He saw one.
"I've watched the No. 2 dog since he was a puppy," Eddie said, "and he's strictly a rail closer. When he's in an outside post he'll hesitate so he can drop over to the rail, but he won't have to do that from the No. 2 box tonight. The No. 1 and No. 7 dogs have the speed in this race and they both go wide when they hit the turn. The 2 is going to be behind them early, but all he's got to do is run straight to get clear to at the turn."
Eddie bet, and then watched the race develop as if he had seen a preview of it instead of handicapping it on paper. The No. 2 dog scooted through along the rail, won comfortably, and sent Eddie to the cashier's window to collect $1,500. "This was a relatively simple bet," he said.
Eddie was parking cars at a Miami Beach apartment house when he made the discovery that dog racing is a relatively simple game. For several years he had been going to the greyhound tracks once or twice a week until he was eventually able to eke out a small profit. Two years ago, at the age of 22, he decided to quilt his job and play the dogs as a full-time occupation.
He was brimming with confidence. "Whatever I'd done in the past, like school and basketball, "I'd done well," Eddie said. "When I took a look at the people at the dog track and realized that it was me against them, I thought that there were so many morons that there was no reason for me not to make money."
Old hands at horse tracks are used to hearing brash young handicappers make such pronouncements. They know that the brash young handicappers will probably be parking cars again in the next few weeks, because horse racing is such a difficult game. A man can spend a decade just trying to learn which handicapping factors are important, and then spend the rest of his life trying to master a few of them.
But even neophytes can quickly learn what dog racing is all about. Winners ae determined by the way races develop, by the fact that certain dogs will be bumped or blocked and others will escape trouble. A handicapper has to watch races to make note of the trouble that occurs, and to learn the running tendencies of the dogs. Then he handicaps races by trying to anticipate what is going to happen -- especially at the first turn, the scene of most of the collisions that eliminate dogs from contention.
Playing the dogs this way is a demanding full-time job. Eddie will not bet a race unless he has seen every entrant run in his last start, and so he feels he can never permit himself a day off. At Hollywood, which offers 12-race cards every night plus three matinees, he must scrutinize 108 races a week.
"I try to get everything out of watching races that I can," he said. "I take exact notes of who breaks in what way and I draw a little picture of the dogs' position as they go to the turn. When I handicap I try to spend two or three hours studing the program. In every race I try to anticipate trouble at the break, and I try to know who's going to be where at the first turn. I'll bet five or six races a night, whenever the dogs I like are overlays."
To Eddie, the beauty of greyhound handicapping is the absence of the human element. Dogs are very formful runners, and their performances are not affected by incompetent jockeys or larceny-minded trainers. (It is very difficult to cheat in a greyhound race, since the animals are quarantined before they go to the track.)
So Eddie does not have to compete at the betting windows against owners and trainers who have access to vital inside information. His only competition comes from other serious handicappers. "I'd guess that there are 25 to 50 full-time professionals here at Hollywood," he said. "During the winter you get pros coming from Wonderland Park, Colorado Springs and West Memphis. But with all the tourists here and the big handles, there's plenty enough money to go around."