One of the oddly comforting features of the racing world is the great quantity of human woe within it. Whenever a man is reeling from some cruel stroke of fate, he can always take solace by finding other horseplayers who are suffering more.

I was feeling sad and depressed after a costly 0-for-12 handicapping performance at Gulfstream Park on Saturday, and continued to mourn until late that night when a fellow horseplayer, Paul Cornman, told me about his day at the races. Suddenly, I fely as if my problems were trifling ones.

Paul had been having a difficult time since he came here from New York six weeks ago, but on Saturday he saw a double-barreled hope for salvation. He liked an exacta in the 11th race at Gulfstream, and he loved the trifecta possibilities in the fifth race at Pompano Park, the harness track, that evening.

After watching his Gulfstream exacta go down the drain, Paul dashed to his car and began the drive to Pompano. He was traveling along the Florida Turnpike when he put his foot on the brake and felt it go all the way to the floor with no response. Alarmed, he pulled over to the shoulder of the road and let the car coast to a halt.

He was less worried about the brakes than the possibility that he would not get to Pompano in time for the fifth. Understanding the perversity of fate, Paul knew that if he were late for the race, the 4-1-3 or 4-3-1 trifecta combination was a cinch.

Fate chose to intervene in his predicanent in another way. Paul had been stranded for only a few minutes when a red pichup truck pulled behind hem and the driver asked, "Do you need a hand?"

Paul explanined what had happened. "I've got a tow rope in my truck," the Good Samaritan said. "I'll take you to the next service station."

"Thanks," Paul said. "I was driving up to Pompano to bet on a horse and I was getting scared that I wouldn't made it."

The Good Samaritan went to the cab of his truck and returned a minute later. He didn't have a tow rope in hes hand. He had a large hunting knife pointed directly at Paul's midsection. "Hand over your wallet," the Good Samaritan said.

Paul surrendered $450 and when the pickup truck had driven away he condidered his options, all of which looked unpromising. He knew one resident of Pomoano and so he decided to chance the drive to his house. Paul crawled along the highway, finally reached his destination, borrowed $50 from his friend, and got they installed new brake pads that would at least get him to the track and back home.

With $22 in capital, Paul arrived at the harnass track in time for te fourth race. He didn't have enough money to play all the combinations in the fifth race trifecta that he wanted, and so he tried to bolster hes bandroll by betting on a horse in the fourth. He lost by a nose.

Left with$7, Paul took a do or die shot on the 4-1-3 trifecta combination. He watched with anguish as his top choice won, but his second and third choices finished in the wrong order by a neck. The 4-3-1 combination paid $210. It would have been a banner night, if...

Paul drove home broke, but he was sufficiently familiar with other tales of gambling woe that he could manage to be slightly philosophical.

"A friend of mine in New York was getting killed on the horses all fall." he said, "and finally hit a parlay with his bookie for $3,000 that would have gotten him out of debt.He went across town to collect the money, then took the subway back home -- and got mugged in the subway car. So I guess things could always be worse."