In a recent column, I decried the frequent breaches of etiquette in horseplayers' daily conduct. But one of by friends, Newsweek columnist Pete Axthelm, would insist that this is an incidence of the pot calling the kettle black.
During the last week of the Gulf-stream Park meeting, I doped out a 77-to-1 shot named Chargin Chili and told Axthelm and several other friends about him. The horse finished second, paid $42 to place and set up a $336 perfecta and a $2,500 trifecta payoff.
After the race, Axthelm came up to the press box and said, "Andy, I was just about to thank you and forgive you for the last terrible thing you did. But now I hear what you did to poor Jim Packer, and you're still a bum."
How could anyone so open, so generous with a 77-to-1 shot be accused of any inperfections of character? Impossible, I would say. But I will let the readers be the judge.
One morning at Saratoga in 1976, my roommate was burrowing through a stack f old racing forms when he shouted "Eureka!", having discovered one of the juiciest bits of information that a horseplayer could ever want. A maiden named Red Sam was running in the first race that afternoon and had a seemingly dismal record. But my protege had found an item in an old "Official Ruling" column o the Racing Form that said Red Sam's jockey had been given a 30-day suspension for "failure to put forth a reasonable effort" in his last start.
"Larceny is afoot," my friend said. "Just don't tell anybody. This one is just for us."
Before the first race that afternoon I went to the paddock to look at Red Sam, and bumped into Axthelm."You like anything here?" he asked. "Nothing," I lied.
After I had made a killing on Red Sam at 12-to-1, I could not resist gloating and showing friend the column that had tipped off his victory. When I showed it to Axthelm, his irate reply represented the last time he spoke to me for nearly two years.
Even Emily Post would have had trouble laying down rules of etiquette to cover the situation. Pete felt that my concealing the information on Red Sam was a dastardly betrayal of a friend. I felt that since I had not discovered the information myself, I would be violating a confidence to reveal it.
We had never been able to resolve the dispute, but when I told Pete at Gulfstreatm about Chargin Chili's esoteric virtues, the tip represented something of a peace offering.
After our discussion, I began to formulate my own betting strategy. I would bet Chargin Chili to win, but instead of playing him to place I would wheel him to place in the trifecta. I thought initially that wheeling him to win in the trifecta would be superfluous, but finally decided that if he produced an astronomical payoff I wanted at least a small piece of it. I wanted to split the $110 ticket with someone, and so I asked Jim Packer, "Have you got a loose $55?"
He handed over $55 before even bothering ask, "What have we got?"
After Chargin Chili lost by two lengths, a long-faced Packer approached me to offer condolences over the big trifecta payoff we had missed. I had to tell him I was on the way to cash a $2,500 ticket.
"Nice guy," Axthelm said later. "You offered Jim half of your win bet, but you won't give him a piece of your place bet." I felt slightly abashed but had to respond that nobody was restraining Jim from going to the window himself. I have a clear conscience, even if I don't have any friends.