An old racetrack adage says there are a thousand ways to lose a race and only one way to win. Now a footnote must be added to this truism. Willard Proctor, a West Coast trainer, has found a way to do both simultaneously.
Proctor is a veteran horseman who has developed many outstanding runners at the California tracks, and his experience has taught him to spot signs of talent and precocity in horses who have never raced. He thought he saw those signs last January in a youngster named Summer Time Guy.
The colt had been training extremely well, so well that he went to the post as a 3-to-1 favorite in his competitive debut at Santa Anita. But the race was one large misadventure. Summer Time Guy broke from the gate badly and failed to get into contention early. During the race he bucked his shins - the most common malady of young horses - and finished a soundly beaten sixth.
Proctor treated the sore shins and gave Summer Time Guy a three-month rest before he put him back into training. To his delight, he saw that the colt was better than ever. Summer Time Guy worked five-eighths of a mile in 59 4/5 seconds, then six furlongs in a swift 1:12 1/5.
Proctor is not a betting-oriented trainer; his horses earn enough in purses that he doesn't need to be. But he is smart enough to hear opportunity knocking. He had a horse who was in peak condition, ready to win just about any maiden race, and yet his record in the Daily Racing Form would say only that he had lost his one start by 8 1/2 lengths.
By the start of the Hollywood Park season, Summer Time Guy was ready to run, and Proctor entered him in a six-furlong maiden race May 12. The opposition looked dismal. In the paddock, Proctor told jockey Chris McCarron that he had stopped at the bank on the way to the track, which may or may not have been a figure of speech. He looked at the odds board and saw that Summer Time Guy was 8 to 1. Then he dispatched a friend to the betting windows on his behalf.
The machines to which the friend took Proctor's money were part of the American Totalizator Co.'s new computerized betting system. The machines are so fast and efficient that they are a horseplayer's dream. But at every track where they have been introduced, they have contained a few bugs that need to be corrected. Those bugs were causing some problems before the fourth race at Hollywood Park May 12.
At about the moment Summer Time Guy was leaving the paddock, an American Totalizator supervisor noticed that the temperature in the equipment room was much too high. He called the stewards and asked that post time be pushed back from 3:30 to 3:35.
But the problems only mounted during that time.The computer began to suffer from what tote officials would describe as a "dysfunction in the memory system": As clerks punched out the tickets, the computer's brain did not know what was being punched and could not calculate the proper odds.
At 3:35, the mutuel manager called the stewards to inform them of the nature of the problem, and suggest that the fourth race might have to be canceled. But as the phone was ringing, the gate opened and Summer Time Guy began to stalk the early leaders. By the time he turned into the stretch he had taken a commanding lead, and at the finish he was six lengths ahead, having covered the six furlongs in a sizzling 1:09 2/5.
Proctor had only a few moments to celebrate. Moments after the horses had crossed the finish line, the track announcers told the crowd: "Hold all tickets." Then he explained that the computer had failed, that the odds could not be calculated and that all wagers would have to be refunded.
"This can't happen!" Proctor exclaimed. That was the only time he was wrong about Summer Time Guy.