Early in life I realized I was an addict.

I was an impoverished undergraduate in Boston, without any betting funds, but with Narragansett Park scheduled to open the next day I was still eager to get my hands on the racing paper.

The Morning Telegraph, precursor of the Daily Racing Form, cost 50 cents in those preinflationary times, but my worldly resources didn't quite reach that figure. So I frantically started searching under seat cushions and rugs, and in old pants pockets, for the few pennies I still needed, and finally scraped together 50 cents.

This did not leave me any bus fare to get to the corner of Boylston Street and Massachusetts Avenue where the Telegraph arrived at 1 a.m. In the spirit of the young Abe Lincoln trudging to his schoolhouse I bundled up, walked two miles in the early morning cold, handed the newsboy my pennies and nickels, and walked briskly back home to plunge into an all-night study of the Telegraph.

Since I didn't know many other horseplayers in those days, I might have thought (had I stopped to reflect on it) that such behavior was a trifle aberrant. Now I know that it was perfectly normal. To a horseplayer, the Racing Form is an item of such importance and emotional connotations that it inspires passion. Nothing can drive a bettor into a state of such despair and disorientation as the deprivation of his beloved newspaper.

In the old days when the Form wasn't delivered to Saratoga until 9 p.m., there was virtually a nightly riot at Joe Deuel's News Room as horseplayers scrambled to get their hands on the next day's past performances. As soon as he sold out, Deuel locked the door fast. "You could tell people that you'd run out of milk and they wouldn't say anything; but tell somebody that you'd sold out of the Form and they were liable to go berserk."

Newsweek's Pete Axthelm had a friend who was sentenced to a lengthy vacation at La Tuna Penitentiary outside El Paso. He could accept the loss of his freedom with a measure of stoicism, but not the loss of his Form. So Axthelm mailed the paper to him daily, until it became a source of torture.

"Naturally he picked nothing but winners," Axthelm said, "but he couldn't bet them. Finally, it got too frustrating for him and I had to stop. I sent him a subscription to a breeding magazine instead."

One addicted student of the Racing Form I know is an otherwise normal Albany businessman named Mark Hopkins. During most of the year Hopkins attends the New York tracks, but he also loves the cheap racing at the Western Massachusetts fairs. On the eve of the opening of the Northampton Fair, he could not contain his excitement.

"The Form comes into Albany at 2 in the morning," he said, "and so in my eagerness to get at the dope on the $1,500 claimers I set my alarm for 2 a.m. I didn't mention this to my wife."

"I got up, called the newsstand to make sure the Form had come in, and drove there. But they had gotten the New York edition and it didn't have the Northampton past performances. By now I was wide awake, so I decided to drive to get the form in Hudson, N.Y. -- 45 miles away. They didn't have the right edition either, so I figured the only place to get the past performance for a Massachusetts track was Massachusetts."

"So I drove to Pittsfield, Mass., another 45 miles, only to discover that at 4 a.m. the whole town of Pittsfield is closed. So I finally gave up and came home at 5 in the morning. My wife was pulling her hair out."

"She woke up at 3 o'clock," Hopkins said, "saw that I wasn't there, started telephoning our friends and then called the state police. I couldn't understand what she was so worried about. What else would I be doing at that hour but looking for the Racing Form?"