If Teddy Cole -- Theodore, if you want to get respectfully formal -- isn't the oldest handicapper in town, he would like to meet whoever is. He could use a little company betting horses in the Wilwyn Theater simulcast room at Laurel Park.
At 101, Cole, who lives in an apartment on Massachusetts Avenue, goes out to the track just about every day, impeccably dressed in a wrinkle-free suit and trademark bowtie. He has done most of the heavy lifting -- pouring over the day's racing program -- the night before, and his helper, Susan Gitow, writes down his bets and pushes him in his wheelchair up to his favorite pari-mutuel teller, Mary Betz of Crofton, at the bank of betting windows the track calls Line One.
Cole started betting horses 55 years ago, lured into the gambling life by three well-to-do brothers-in-law, and has never looked back.
"He was a successful real estate investor," says his son, Marshall Cole, 71, a lawyer from Potomac. "Before that, he was an auto dealer. This was a time in Washington when the boom had happened after World War II. He had one child and a forbearing wife, who let him do whatever he wanted to do."
The brothers-in-law -- Melvin Shlossberg, Fred Snider and Abe Cohen, all dead -- like Cole struck gold by marrying the rich Livingston sisters, whose family owned a popular area retail clothing company. They also did very well on their own in auto sales and real estate speculation. This allowed them to indulge their tastes.
"They were gamblers, players," says Marshall Cole. "Picture four guys getting into a big Cadillac, wearing Vicuna overcoats with cigars and snap-brim fedoras driving to Laurel, Pimlico, Havre de Grace and Delaware Park. Then, in the wintertime, they'd take the train and head to Florida. They'd have beachfront hotels, the wives would be stashed away by the pool, and they'd head out."
Teddy Cole smiles broadly listening to this, nodding. "It's not much fun anymore," he says. "Maybe I'm getting old. The four of us used to go all over. No more. Too old."
Marshall Cole says his father learned his betting system -- which he insists are the original speed figures -- from the brother of Owney Madden, the infamous New York crime boss, on a trip down to Hialeah, the once-swank (now-shuttered) south Florida racetrack famous for its flamingoes.
"We don't have to worry about talking about him," Marshall Cole says. "He's dead."
Teddy Cole and his son both believe all the handicapping, the playing with numbers, speed figures, odds and variables has helped keep him young. "Once Ted's friends got old, they had nothing to do," Marshall Cole says. "But the numbers and factoring has kept his mind sharp."
Betz, the mutuel teller, who has worked at Laurel for 30 years, says the whole place loves him.
"We celebrate his birthday [June 1] on this line," she said. "We'll get him a birthday cake and a bowtie. He's a great person, but he never wins."
Teddy Cole says he loves every bit of the handicapping life, "when you get the winners. When you get the losers, no damn good. Everybody likes winners."
His Preakness pick? Smarty Jones.