High in the grandstands at Agua Caliente, in one of the line of small, plain officials’ boxes that look down on the dog track and the larger horse track that surrounds it, Paul Hartwell drew on the 212,341st cigarette of his chain-smoking life and studied the scene below. It was a scene quite familiar to him, for if there are things he has seen more of than cigarettes, they are greyhounds.
Presently the secretary of racing for greyhounds at Agua Caliente, Hartwell has spent the majority of his fifty-four years at greyhound tracks, the last nineteen working at Caliente while living in Coronado, and the years before that traveling among dozens of tracks in the U.S. and working in almost every capacity one can at a track, save that of falling to all fours and chasing the mechanical bunny. “My grandfather started training dogs in the early Twenties,” he explained, “and my father began his career as a race official not long afterward. I was practically born at the track, and I had jobs at tracks before I was a teen-ager.”
The name Hartwell is well known on the racing circuit; Paul’s father invented the complicated system of grading dogs so that they race only against dogs of similar abilities, and his work earned him a place in the Greyhound Racing Hall of Fame in Abilene, Kansas, one of only five men so enshrined and the only racing official among them. Paul Hartwell’s lifelong association with racing and his many years of listening to his late father’s stories have qualified him for the project of compiling a history of greyhound racing, a job near completion in the form of a book entitled The Rabbit Is a Dream, but one needs to probe this soft-spoken man to discover why he is considered the most knowledgeable of people on the subject of greyhound racing. Not long ago, before the evening’s first race, Hartwell lit another cigarette on the way to a quarter million and took time for some explanation.
“Greyhounds are pretty close to being the oldest surviving breed of dog on earth. There are wall reliefs of them in the tombs of the pharaohs in Egypt. The aristocrats there used them as hunters because they were, and still are. great sight hunters. I mean, they hunted by sight and not smell; they were called gazehounds for that reason. But they were also used for sport, for chasing rabbits across a field. The contest was to see which dogs were the best at catching the rabbits, and that was the beginning of the sport of coursing.
“Coursing was eventually carried on all through Europe by the ruling classes — greyhounds were almost always the exclusive property of aristocrats — and it became popular and well organized in England in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth centuries. One fellow, a Lord Orford. organized a coursing society that became quite a big deal, but the poor man let it get to him. He actually lost his mind trying to breed better and better dogs. The story goes that he even tried to breed a greyhound with a bulldog, and to his tremendous disappointment ended up with a long, skinny animal with very short legs, no speed, and a tendency to fall over sideways. Can you imagine?” He laughed and turned back to the window of the judges’ box to watch the opening race.
On the track below, the recorded trumpet march plays through tinny loudspeakers that squeeze the music into a kind of grand squawk, something less than the intended triumphal announcement, but it is enough. The crowd moves quickly to the rail at the track’s edge to view the parade of nervous animals, who look more like captives than contestants — tethered strictly on short leashes by “lead-out boys”; faces stuffed into ponderous leather muzzles; colored, numbered blankets strapped across their midsections. They seem hardly more than twitching assemblages of muscle and bone as they walk like a reluctant fashion parade of meat before hungry buyers. The walk carries across the finish line and around the first pair of turns; the animals lightly pad the soft dirt track as they move indecisively under the lead of the stewards.
The train stops at the far straight and pauses while an announcer calls out in English the minutes left before post time. The most eager of the gamblers are swiftly to the windows to place bets; the ones less sure wait for another close look and study the glut of statistics in their programs. The large digital toteboard across the track sparkles in the night with numbers indicating the progress of the wagering and the changing odds. On some imperceptible cue, the patrol judge, a steward of higher authority who leads the march and handles no dog, starts the parade back the way it came until it reaches the middle of the near straight, the home stretch, where it stops and faces the grandstand. From the rail, the dogs are almost near enough to be touched, and so distinct and bare are the elements of their bodies that one has the feeling of viewing not a dog but the X ray of a dog — the too-sharp curve of the belly up to the hindquarters; the thick, tense lines of muscle showing through the hind leg; the thin whip of tail. They are not dogs now, but exotic animals who look confused, captured, removed from their particular element, waiting impatiently to be returned to it.
The dogs are walked to the row of colored boxes at the starting line, where there is another brief wait. Suddenly the lights go up, the announcer says something in English that no one hears, the lead-outs lift their dogs by their hindquarters and literally throw them into their assigned boxes, then run for the first turn. Frantic spectators race for the betting windows as the announcer lectures on the need for placing bets immediately. People who had intended only to watch are moved by an unseen yet common force to run to make bets of their own.
Now a faint squeaking sound is heard, a mechanical squeak as from a poorly oiled wheel. In the dark of their boxes, the dogs hear the familiar, adrenalin-triggering sound before the people do. but the people see its source first — a bobbing white arm and attached figure sliding along the infield rail, along the far stretch, into the third turn, now the fourth, slowing past the start line, where the dogs see it through the slots in their box doors. The mechanical rabbit accelerates and, simultaneously, the doors to the start boxes fly open in unison. A rush of animals bursts onto the track, flashing to top speed almost immediately, it seems, pointing at the streaking white form ahead. They are down the first stretch in a blur of brindle and gray and brown and black, and they hit the first turn hard, like a single furious muscle pumping and straining at its skin, now tearing itself apart with violent internal collisions. In a great splash of dirt, the outside dogs are bumped farther out. They stumble. One sprawls in a vicious high-speed tumble and is lost from view in the dust.
The pack carries on around the turn into the far straight, stringing out into a flowing line, straining after the quarry that flies on just a few yards beyond their noses. They charge into the final straight, running slower than when they began but still faster than one imagines anything should be able to run. Little more than thirty seconds after the start, they rush across the finish line, less than a second separating the first- and last-place dogs after a run of 546 yards.
Hartwell made some quick notes on a tally sheet and turned back. “That dog that won likes the number-one post position. Wins every time he’s in it. The number-one hole produces the most winners, gives a dog a chance to get out away from the pack early and down to the rail. A lot of bumping and confusion can take place in the slots closer to the middle.
“Coursing. Well, they coursed greyhounds in America, too. The dogs were popular with farmers in the Midwest, the plains, where there was a big problem with thousands of jackrabbits destroying crops. The dogs were used to hunt the rabbits and later in coursing for sport. But there were problems with coursing and the solutions to those problems led straight to the development of modem greyhound racing.
“The first difficulty was that the spectators at a coursing match didn't get much of a look at the dogs. The courses were just long, straight fields and the dogs were over them pretty fast. The second problem was that people began to complain about the slaughter of live rabbits in the matches. Well, you know as well as I do that the protestors were the same hypocrites who raised vegetables from fragile seedlings, nursed ’em to maturity, then captured and murdered the lot for salads. And yet they were worried about a few nasty jack-rabbits.” Hartwell laughed and coughed simultaneously, then stood up and led the way to another of the adjoining cubicles, and he pointed into it. “This is how the lure is run. Gaston is our lure operator.” Gaston Diaz waved from the comer near the window, where he sat at a large metal device shaped in a half-circle, with a control arm extending out across it from its center. The device is actually a large electrical rheostat with which the operator controls by hand the progress of the mechanical rabbit on the track. “In a much more primitive form, this is how O.P. Smith satisfied those vegetarians,” Hartwell said. “And he fixed the problem of watching a race by making the track round so that from a single grandstand area, a person could have a good look at the dogs the whole race through. In 1919 Smith and a man named Sawyer opened the first modem greyhound racetrack at Emeryville, up near Oakland.”
Suddenly, Diaz moved from his seat to the door and closed himself in; the second race was about to begin and the lure operator had to assure that his work would not be obstructed. Hartwell returned to his box and watched as a small female longshot came from far behind with a tremendously swift stretch drive and won by a head. He duly recorded the order of finish and continued his informal seminar.
He noted that in 1925, there were no more than eight greyhound tracks in operation in the U.S., but in that year the track at Hialeah, Florida, offered an innovation that changed the course of greyhound racing and imbued it with its lasting character as a blue-collar sport. The innovation was night racing, racing under electric lights, and with it the working man, whose days were taken up with a job from which there were no afternoons off, was able to finish work, have dinner, and then head for the racetrack with the rent money. The change was so dramatic and influential that by 1928 the number of American tracks had expanded to thirty-five and greyhound racing was here to stay. Indeed, the latest figures available, from the official tax records of forty-six racing associations at forty-four U.S. tracks, show that in 1979, more than twenty-one million people attended greyhound racing meets and wagered about two billion dollars.
“Yes, sir, things are a whole lot different from the way they once were,” Hartwell declared, and thankfully, one guesses. “At O.P. Smith’s first track the distance was only three-sixteenths of a mile. They’d run two dogs at a time out of a total of maybe sixteen to twenty-five, but all of them would race in a day. Then the winners would race off again and again until there was one winner left. Tulsa went up to six-dog races, and by ’22 or *23 Hialeah was racing the standard eight dogs.
“Most of the tracks were small in the early days, except for Chicago, where the handles [dollars wagered] were probably good size even for today, but exact figures just weren’t available. There was no supervised pari-mutuel system then, and the sizes of the handles were among the most closely guarded secrets in history.
“There were no photo-finish cameras, either, and judges at the finish line were responsible for deciding close races. You can imagine the problems that created. One day my father was judging at a race at the Harrison track in Ohio, and with him in the box was a dignified old gentleman in his sixties, who was actually a horseman. A controversial call was made on one of the finishes and about a thousand angry fans gathered around the judges’ box and screamed at the old man, thinking that he was in charge. Well, the old fella turned to my father and said, ‘Yes, sir, it’s a nice business, this dog racing business. I’m sure I 'm going to like it. ’ Then four of the dogmen came down to the finish line and stood up on the rail. My father said he wasn’t sure what four men could do against a thousand, but it was nice to see a friendly face. A full-scale riot was averted when a fan and one of the dogmen got into an argument; they went outside to settle the matter and everyone followed to see the fight.’’
According to Hartwell, the first photofinish cameras were not in use until just before World War II; and then, because they were nothing more than high-speed motion picture cameras with a standard shutter and film-frame arrangement, they left some parts of the dogs’ progress unphotographed — that is, between frames. Often the relative positions of the dogs at the exact point of the finish would be left out. In another of the officials’ boxes at Caliente. Hartwell introduced Ron Shook, the track’s cameraman, who explained how the problem has been solved. “Here and at most tracks we use what's called a ‘strip camera.’ With the lens aimed at the finish line and the lens aperture remaining constantly open, the film runs along behind the lens in the opposite direction that the dogs are running, and we get a complete picture of every dog and his relation to the other dogs and to the finish line. A timing signal recorded on the film also gives me the dogs’ times to hundredths of a second. The film we use was originally developed by Kodak and used by NASA and other people to record oscilloscope tracings and to produce the results rapidly. I can develop the film at 140 degrees in two and a half seconds.”
Among other innovations Hartwell has seen is the present braking system for the mechanical lure, and its method of sliding behind a see-through barrier and squeaking like a rabbit. After the race is run, the dogs follow “Pepito,” the Caliente rabbit, to his transparent hutch, where they can see and hear him. and they naturally gather there and thus make it easy for their lead-out boys to catch and leash them. The system was developed by a man named Aldritt after World War II, and it eliminated the previous “curtain” system. “Before Aldritt, there was a two-curtain setup for catching the dogs after the race, ” Hartwell explained. “The curtains were heavy canvas things with sandbags attached along the bottoms for weight. After the dogs passed the first turn, a man would pull the curtain there nearly all the way across the track and leave just enough space for the rabbit to get through when he came around again. When the rabbit passed, the man would hustle the curtain the rest of the way closed and the dogs would stop when they got to it. Then another curtain would be closed behind them and the lead-outs would chase around inside there until they had their dogs. The new system is a thousand percent better.
“I remember being a lead-out boy at one track when I was a kid. and there was one dog in particular who was big and crazy, and the boys had a tough time catching him between the curtains. Well, they knew I was pretty good with the dogs and they finally gave me the job of handling this dog. That son-of-a-gun was about as big as I was and he'd run back and forth in there and then run right at my legs and knock me down. He’d knock me down at least once every time. Later, when I was older, I was judging at a track and we were getting ready to start a race when somebody pointed out that the first curtain hadn’t been pulled back off the track. I sent somebody down to find out what was going on and when he got there he found the curtain man out cold on the track behind the curtain. The dogs had apparently hit the curtain so hard that the guy who was standing behind it got knocked unconscious.
“Old Aldritt was a character. He had a great system and the best lure, but he was the worst lure driver. Just to show everyone how good his system was, he’d keep the lure out about two feet in front of the dogs, when it should be much farther than that. In the Fifties, I designed and was supervising construction on the track at Great Falls, Montana, and Aldritt did the lure system for us. I showed up on the site one day during construction and there were all my carpenters, getting paid a fortune per hour, sitting in a circle around Aldritt while he told them his life story . The curtains are gone, but the first turn is still called the ‘curtain turn.’ ”
After Emeryville, greyhound racing did not return to California until 1931, when two tracks opened in the Los Angeles area. By 1938 there were as many as ten tracks in the state, but in 1939, under pressure from the horse-racing lobby and the motion picture industry. Attorney General Earl Warren declared wagering on greyhounds illegal while the same wagering on horses remained legal. In 1976 a ballot proposition to legalize greyhound racing in California was defeated by the state’s voters after an expensive propaganda campaign against the measure was waged by the horse-racing industry. Their main contentions were that organized crime would follow dog racing (implying that horse-racing’s record was untarnished by such activity), and that dog racing was a cruel industry in its use of live rabbits in training greyhounds and in its treatment of dogs who had outlived their usefulness as racers, that of “putting them to sleep.”
John Allen, one of Caliente's most successful trainers, had a response recently to the allegations by the horse lobby. “First, this is an honest business. I don’t know of any so-called organized crime involved in dog racing,” he said. “Second, the states where training dogs on live jacks is legal are the states like Texas and Oklahoma, where there are millions of jacks, where they are a menace to crops. In those places, they have about the same status as rats. Would you think anything of killing a rat? Even in California you can take as many as you want in the open field. Third, let's face facts, this is a business just like the cattle business or the chicken business or whatever. When a man has a laying hen that doesn't lay eggs anymore, he has to get rid of it. He can’t spend all his time looking for a good home for it and he can’t keep it, so he kills it. Some of our dogs do find homes, some go to farms as breeders, but the rest we just have to put down.”
Paul Hartwell added, “The thing that you never heard during the proposition issue was that a majority of a greyhound’s feed is horsemeat. Another thing they’ll never admit is that wherever the horses and the dogs have raced head to head, the dogs outdrew the horses. And I'm not talking about only at the same track; it’s true even if they race in the same city. Denver is a good example. The Mile High dog track there has always done better than the Centennial Park horse track. I’m not exactly sure why, but it's a fact and the horse people just wish dog racing would go away. We’re too much competition for them.”
The first dog track in Tijuana operated from 1927 until 1929 a few blocks from the site of the present track, which opened in 1947 and which has operated continuously since, except for a month’s closure following the fire of 1971. As greyhound tracks go, it is not among the most lavish, slickest, or largest, either in terms of attendance or pari-mutuel handle; nor is the quality of the dogs among the best — indeed, especially fast dogs are sent to race at other tracks in the U.S. where they can earn larger purses. On all of the above counts, the Caliente greyhound racing operation ranks somewhere in the middle of the pack, but it has some advantages that many of the others do not, especially for those whose business is training and racing greyhounds.
The track itself is relatively soft, and while it’s a slower track for that reason, it is also much easier on the animals, who are very susceptible to injury. The dogs are like heavily muscled human athletes in that they are prone to frequent muscle, tendon, and ligament damage from the sprinting and from the occasional high-speed collisions, and they are also susceptible to injuries to the pads of their feet. “Checking for and being able to spot less obvious, internal-type injuries are some of the most important things we can do,” said Ted Jeske, the trainer at Caliente for the very successful, Arizona-based kennel of W.D. Collins. “Some of these things are very difficult to see, and the dog sure can't tell you about it himself. It’s very important to keep the dogs in shape. They can get stiff and sore muscles just like people if they have to race without being properly conditioned, and, of course, you can overrun them, too.”
John Allen added that “some tracks are interested in showing good times from races and so they make their trades hard and fast, but it’s hell for the dogs. They wear out a whole lot faster.”
Allen, who is in his eighth year at Caliente, lists among the track's advantages the good weather of the area, the fact that the racing program is a year-round one, favorable across-the-border economics, and the kennel facilities. “At other tracks, you never know what kind of conditions you’re going to be racing in — rain, wind, thunderstorms, even snow at places like Colorado, where they race in the winter. How’d you like to race at a track where they have to plow it before the dogs can run? The year-round program here is great. Other tracks have seasons like at Del Mar, and when the meet is over, you have to move on to another city. It’s a hell of a mess to have to pick up a kennel and move it every ninety days, and expensive. Caliente’s cheaper for me in other ways, too. The kennel facilities are right here at the track. At other places you have to load your dogs into a truck and drive them to and from the track every night. That’s a lot of work and a lot of money for gas. It costs me about $600 to keep sixty dogs down here for a week. At other places in the states it might cost nearly twice that.”
While Allen owns his dogs and Ted Jeske is in the employ of a dog owner, they are among a little more than a dozen members of a somewhat inappropriately named group at the Caliente track who are called trainers. The identification implies to the uninitiated that these people train their dogs to do the things we see them do on a night at the races. In fact, Allen and Jeske are trainers more like the kind who hold that designation on college and professional sports teams. They are responsible more for conditioning and maintaining the health and racing fitness of their dogs than they are for teaching them how to run races before crowds. Jeske elaborated: “Dogs leave the breed farm when they 're a year or a little older, and they go to the training track for two or three months. There they’re conditioned to being led on a leash, wearing a muzzle, chasing rabbits and/or lures, and breaking out of starting boxes. When they come to us at the track, they’re usually somewhere between fifteen and eighteen months old and most of their training has already been done. We continue to school them if they need it or if they’ve been injured and not racing for a time, but our main job is to keep them in top running condition and keep them fed and happy.”
Apparently, it is not too difficult to keep a greyhound happy. They are turned out four times a day, fed one large meal in the afternoon, raced every three or four days, and allowed to sleep the remainder of the time, which is most of the time. Sleeping seems to be their favored activity. But John Allen noted that trainers can damage dogs by poor judgment. "You have to know what the limits of your dogs are. All dogs progress at different rates and if you bring a dog along too quickly, race him before he’s ready, he can get his ears beat off and be ruined. You have to know when to race him and what the best distance is for him.”
There are two separate distances raced at Agua Caliente, a 546-yard course and a 690-yard course. At other tracks the distances vary, and though few run shorter sprints than Caliente. some run courses as long as five furlongs, five-eighths of a mile. "They call those 'marathons’ or ‘supermarathons,’ ” said Allen, "and that’s a hell of a long way to run a dog. The fans like those distances because they think that it’s easier to pick the winners — you know, just pick the dogs with the best records for stamina — but they’re moving awful slow at the finish. A dog can beat a horse in a short sprint, but five furlongs is really a horse’s distance.”
There is virtually no difference between the abilities of male and female dogs to run competitively (unlike horses), and the mix among the racing greyhounds is roughly fifty-fifty. Like horses, greyhounds age quickly as far as their ability to race is concerned. Few greyhounds are worth more than their weight in Tijuana tacos beyond their fifth year, and that rather limiting parameter keeps owners and trainers always on the make. “Our biggest problem,” said Allen, “is to keep coming up with good dogs. Only about twenty percent of the greyhounds bred ever make it to the track, and of those maybe a third will make a profit. I’ve been lucky and had probably forty percent of my dogs make money for me, but that’s unusual. It’s a risky business. By the time a dog comes to me at the track, he’s cost me probably $1500, and if he doesn’t win any purses, I lose plenty of money. But a real good dog can make a profit for me of ten or fifteen thousand dollars over his career. I’ve been lucky; my business shows a profit. That’s not true for everybody.
“You never know what’s going to happen with a litter,” Allen continued. “Some will get injured, some won’t be fast enough, some oddballs just won’t run at all. And some will be fast but they’ll be fighters. When you see these dogs run, don’t be fooled into thinking that they’re just blindly chasing that rabbit without worrying where the other dogs are. They’re still hounds, they hate a pack instinct, and they’re competitive as hell with the other dogs. Some dogs will get behind early and give up, but others will never quit, especially if they’re in the lead and being challenged, and sometimes those will fight or interfere with the others to keep from being overtaken. A dog caught interfering twice, two different occasions, is ruled off forever. And it’s a shame because very often those dogs are the fastest. It’s that aggressive instinct that works both for and against them. If there’s ever a dog psychiatrist who could take those kind of animals and get them to stop fighting, he’d be a millionaire.”
Though there is considerable uncertainty inherent in many aspects of their trade, the trainers are unanimously convinced, or so they seem when asked, that they are part of a legitimate business that is run honestly, and John Allen is one of the faithful. “Anybody who thinks that tracks are not run honestly is just trying to justify why he’s losing money. I’ve heard people come up with some pretty wild theories on how the dog races are fixed, things like the people at the starting box holding the dog’s tail, or trainers wrapping elastic bands around the dog’s feet. Completely ridiculous. There’s plenty more chance for a fix at a horse track where there’s a jockey involved. It’s the old saying, ‘Never bet on anything that talks,’ which means that if people are involved, there is always the possibility that they can throw the race or the fight or the game or whatever. With the dogs, there is no human factor out there on the track. They just run as well as they were bom and trained to. And with the system of litter registration, ear tattoos, and random urine samples, there’s practically no chance of a ringer being brought in to race or of a dog being drugged.” Greyhound officials realized long ago that, to the average spectator, the dogs were a pretty anonymous lot and that therein lay a potential credibility gap. To solve the problem and to insure that the dog listed on the program was actually the dog in the race, a system of registering and tattooing the dogs when they were puppies was introduced. Now, before every race, the dogs’ registration cards and ear tattoos are compared by the paddock judge; if a dog’s card does not match his tattoo number, the dog does not race. As a further safeguard to legitimacy, urinalysis is used in greyhound racing, as in other sports, to prevent drugging of the contestants, though the system of specimen collection is probably more interesting at the dog track than, say, at an Olympic track. At Caliente, for example, red-painted imitation fire hydrants stand in the paddock enclosure, and when the dogs attempt to mark the phony hydrants as their territory, the quick-handed track veterinarian, using a plastic collecting cup attached to a long handle, makes deftly maneuvered surprise attacks to get the goods. Once collected, the samples are marked, sealed, and mailed to a laboratory in Arizona for analysis.
“It doesn’t make any sense for a trainer to try to drug a dog,’’ said John Allen. “You never know when your dog is going to be tested, and if you were to get caught, the penalties could put you out of business. I wouldn't even know what to use.” Paul Hartwell added, “Without a jockey, there’s a whole lot less opportunity for a race to be fixed. And there’s no real motive, at least at a track like Caliente. The handle here is small enough that any attempt at a betting coup would change the odds so much that you’d never make enough of a payoff to make it worthwhile. To slip in a ringer would mean that the trainer would have to know, and the pad-dock judge, the lead-out boy, and several other people. When everybody was done betting everything they had on the ringer, they’d probably have changed the odds so much that there’d be hardly any payoff.”
The “small” pari-mutuel handle at
Caliente averages $130,000 a night, twenty-two percent of which is skimmed by the track to pay purses, operational expenses, and to account for profit. The remaining seventy-eight percent is returned on successful bets to the patrons. Ah, yes, the patrons, the betting public, the heart and soul of the track, the starry-eyed, dog-eyed hopefuls, eternally optimistic, mad with systems and calculations alternately loving and hating the indifferent, numbered beasts. Gambling at the dog track is probably not significantly more or less difficult or profitable than gambling anywhere else on anything else. The winners are few, the losers are the majority; everyone wins sometime and some win consistently more often. John Allen pays taxes on his gambling winnings every year. Last October he played a “49er” ticket for a $42,000 win, but it is to be expected that a man whose business is greyhound racing should know which are the best dogs. The rest of us are left to read the racing program and try to make sense of the vast array of data it provides.
The racing program is a thing of beauty. Its listings on each dog include his color, age, parentage, weight, kennel, approximate starting odds, lifetime win/place/ show record, and data covering his last six races, including the dates of the races, the track where they were run, the type of course, the winner’s time, condition of the track, his weight, post position, relative position at various points around the track, finishing position, time, the odds he went off at, a short comment on his performance, the lettered class of the race, and the list of the first three finishers. In addition, at the bottom of each page is a note called “Pancho Selections” and the numbers of the three dogs Pancho figures will finish first, second, and third. Who Pancho is remains one of Caliente's great enigmas, but few bettors make a selection without looking to see what Pancho likes. It is not uncommon to overhear Pancho’s name being taken in vain by losers or praised by winners. When asked. Paul Hartwell declined to identify Pancho except to say that he had known him all his life.
Whether Pancho is your handicapper, or whether you choose to rely on one of the dozen Mexican touts who hawk their selections on the track’s ground floor, offering, in auctioneer’s Spanish, twenty-five- and fifty-cent shares of their expertly chosen two-dollar bets, or whether you decide to go it alone, you will probably be perpetually surprised at the results — surprised when you lose and surprised when you win. The advice here is to gather a few dollars together that you have never been especially fond of and would not be broken-hearted in parting with, then find a place stateside that carries greyhound racing programs and make your picks before you reach the track. Once there, drink a margarita with every race and place your bets as you had picked them. Do not change your mind at the track! Then stand at the rail near the finish line and observe the wonderful grace, speed, and determination of these animals, this oldest of dog breeds. If you lose, consider it payment for entertainment. If you win, consider it gravy. Either way, if you have followed the advice regarding the margaritas, you should be well contented and glad you came.
If, as happens, you become more than casually interested in the dogs and subsequently you find yourself buying programs, working on handicapping systems, comparing your results with those listed in the paper every day, going to the track alone on weeknights looking for winners, and so on, let the following story help you where it may. On a night not long ago, this reporter was at the greyhound track, on a weeknight, program in hand, absorbing the sights and sounds for the purpose of this story, also with a two-dollar quiniela ticket I had purchased just to have the feel of what the gambling was like. (I had never done this sort of thing before, of course.) The race began and I went to the rail to watch. Next to me stood a man whose race program caught my eye in the same way it would have had it been on fire. The thing was crisscrossed by hundred of different-colored lines and notes until the original printing was nearly illegible. It seemed as if a horde of avenging, multicolored pens had descended from space and chosen to make an example of his program. He was clearly a man with a system and a full-time job of applying it. The first race ended as he turned to me. “How’d you do?” he asked.
“Lost,” I answered. “How about you?”
“Won. Ninety-five-dollar quiniela.” He leaned over and looked at my program “You’ve got the wrong program. No wonder you lost.”
I looked at my list of dogs and then at what I could see of his and, sure enough, they were different. I turned to the front page and looked for the date. “No,” I said, “mine is for Monday night. This is Monday. I’ve got the right program.”
He looked for the date on his, then turned to me with a lost sort of expression. “What a silly son-of-a-bitch I am,” he said. “I’ve got the wrong program. That was a ninety-five-dollar mistake.”