If you can't beat the horses, why

JON RUDDY January 1 1967

If you can't beat the horses, why

JON RUDDY January 1 1967

If you can't beat the horses, why


As LONG AS THERE ARE rich men there will be racehorses. As Thorstein Veblen pointed out, conspicuous consumers will always covet these animals because they are exceedingly expensive and absolutely useless. And as long as there are horses there will be horse players — mothers, stepfathers, Stork Diaper Service delivery men, teeny boppers, aunties in funny hats, the whole bunch — out at the track throwing away their money. They do it in a very careful way. Uncle Ed follows the newspaper handicappers because these guys are experts who know what is going on, right? So he puts $10 across the board on Bay of Pigs. Aunt Marge scorns the tipsters because she is an intuitive person, and who the hell is Consensus anyway. She has this feeling about a certain horse. The feeling is mystical, visceral; but possibly it's related to the fact that the track is muddy and this horse she is putting a bundle on is named Run-A-Muck. Muck: mud— get it? Well. Bay of Pigs comes in and for one glorious minute Uncle Ed is Pittsburgh Phil. J. Paul Getty. E. P. Taylor. The trouble is. Bay of Pigs’ odds are one-to-two—it seems that everybody but Aunt Marge has money on him—so Uncle Ed makes $6.50 profit, which he senses is not enough to cover his previous losses of $93.

Run-A-Muck, it turns out, couldn’t beat a fat man in rubber boots. Uncle Ed and Aunt Marge leave the track with a bad case of the glums.

It was ever thus. Any mathematician will tell you that you can't win at the track. You can’t win with any system of betting over the long run. That goes for the Simplified Selective System, the Selective Odds System and all the other systems that horse players talk about in the track bar when they are not asking each other to stand them a beer. There is no way. Or is there?

There is a Toronto horse player who shall be known here as Mike Kolton, although that is not his real name, and this Mike Kolton had, by late October, made $18,200 after expenses in 1966 by playing the horses on the southern Ontario track circuit. And all Mike Kolton had to do to pocket these winnings was:

Profit from the mistakes he’d made during a lifetime of unprofitable gambling;

Work four years at three Toronto tracks cleaning paddocks and cultivating the tracks with a harrow—and cultivating the acquaintance of owners, trainers, jockeys, grooms and stable-muckers;

Compile two dozen three-ring binders containing all available information about every horse racing on the Ontario circuit, a job that

kept him busy eight to 12 hours a day every day all last winter;

During the racing season, spend seven hours a day studying upcoming races and their entries, up to an hour on every horse in every race he's interested in, and eliminating most races for one reason or another;

Get to the track early to check changeable factors most horse players never think of—e.g., wind direction, changes of weight and equipment, horses’ bearing in the paddock;

Disregard handicappers, tipsters, touts and his own gambling instinct and bet predetermined amounts on predetermined horses in predetermined races, his decisions subject only to his own prerace checks.

“When the wind is against the horses in the stretch, some fillies who are in contention will hit that wind and throw their head and change gait. Fillies are skittish that way. Another thing—fillies develop faster than colts. In the spring you give them the edge. In the fall, colts.”

One day in the summer of 1937, when Mike Kolton was 15, sitting in a restaurant in the west end of Toronto with $1.15 in his pocket, drinking a Coke, he picked up a newspaper somebody had left behind and turned to the sports pages.

“I seen this horse in there called Fate. It just caught my eye. I got in touch with a bookie and I said can I make a one-dollar bet and he said sure and that horse come in and paid limits. That horse, Fate, was the first 1 ever bet in my life, and often enough later I wished it had broke its leg.”

Kolton was brought up in an orphanage, quit school early, got and quit a succession of menial jobs. “I never had a job in my life that I liked.

Gambling I always liked. The first pay I ever got I put the whole thing in a pinball machine.

I started playing poker with the boys, always over my head. Then I spent five years in the army and learned a few things, but they were all about gambling.”

In the army, Kolton learned to cheat at dice and poker. But he didn’t like to cheat. "I didn’t give any of the money back, but I wasn’t happy with it. It took me years to get it through my head that what was bugging me was that it was tainted money.”

After the war Kolton went through many more jobs. Meanwhile, he was gambling, sometimes cheating against better cheaters than he, sometimes playing straight, and usually losing, ‘i was in such a state financially that I couldn’t take a woman out, let alone / continued on pape 36

HOW KOLTON MADE $1,114 IN NINE DAYS AT THE TRACK DATE TRACK I HORSE ¡RESULT WIN PLACE ¡SHOW ¡PROFIT LOSS Oct. 1 Woodbine Get Some More $50 $ 32 Butterscotch 10 $10 $50 85 Cool Reception 100 45 Oct. 3 Briarcliff Boy 10 10 100 160 Oct. 4 Aged Dust 10 10 100 $120 Muskeg 100 50 Albertarama 100 15 Baranof 20 60 48 Oct. 5 Blue China 100 90 Red Purse 100 45 Oct. 6 Tanwood 10 10 100 56 Butterscotch 10 10 100 50 Try Brandy 100 70 Oct. 7 Queen’s Birthday 100 100 Li’l Eddy 10 10 100 45 Oct. 8 Beech Time 10 10 100 131 Miss Sheila B. 10 10 100 59 Runways 100 40 He’s A Smoothie 200 30 Oct. 10 Tulran 10 10 100 67 George Royal 100 15 Cool Reception 100 15 Oct. 12 Jovial Joel 10 10 100 126 Jammed Lovely 200 60

a / continued on pape 36


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“The main thing you got to do is defeat your own greed”

marry her. I went with this woman for 19 years and I only married her six months ago.”

During all this time he was playing the horses. “1 would beg, borrow, steal money to bet horses, but I was what they call a pin player. I'd bet on anything, the length of a horse's tail. If a horse had three legs I'd bet him anyways. And lose. Always lose.”

Around 1950 Kolton decided to get in on the other side of gambling, where the money is, the smart money. “I started a poker game in a plush apartment on Avenue Road. I had a good reputation around Toronto. It was a legitimate game. I done a little bootlegging and I done a little booking on the side, and I was making good money. But I wasn’t happy. I would get up in the morning and shave and I wouldn't like the looks of my face. There was something sorta sour about it.”

More jobs followed, and another poker game in London, Ont. “Some guy got into that one one night, drunk, and he had a gun, and he shot the place up pretty good, and the police asked us to close up. I was pretty glad. 1 felt cleaner. But I still didn’t know what I wanted to do. My girl friend was screaming at me to settle down some place. Well, I went from job to job. And there was more games, more gambling and booking. Finally I decided I didn’t want to exploit anybody else’s stupidity by running these games and I got myself a job as a bartender. But I wasn’t happy, and I decided then that I was a gambler, and that I might as well be a smart gambler, so I walked out of that job at $125 a week and took a job at the racetrack at $50 a week. That was around 1957. Right away I was happy.” Mike Kolton, gambler, had made his commitment.

"Only a sucker bets with a bookie away from the track. He don’t know about jockey changes, post changes, weight changes. He can’t see the horses in the paddock. One will be wet and nervous. One might have a knee bandage. One might have his ears up and his tail out — he’ll want to go. A horse like that will often have an outrider to handle him."

Four years later, when the tracks closed in November, Kolton had only $29 to his name, and a feeling he was going to get rich. “I had picked up a lot of useful information around those tracks. And I’d started to study on my own. I remember Christmas that year. All 1 had to eat was hamburger, but I had a stack of Racing Forms to read and I was in my glory. And the next year I started making theory bets, mythical bets. I would analyze the horses with whatever information I could get, make these mythical bets and the next day figure out my profits and losses. At the end of the year I added everything up and deducted my mythical expenses, and, by God, I had made a mythical $8,000.”

The next year Kolton started to bet for real. He started with $60, and at

the end of the year he had cleared $6,000. “I was still learning. 1 was still making mistakes. I still am today.” He hopes to parlay last year’s profit of $18,200 into $40,000 this year, mainly by eliminating show bets. Most of Kolton’s horses have been coming in first and second.

“The main thing you got to do at the track is defeat your own greed. You see people there who are just desperate, women who’ve lost their pay, guys with holes in their shoes, pathetic people, and they’re climbing ail over themselves to get to the twodollar wicket and probably bet some two-year-old that’s never run before. If you want to make money at the track, never bet a two - year - old. Never bet a Daily Double. Never bet a six-furlong horse that’s going a distance. Never bet horses going for the



He got eight tips. But he bet on another horse —and won

first time on a muddy track, or coming off a dirt track and going on grass for the first time. Never bet on oneto-two odds. Never bet on a tip.”

The last time Kolton bet on a tip was two years ago. “I was standing in the paddock and Í seen this friend of mine, a trainer, and he says this horse is going to win, and I put $20$20-$ 100 on him and I lost. It was just greed. Now I take $410 to the track if I'm going to bet $400. That way I can't get greedy and bet on horses I'm leery of.” Kolton remembers the time he got eight tips on a 12-horse field from grooms, exercise boys, trainers and jockeys and put his money on a ninth horse, his own choice, and that horse paid $35.

The last time I saw Kolton was at his apartment on Jarvis Street, where we watched a televised race from Greenwood. Kolton had picked out a horse to demonstrate his method— you can't call it a system because he asn't concerned with making any mathematically based progression of bets. He is a horse player, not an odds player, dedicated to the proposition that all horses are equal, but that some horses are more equal than others.

The horse Kolton had picked out was named Ette Rule. Kolton said it was well-born and gelding—he usually avoids fillies in the fall—and he liked its trainer, and he had studied every available detail of the horse’s past performance, workouts, weights, a dozen factors, and he had compared all this data with comparable data about every other horse in the race. He had it all down on a piece of paper.

Ette Rule ran dead last all the way around to the clubhouse turn. I was feeling embarrassed for Kolton. Then, in the stretch, Ette Rule pulled up and won by a head. Kolton showed no reaction. He said he would never have bet on that horse because it was a two-year-old.

Kolton’s handicapping method involves class, speed and weight. He might handicap five of eight races on a particular day, checking out every horse in his books, which contain about 25,000 pieces of performance and other data clipped from Racing harm's and a bewildering assortment of other information, such as a list by year of horses that were considered good enough at birth to be nominated lor the Queen's Plate, and such miscellanies as:

"Hying Fury’s offspring have a tendency to wash out—-especially Flyalong;

“Selector's offspring seem to prefer mud;

“Trainer George Badame is also a veterinary surgeon.”

Kolton wants as much information as he can get—“when a horse last coughed if possible.”

“There are so many things you have to consider. At the administration office at the track there's the Y el’s List of horses not in condition to run properly. Bleeders, wind-suckers. sore legs. You make a note of these horses and when they run again you can assume they’re not in top condition. There’s the Starter’s List of

horses that are fractious and have got to go to Starter's School on the morning of a race. You avoid these horses until it's proven to you that you shouldn't. You make a note of new horses in a race but you don’t bet on them. You take a close look at the track. For instance, if it’s a cuppy track and mud will stick to the

horses feet, you have to figure on the horses that like a cuppy track. Well Now is a horse that's good on a cuppy track. On a fast track it wouldn't be in the money.”

Last year, Kolton usually made over 50 percent profit at the track. "I often hit 70 or 75 percent, especially when I pick a horse that every-

body else has ignored and I get good odds. I'm never scared off by good odds. I'm a loner.” One night he spent six hours studying a single race and couldn't decide between two horses, and the next day at the track he decided on an impulse to bet on one of them. But he wasn't happy— he doesn't bet on impulse anymore— and so just before post time he went back and bet on the other horse to win. They both came in. It was a dead heat. ★