When You Win You Lose
The professor thought Man-O’-War was a battleship, but his horsepicking system was flawless..Well, almost!
FRANK MANN HARRIS
IT IS at the downtown public library I first run across this Professor Clements, whose sensational new system of figuring race track winners, and what, comes of it, I will now tell you all about. And when I get through I hope that certain so-called friends of mine will have the common decency to feel ashamed of theirself. For after you tip guys to a horse which wins, and they bet their dough and collect on same, getting shoved in the doghouse as a result is by no means easy to take.
Hut as hearing of me frequenting such a place as a public library will doubtless come as a big shock to many, it will perhaps be better to start off with a few words of explanation.
What I refer to is the sad lack of suitable spots where the many citizens of my temperament could sit in comfort to study over the vital issues of the day, or think of their own personal problems, such as room rent, or even just plain sit and ease their minds and feet. For unless you ever tried to find such a spot, you have no idea how few and far between they are.
So now you will understand how I come to be frequenting this public library, which 1 run across by chance one rainy day, and am much surprised to discover such a sjKit, with nice, quiet surroundings, and cnairs that art* fairly comfortable, although they could do with a few cushions, and even a whole lot of books and magazines for such as may care for that kind of thing. So, what with the lousy weather Toronto is enjoying at this period, 1 find myself dropping in fairly regular. And not being a great bookworm, outside the sports page and, of course, The Racing Form, 1 also soon find myself sort of studying the other folks sitting round, and more especially those I get to recognize as the steady customers.
From the first it is this professor who interests me most. He is a skinny old guy, with chopped-off side w hiskers of a kind you do not often see, but which I
understand are once very popular with high-class politicians and morticians and the like, and which give him a sort of distinguished appearance. When he looks at you through his big glasses you see two oversize pale-blue eyes wearing a faraway, innocent expression such as 1 only notice twice before in all my life. Once it is on an angel in a picture which hangs on my grandma’s parlor wall, and the other time it is on the stick man in a big dice game. His hair is grey and can do with plenty of cutting around the rim, although his forehead goes a long way up into it.
Mostly the professor keeps busier than two cats on a tin roof, covering sheets of paper with a lot of letters and figures. He only leaves off doing so when he goes to a certain shelf, hauls down a big book and consults it for a while. Once, after he leaves, I go and take a look at this volume, but the title on the back, which is “Logarithms,” means nothing to me, and the reading matter inside means even less.
The professor always acts most distant and reserved, and never has a word to say to anybody, although I do notice that whenever he is leaving he makes a most polite bow to the dame at the desk, who, I suppose, is the forelady of the joint.
Now anybody will tell you I am by no means one of these nosy people, always sticking their beaks into other folks’ affairs, so it must be pure chance, or maybe it is fate, that makes me flop down in the very next chair to the professor one morning. For an hour or so I figure I am wasting my time, as he pays no attention to me, and I can’t seem to think of any way of opening up a conversation. So it is quite a surprise when he suddenly nudges me in the ribs and says to me, very polite, like this:
“Sorry indeed to trouble you, sir, but if that happens to be the morning paper I see protruding from your pocket I should greatly appreciate the loan of it for a moment. It seems I inadvertently left mine at my lodgings.”
So I tell him I am glad to oblige and hand over the paper. And a few minutes later, when I take a look his way, sort of casual, I can’t hardly believe my own eyes. For what the professor is studying, with deep interest, is not the finance section, like I am expecting, or even the editorials. It is nothing but the race results and entrants on the sport page.
THIS immediately puts a new angle on the whole matter, and makes me feel free to speak. One time, on the radio, I hear some guy orating about how there is always a strong bond of brotherhood amongst all those who have suffered deeply in some common cause. And while I naturally switch over to some other program without delay, I can’t help from thinking it must be us horse players he is referring to. Anyway, I pull my chaira bit closer to the professor’s and say: “That Arcaro is sure riding good again, isn’t he?” I say. “I see where he boots home no less than three on top at Belmont yesterday.”
The professor turns and gives me a blank look, like as if it might be Greek or Garlic I am addressing him in. “Arcaro?” he says. “Arcaro? Pray who may he be? I don’t believe I ever heard of the gentleman before.” Now this is most amazing, and no fooling; for you wouldn t think there would be anybody over the age of three that don’t know who Eddie Arcaro is. I
say as much to the professor, who just gives a little laugh at his own ignorance. Then he opens up and spills his whole story. I will not try and give it to you in his own language, as he is the kind that uses a heap of $11 words in his talk.
Boiling it down into regular English, it seems that . .'r some time back the professor is at what he derribes as a “loose end” while waiting for news of some important appointment he is expecting to get somewheres. And having what he claims is a superactive brain, which has to be kept busy at all times, just for amusement he starts dabbling with a system for classifying horses, although he says he never sees a real horse race in his life.
I do it merely to while away some otherwise idle hours,” he tells me, “and not with any serious motive. And, being a mathematician by profession, my system is naturally based on higher mathematics.”
“What else would you use?” I say, encouraginglike. “You mean to say you try and pick them by these— now—logarithms?”
‘Well, not entirely, although they play a part:,” he replies. “For by means of logarithms we mathematicians are able to solve, in a matter of seconds, abstruse calculations that would take long hours by ordinary arithmetical processes. I hope I make myself clear.”
“I couldn’t put it hardly any clearer myself,” I assure the old boy. “In fact you practically take the words out of my mouth. But getting down to cases, prof, just what is the real score? Give me the lowdown—does your system work, or is she a bust like all the rest of them?”
“I must confess it is still a trifle short of absolute perfection,” he says, sort of apologetic. “But here—see for yourself. A concrete demonstration will save
much explanation. In my experiments I have been taking the equines appearing at a different racing track each day. And here, for example, are my calculations for yesterday at—now what was the name of the place?—Oh, yes, at Suffolk Downs.”
Now I already know to my sorrow that the previous day at Suffolk is just plain and simple murder, with favorites getting knocked off in a manner that will break your heart. So I grab the sheet he hands me and take a look. It is mostly covered with signs and figures which make as much meaning to me as a similar number of hen tracks. But when I see the results of this figuring, my eyes come close to popping out of my head. For what have this screwball profeasor’s higher mathematicals done but come up with six winners out of eight races—and this on a day when there isn’t a single mutuel pay-off of less than four figures.
I am just about to cut loose with a holler that is bound to wake every sleeper in the place, but somehow manage to get a grip on my feelings in the nick of time.
“Like you say, professor, not absolutely perfect yet,” I remark, battling to keep my voice calm and cool. “But still, not too bad fora beginner. Now will your system do this sort of thing more than once, or is this just one of these miracles which never strike twice in the same spot?”
“As to that, you be the judge,” the professor says, hauling from an inside pocket a dozen more of these sheets. I see that they cover one track a day for the past two weeks; and as I paw through them it gets
harder by the minute to keep my hands from trembling and my emotions from going clean haywire. For this professor has come through with a system which averages better than 80% winners. His very worst afternoon he has five in front out of eight, and there are several days when he cleans the entire card, calling every horse that finishes on top.
“Professor,” 1 say to him when I finish going through the sheets, “this is somewhat interesting, and I would like to go deeper into it with you. But this is no place to talk in comfort, so what about me and you going out and having a cup of coffee together? Doughnuts, too, if you’re hungry—-and it’s on me.”
It pains me to add this last, but it is no time to be thinking of a dime or so, scarce though they are, with millions at stake. But the professor refuses, most regretful, saying he must screw back to his lodgings and see has this letter about his appointment arrived yet. However, he lets me hang onto the papers with his calculations. He also promises solemn he won’t talk to anybody else about his system before meeting me at the library the following a.m.
“Be sure and keep it dark, professor,” I warn him. “Don’t go spilling it to a soul. For if this thing is handled right handled like only an expert such as me can handle it there might be money in it. Maybe even real important money.”
“How odd!” the professor says. “Really, now, I had never even thought of it in connection with money. I assure you 1 have been dabbling with it merely as a pastime.” Continued on page 28
Continued from page 17
But deep down in those oversize, pale-blue eyes, away back behind that faraway look, just for a split second it seems to me there is a tiny glitter when I mention the dough—like as if even a professor might be slightly interested in the matter of money. And while these higher mathematics may be okay in their place, I doubt they got the same authority as ham—and when you happen to be from hunger.
FIRST thing I do after he leaves me is consider the matter from all angles. 1 realize I have bumped into the biggest thing of my career—something that will maybe mean millions— and I don’t want to make any false moves. I can still remember all the handbook guys around town I will soon be sinking the harpoon into, and almost pitying them, although not quite.
What first comes into my head is to say nothing to nobody, study out the workings of the system all on my own, and so have all the profits of my discovery for myself. But somehow or other it strikes me that doing so might be open to criticism, and hardly worthy of a man with such a reputation of being a square shooter, more or less, like I enjoy. Besides, the more I study the sheets the professor leaves with me the plainer I realize I will have to depend on him for the key to the thing. This will naturally mean declaring the old guy in on it; and after all he is the original inventor of the system and so possibly entitled to a small cut.
Such being the case, capital will be
required, and capital is the very thing I happen to be shortest of at the moment. So the next thing to figure is who I know that has brains enough to appreciate the wonderful opportunity I am going to offer them, as well as dough enough to take advantage of it.
Now I am personally acquainted with hundreds and hundreds of horse players, but the trouble with most of them is that they are just plain ignorant and will fall for most anything. What I mean, they are just as liable to bet good dough on the word of common hustlers such as Izzy Kehoe and Manny Swartz, who think nothing of putting out tips on 10 different horses in a 10-horse race, as to pay attention to the kind of exclusive and reliable information I am notorious for.
Still and all there are a few folks around town who can recognize real quality. They know that I got good inside connections and don’t recommend more than one horse to a heat, or two at the very outside. And what is even more important, they are not the type that get paralysis of the memory as soon as a race is over, and seldom ever forget to see that their adviser is rewarded, that is if my horse should happen to win.
So I make a list of a dozen or so of these high priority prospects and start calling on them at their various places of business, as they are all very highclass legitimate people and not any of your poolroom lizards or wall proppers. And I am greatly shocked at the reception I get from two or three of them, as they cannot seem to realize I am there to offer them the chance of a lifetime; in fact they will not even Continued on page 30
Continued from page 28 let me tell my story, but start bringing up all sorts of past matters, such as horses which I personally guarantee as sure winners and which later do not justify the confidence I put in them. But after considerable hard work, late that afternoon I manage to get five of them together in the back room of a certain spot I know.
At first they are inclined to poohpooh the entire proposition, having had former sad experiences with systems, as every serious horse player is bound to do at times. But when I show them the old professor’s higher mathematics they cannot help being somewhat impressed, as they cannot understand them any more than me. And when they start figuring what even a $10 flat bet on the nose of each of his selections would total, they are even more so.
Of course right away they want to know who invents such a marvellous System, and when they can have a talk with him; in fact Barney Donaldson wants me to call him up right away and find out what his figures say for the sixth at Detroit, as there is still time to get a bet down. But I soon make them understand that the inventor is no common tipster but a real scientist, who must be handled most dignified and careful or else he is liable to tear up his whole system and toss it into the trash can.
So after plenty of talk and argument the five of them decide to form a syndicate to handle the whole matter. It is George Bell who suggests this name for it, him being one of these mining promotionists, and forming syndicates being first and second nature with him. As for me, I am personally appointed to sound out the professor and find what kind of a deal we can make with him.
“Tell him we will cut him in for a percentage of our winnings for the first six months,” Jimmy Hoban suggests. But 1 tell him how the professor is expecting a most important appointment out of town,^ap^^lMpJrjbably prefer something hi the nature‘of cash on the line. Biit $iey refuse to advance me any dough for my negotiating, showing a suspicious nature that is most unworthy of Teal sportsmen.
The old boy shoWajup at the public library prompt the next moHving, and to get him into a proper frame of mindo for doing business I naturally start off by ice-watering his system.
“1 show your figures to some of the smartest financial men in town,” I tell, him, “and they pick many flaws in them. However, they believe you may have the germ oí ah idea, hut that it will take rhurffi time and expense to develop it into anything practical. So, as 1 am a very busy mail, professor, and can’t afford to waste much time on such petty affairs, let’s get do\yn to cases. Just what price do you put on your system? How much will you take to sell the entire shebang to me and my associates?”
For a minute or so he looks at me so innocent I am almost ashamed to be taking anything so soft. And then, without batting an eye, he says, “Five thousand dollars.”
If fhe books on those library shelves should hop down and start doing a rumba it will not come as a greater surprise; and the shock must show on my pan, because the professor says:
“I can see you are amazed. But you understand that I know nothing of such matters, so perhaps I havé set my price absurdly low?”
Now l Have been thinking of maybe offering him a couple of hundred, then adding a legitimate profit for my j trouble and turning it over to the syndicate. But when 1 go to work and I try to show him how ridiculous it is to
talk about any such money as five grand, he proves surprisingly hard to convince. In fact I have to argue so long and so strenuous to get him to see reason that the dame at the desk warns me no less than three times about talking too loud.
But finally I convince him that $2,000 will be absolute tops, and that he will be everlastingly in my debt if I can get him even that much. And then, when I report back to the syndicate that the Professor wants $2,500 and won’t take a dime less, I run into another unexpected snag.
“You must think we are crazy, to be ¡jutting out that kind of dough on what may be nothing but another of your pipe dreams,” Eddie Dowd says — a remark I rather resent.
“Let this professor give us his pickings for the next week as a sample,” Milt Sheppey suggests, “and then we can tell whether or not it is worth buying.” But 1 manage to convince them this will not do either.
Well, I will not bother you by describing all the arguments which go back and fro for near a week. The professor wants his dough before he will disclose the workings of his system, and the syndicate members say that they are not for buying anything blindfolded. But after enough battling to last a peace conference a month we manage to arrive at a plan which seems fair to one and all.
“It stands like this, professor,” I tell him. “Meand my associates are willing to take a gamble. But you have got to gamble a little too; although, knowing your system like I do, the chance you are taking is practically none at all.”
“Just what do you mean?” the professor asks. “I am a mathematician, not a gambler.”
“It’s this way,” I explain. “Day after tomorrow is the opening of the fall meet at Woodbine. As soon as the entries come out you go to work on them with your higher mathematics— and don’t forget to toss in plenty of logarithms. What you are to do is a cinch for a scientist such as yourself. We’re not asking you to pick us seven winners-or five—or even three. All we want from you is one solitary certain winner for that afternoon.”
“And what happens after that?” he aáks.
“You pick us the horse,” I say. “Then me and my associates bet $2,500 on it; and 50% of that bet will belong to you.^ Whatever comes back out of the mutuels, a full half of it is yours. In return, after you are paid off, you will slip us the full and complete key to your system, and agree never to spill it to anyone else.”
But somehow or other the professor don’t act just as grateful for such a grand offeras I am expecting. Instead of thanking me and saying what a wonderful break he is getting, he just drums with his long fingers on the table, looking sort of puzzled and doubtful.
“So you better get hot and pick one that will pay plenty of price,” I go on, to encourage him. “For just think of what a juicy cut you will get supposing you put us onto one of those long shots of yours, paying 20 to one or better.”
“Yes, yes, I fully appreciate that part of it,” he replies. Then he adds, very thoughtful, “But after all, the really vital and essential point is that it must be an animal which actually does win.” y
SATllR$AY arrives, and there I am at Woodbine with the professor in tow. 1 introduce him to the five syndicate members, who are naturally anxious to know what the horse is. But he tells us he will give us his selection a
little later, just in case he wishes to give his figures a last-minute going-over. So then I park him on a seat in the stand, where he will be out of harm’s way while I hustle around and try and do myself some good in the first couple of races, as he informs me that our horse isn’t running in either of them.
The first four races are run without a sign of action from the professor. But just as they are posting the opening odds for the fifth, he comes to me on the lawn and hands me an envelope.
“This is my selection,” he says. “And just so that there may be no misunderstanding, the agreement is that you are to wager the sum of $2,500 and I am to receive half of the total proceeds.”
“Correct you are, professor,” I assure him. “And don’t worry about not getting yours, as the guys you are dealing with are strictly on the up-andup, and wouldn’t think once of gypping you.”
Then I hurry over to the syndicate members and hand the envelope to Eddie Dowd, who is acting as treasurer.
“Here you are, boys,” I say. “Here is what you are waiting for. Probably something in the sixth or seventh, where we will have plenty of horses and lots of action for our money.”
But when Eddie rips open the envelope and pulls out the piece of paper inside, what do we see written on it but “FIFTH RACE — GOLD HEELS.”
Well, this is about as big a jolt as getting a« slap on the jaw from your sweetie when you are expecting a nice big kiss. Not that Gold Heels isn’t a good horse. The whole trouble is that he’s too good, outclassing anything that is running in these parts, and by plenty. He is so good that there are only four others entered along with him, and they are only in there on the chance of picking up place and show money.
“Gold Heels!” George Bell sneers. “Why, I pick that kind myself without waking up from a sound sleep.”
“Gold Heels!” Jimmie Hoban snorts. “The three star extra special of every handicapper between here and Australia.”
“Gold Heels!” Milt Sheppey moans. “If a bookmaker offers l-to-20 on him he is robbing his family with such an overlay!”
Still, no matter how screwy it appears, there it is and no getting around it. Gold Heels is the professor’s pick; and there is nothing for Eddie Dowd to do but go and bet the 2H grand, although, as he says, he can probably get bigger returns putting it out at bank interest.
I notice that the professor is tagging along behind when the bet is made; and he stands close beside us while the race is on. There isn’t anything to the running, as it is such a race as even a guy with a weak heart will take pleasure in watching, if he happens to have a bet on the favorite. For Gold Heels simply busts off on top, breezes around with his mouth wide open from the pull the jock has him under, and wins by as far as a strong country boy can throw an egg.
As he coasts across the line, I hear the professor cut loose with a yell such as I wouldn’t believe is concealed in that skinny old frame. Then he just stands there, silent, till the price on the winner is posted. There is a lot of sucker money bet, like always on a Saturday, so Gold Heels pays better than anybody in their senses has a right to expect.
“Two dollars and forty cents,” I hear the professor mutter to himself as the figures drop into the slot. “Let me see
—let me see—”
Then he turns to the other six of us,
wearing the only grin I ever see on him and says: “I believe, gentlemen, that' my share of the wager amounts to precisely $1,500. I shall be grateful if you will let me have it at once, as 1 have a most pressing engagement.”
Acting like he is in a kind of daze— which all of us are, for that matter— Eddie Dowd goes and collects, then hands the professor his cut. He pouches the dough, then addresses us like this:
“Many, many thanks, gentlemen. You have been most kind, and I am very happy that our little venture has ended so nicely. You have kept your part of the agreement to the letter, so I will do the same. So here you have, full and complete, the key to my system, and may I express the hope that it will bring you all rich and abundant returns.”
With this he hands over a big bunch of papers, which Eddie opens up and starts looking at, with the rest of us peeking over his shoulders. And it may as well be in Russian or Chinese for all the sense it makes. As near as I can remember the first couple of lines read something like this:
XOP (180*-R/Y) esc A%
2 sin A
4% X (abc-xyz) tan Y#XX
And it gets even worse as it goes on.
“What in the blue blazes is all this?” Eddie Dowd yells, making a grab for the professor, who is just about to leave. “We want your system, not your unpaid laundry bills for the last 10 years!”
The old boy starts apologizing most profuse. He explains how in his haste and excitement he has forgotten that the workings of higher mathematics are not as clear and simple to ordinary mortals as they are to scientists like himself. Also, he promises that within a few days he will let us have the system in a form that anybody can understand.
“You will do nothing of the kind,” says Eddie, most determined. “There has been too much stalling about this thing already. What you are going to do, and right this minute, is come along to my office; and when we get there you are going to show me exactly how you dope out horses if it takes till Christmas.”
The professor don’t act any too delighted at this, but Eddie isn’t taking any excuses. The rest of the syndicate decide they will stay for the balance of the card; and I prefer to do this too, as I know a horse in the seventh and another in the eighth that simply cannot miss. But Eddie gives me a very stern look and tells me to come along. “You are the one that started this thing,” he says, “and I want you around for the finish.”
UO IT isn’t many minutes before we O are at Eddie’s office, where he sits the professor at a desk, hands him pencils and paper, and then says, “Go ahead. Shoot the works. Show us just how you go about figuring a winner.”
“I shall be delighted to demonstrate,” the professor replies. “Here we have a copy of that useful publication, The Racing Form—and—let me see--here is a horse that will do capitally. Gingerbread, winner of the sixth race at Belmont Park yesterday.”
With this he starts jotting down figures and signs, but is quickly pulled up by Eddie saying:
“What nonsense is this? Use your noodle, professor, and get busy on something that is running tomorrow or in a late race today. What’s the sense of figuring out a race that’s already in the bag? Any fool can dope a horse as a winner after he’s won.”
“But that, my dear sir,” the profes-
sor answers, calm and collected, “that is my usual custom. That is the procedure 1 almost invariably follow.” “Your usual custom!” Eddie’s voice is now near a roar. “WHAT IS?” “Just what you said—making my calculations on the past rather than the future,” the Professor says, not turning j a hair. “1 find it ever so much simpler I to take a horse that has won, and by j higher mathematics calculate just why ! he did so, than to reverse the process. It is just another—”
“Will you kindly shut up!” Eddie cuts into the middle cf a sentence. “And now, you will please tie a can to all the oversize language and answer me a couple of questions in plain cr.ecylinder words. Are you trying to tell us that all those calculations we look at -—those sheets that make us fall for your supposed system—were made after those races are run?”
“Yes,” the professor says mildly. “That is so.”
“And all those winners that look so impressive day after day have already clicked before you dope them?”
“Quite true,” the professor answers. “Then to put it in a nutshell,” Eddie goes on, “in all your experience you never yet called a winner in advance?” “I think, iMr. Dowd, you are taking a rather hasty and ill-advised view of the matter,” the professor says. “At the very beginning I told our friend here my experiments had not yet reached the point of absolute perfection. L'p till then I had been, in the words of the philosophers, working frem effect to cause. At some future date 1 hope to develop my processes so that they will work equally well from cause to effect. And may 1 point cut that you are quite mistaken in saying 1 have never predicted a winning animal in advance. For, as you know, just this afternoon 1 did so in the case of Gold Heels.”
Eddie Dowd gets up out of his chair, and as he does so the professor also rises to his feet.
“Professor,” Eddie says, “I can’t just make up my mind whether you are the biggest and luckiest screwball ever let loose or a genius a lot too smart for us ordinary mortals. But whichever it is, my hat is off to you for the way you took us for the ride of our lives, so goodby and the best of luck. And listen, professor, if you ever do get that system perfected—for cripes’ sake go
and get rid of it somewheres else!”
The professor don t say a word; just makes one of those low, polite bows of his, pats his pocket to make sure his dough is safe, and is on his way. And when he is gone Eddie turns to me and says, “And now, as for you—”
But if I live to be a million I am never going to know what is the finish of this sentence. One look at Eddie’s face is enough for me. And while Eddie’s office is at the top of a fairly long flight of stairs, I do not remember touching a single step between the top one and the bottom.
As for the professor, I do not see him for near a month, and figure he must have departed from our fair city. But just the other day I happen to see him mooching along the other side of the street. At first I am inclined to pass him by without comment, but then I decide to hail him, as there is something that is puzzling me ever since our last meeting. Besides, he is $1,500 richer through me, and maybe will listen to reason.
“Professor,” I say to him after the greetings are over, “for a month there is something on my mind which I want you to clear up. On those dope sheets of yours which you show me, you sometimes have two or three lesers. And since I know now that you figure them after the races are over and the horses are in the barn, how is it you don’t always have 100% winners?”
“The answer is simple,” the professor replies. “There seem to be certain horses which, even after they have won, you cannot figure how they ever do so, not even with the aid of higher mathematics.”
I look at him a moment, thinking that for once the professor hits on a deep and solemn truth.
“Yes, indeed, my friend,” he gees on, “the longer and deeper I study this sport of horse racing the more I am forced to conclude that there are things connected with it impossible to explain by scientific methods. And by the way,” he goes on, “could you accommodate me with the loan of a couple of dollars until I receive a most important letter I am momentarily expecting? The fact of the matter is that I have simply a terrible afternoon at Dufferin Park yesterday—seven straight losers —and today I find myself without enough money for breakfast.”