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Book Review

Betting on Myself: Adventures of a Horseplayer and Publisher
by Steven Crist
DRF Press, September 2003, 288 pages

Steven Crist is well known in American racing circles as both a professional horseplayer and publisher. Making a name for himself as the "King of the Pick Six" while making television appearances alongside the legendary Harvey Pack, he became well known worldwide for his handicapping prowess and a disciple of Andrew Beyer's speed-figure handicapping techniques. Soon he made a name for himself as a writer and publisher, first with the New York Times, then going out on his own to found the now-defunct Racing Times and eventually buying the Racing Form, the publication he once hated with a passion.

In his autobiography, Betting On Myself, Crist reveals to his many fans his life in the business, a span of some 25 years. His first foray into pari-mutuel wagering started not at majestic Belmont Park in his hometown of New York, but at lowly Wonderland Greyhound Park in Boston while he was a student of Renaissance literature at Harvard University. Having had a successful night at the dog track his first time out, the rest is history. He honed his analytical skills studying metaphysical poetry and was able to channel his talents into studying the many numbers that form past performance lines of both greyhounds and horses. He wrote that unlike poetry, past performances are "something that was pure and straightforward and utterly without fakery". His experience as a writer for the Harvard Lampoon earned him a job at the New York Times as their racing reporter, putting Crist in a position many wish they could be in, writing for a major newspaper and living off their profits at the track.

Crist's memoir is a surprisingly fast paced read given the subject matter. His life story reads like an adventure, an exciting "behind the scenes" tour of the racing world. The highs and lows are many - the big Pick 6 scores and the tough beats, founding the Racing Times to great fanfare and then getting escorted out for "trespassing" when the publication was shut down, having a job writing for the New York Times and then finding himself unemployed and barely making ends meet through betting profits.

When he founded the Racing Times, the DRF was a very dry, difficult publication to read, with past performance lines which were next to useless and minimal articles and editorial content. Crist and his partners set out to right past wrongs, instituting such changes as full-color photography on the front, top-notch writing talent, and including such things as career records, increased lines of data with more workouts listed, the layoff line, 1/100ths of a second timing, and of course the Beyer Speed Figures. The Racing Times mantra was a short and simple one: "Substance over Form". With the exception of the 1/100ths timing (something old-time horseplayers just could not get used to despite the greater accuracy over the traditional 1/5 second timing), today's DRF is almost a clone of what the Racing Times looked like when it existed. Crist was years ahead of his time when he designed the past performance format for his short-lived publication.

Arguably, Crist's shining moment was when he was appointed to the New York State commission on racing under then-Governor Mario Cuomo. Although many of the recommendations failed, two that Crist personally made have survived to this day - New York racing's sliding scale of breakage and the lower takeout on win-place-show bets compared to exotics. The objective was so that win-place-show bettors don't get punished as much since percentage-wise they lose more to breakage than exotics players, but also keeping the state satisfied by giving it a larger cut of the exotics pools. Crist wrote, "I still smile every time a horse at a New York track pays $9.90 instead of $9.80, and especially when a show bet pays $2.30 instead of $2.20". It is very refreshing to see a professional player like Crist, who can bet millions of dollars a year in pick six and trifecta wagering, looking out for the little guys as well as himself.

Although the Racing Form still exists, it is everything the Racing Times was 20 years ago, including the man in charge. Racing fans everywhere have reason to be thankful that Steven Crist decided to go to a dog track one night in Boston, and forego a career as a literature scholar tp pursue a life in racing. His autobiography is a great read for racing fans who want to get a glimpse behind the scenes in racing, as he gives you a great account of what life as a racing writer and as a professional gambler is like, a rewarding lifestyle but not without its hardships. Crist has paid his dues and he now is reaping the benefits he has earned. His is a great story and a refreshing change of pace from the racehorse stories and handicapping books that have flooded the market in recent months. Strongly recommended to all racing fans, especially handicappers and bettors whose lives have been made easier thanks to this man.

Betting on Myself has a list price of $24.95 and is available from Amazon.com for $17.47.

Rating:     4.5/5

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