History Lesson 2 - 28 September 2011
Original Source - Ask The Experts Board - click here

At one of the seminars at Saratoga this summer Richard Witt suggested I get hold of a 1956 book called "Across The Board", by Toney Betts, that had just been put back in print. It's available at Amazon, where I bought it. It's basically a very colorful collection of anecdotes from the 20's through 50's concerning horseplayers, bookmakers, gangsters, and everyone around the edges of the racing world. (Miff, it's right up your alley. You might know half the guys. Not that I'm saying you're old...).

Anyway, on page 303 Betts talks to "Al (The Brain) Windeman, champion of the speed charters, the Colonel James of the new generation". The Brain was out measuring cushion depth, because "the depth of the cushion affects speed".

Then he quotes The Brain. "You should know by now there's more slightly used speed charts around than broken-down horse players. It's easy to fix one up, with high OR LOW numbers (emphasis added). After you do that-- you need a track variant, and that differs from race to race. The composition of the soil and the moisture it contains affects a track's speed. I check the sprinkler wagon all afternoon, because I know the speed varies with every drink. Tracks near the seashore may change in speed with the tides. And the big thing, hard to figure, is the degree of attention the track had in the morning with harrows, levelers or scrapers.

"... Nowadays the tracks are speeded up for track records and big headlines. The soil is mixed freely with sand, and that acts as a sieve for water, and horses sometimes hang out faster time when a track is sloppy than when it is dry. Mud doesn't last long the way it did in the old days when the soil contained more clay, which absorbs moisture".

Betts goes on to talk about how The Brain adjusts his figures for wind, a practice begun by Colonel James, who used an engineer called "The Hat" to do it. James also clocked from the gate, and used run-ups.

So, a couple of things. First of all, this is further proof that Ragozin's claims of being the Father Of Speed Figures are demonstrably self-aggrandizing B.S. He stood on the shoulders of those that came before, as I did (except he missed the part about the track changing speed during the day). But that's not the interesting part.

What the hell happened? In Donaldson's book ("History Lesson", in the Archives here), which is from the 30's, there are not only explanations of how to make figures but an ad selling ones that are ready to use. The Brain talks about how many speed charts are around (above). Betts talks about speed figures being available in the daily NY papers. But by the 70's Ragozin and Beyer are counter-culture figures, and we (Thoro-Graph) are viewed as aliens throughout the 80's, outside the mainstream of handicapping. There are a few like Connie (The Beard) Merjos making and using figures, but so few, and so far under the radar, that Ragozin is able to get away with claiming he invented them. What happened in between? It's like the mystery of what happened to the dinasours. Anybody?