It was slightly before noon and horse-players in the paddock area at Tropical Park assumed the postures of their trade—they threw back their heads like turkeys in a rainstorm and drank in the sun and dreamily contemplated nothing at all, or they shaded their eyes and pored over agate type in the Racing Form's columns and scrawled notes to themselves in the margins.
At that moment New York withered under a blast of 13° temperature, Chicago suffered under a 6° reading and it was 15°-below in International Falls, Minn. and Lebanon, N.H. On the lake beyond Tropical's tote board white swans and sea gulls cruised about or beat the air and sailed a few hundred yards and sidled in for another freeload of tender shoots. The swans landed in front of the clubhouse and the gulls in front of the grandstand, of course.
There are compensations, however. The auto-borne horseplayer in the grandstand area is separated from a dollar more of his treasure when equipping himself for an afternoon of adventure. With basic needs—parking spot, admission, program, Racing Form and reserved seat—the grandstander puts out $4.50 before he makes the first cast at the mutuels; the clubhouse swell goes for an extra buck and. seldom uses the do-it-yourself parking system, and the luxury calls for yet another dollar. Since Tropical's clientele is thought to be largely "local" in nature—as opposed to the long-distance commuters at Hialeah and Gulfstream Park later in the season—the difference in cost to the customers is considered more important at Tropical than at the others.
Even so, on the basis of last winter's handle and attendance at the three Miami tracks, there is a curious statistical advantage for the sparkling but less commodious Tropical Park. It is that the average horseplayer at Tropical last winter came up with $115 worth of mutuel tickets per day; Gulfstream's players went for $109, and Hialeah—largest and poshiest and with the choice dates—shook only $103 from its quivering captives.
For the first 30 days of the current Tropical meeting, however, the average was a soggy $85 per head. Perhaps, as has been suggested, this can be attributed directly to the absence of Joe E. Lewis, the entertainment fellow. Joe and his penchant for long shots have meant more to the economy of Florida's gold coast than anything since the discovery of underwater real estate.
There is an excellent chance that the gap in the line of bettors left by Lewis, even if it is of some duration, will not be felt. Not so long as Tropical's president, Saul Silberman, can speed to the windows on his sturdy little legs.
The majority owner of Randall Park near that city and a trotting emporium at Painesville, Ohio, Silberman also is a horseplayer, which is to say he'd walk from Cleveland to Miami on his hands and knees to get a little action.
Most track presidents in this country roll their eyeballs toward heaven at the smallest hint that they, like their clients, might enjoy throwing a bob down the drain now and then. Silberman looks upon these gentlemen with thinly veiled disgust, taking the natural attitude that the track chief should have more fun than anybody, since he's eligible at every mutuel window in the joint.
One would think pressures of exceptionally late track closings and the early openings now in vigor for the East would put Silberman in at least a spiritual if not a financial bind. Not so. Silberman figures to get his share of treasure so long as snow flies north of Jacksonville. Meanwhile, there are horses to be played.
Last week, the chunky, aggressive Tropical president ricocheted around the Turf Club atop the clubhouse, darting between Sam (The Genius) Lewin, Charlie (The Aga) Cohen, Memphis Engleberg and Cheesecake Ike Burger. From these and the other veterans of Tropical's rather deceptive charms came tips in bunches, on the palms were coconuts in clusters and from the sky sunshine poured in a constant stream.
A horseplayer never had it so good, even one who paid $2.5 million for roaming rights at Tropical Park four years ago.