It wasn't exactly the Old North Church, but lights burning bright in New York's Chrysler Building were signals last week sending booted and spurred Paul Reveres riding off to rouse the nation. From Aqueduct to Santa Anita sounded the clarion call. From Narragansett Park to Hialeah, beleaguered faces rose from form sheets in alarm. Somebody, the word echoed through every Middlesex village and farm, is trying to abolish the $2 bet.
The signal lights which in a sense touched off this reaction appeared in the Chrysler Building offices of the Thoroughbred Racing Associations, an organization of 46 leading race tracks. $2 MUTUEL TICKET ON TRIAL AT FORTHCOMING TRA CONVENTION, headlined the group in a news release last week. The $2 pari-mutuel ticket "may be destined for the National Museum of Racing," the TRA continued, explaining that an increase in the minimum wager (say, to $5) will be discussed by the TRA at New Orleans beginning December 7. (A day that already lives in infamy, as many an angry $2 bettor snortingly observed. Quickly, before they were all in museums, we gave our own Paul Revere, at right, a real $2 ticket, on a winner which paid $4.90 at Aqueduct on Gold Cup day, to use as a rallying banner.)
Spencer J. Drayton, executive secretary of the TRA, explained amidst the gathering storm of indignation that abolishing the $2 bet was "something any good businessman would have thought of as costs rose over the years. Businessmen have to consider the future." Then he gave ground a yard or two: "The TRA is only going to discuss the proposal. That doesn't mean a single track will actually raise the minimum wager."
Indeed, the word from the TRA was no sooner out than you couldn't find a race track administrator who would ever consider such a thing. Drayton attended the meeting where the $2 issue was put on the agenda, but couldn't recall who suggested it. Out where the aroused public could breathe down their necks the tracks were downright solicitous. "The $2 mutuel ticket is here to stay," said Hollywood Park's Mervyn LeRoy. "Any move to do away with it would be disastrous," said Pimlico's Lou Pondfield. "Never," vowed Churchill Downs' Wathen Knebelkamp. "Unalterably opposed" was John Hanes of the New York Racing Association.
We couldn't agree more, and we can only hope the speakers are as firm-willed as they sound as they get ready for the anniversary of Infamy Day.
Statistically, the $2 bettors are the financiers of American racing because of their very numbers. They made two-thirds of the wagers at Hollywood Park last year, buying $600,000 worth of $2 stubs a day. They placed 71% of the bets at Santa Anita and 40% of the bets at Churchill Downs on that shoot-the-works occasion, Kentucky Derby Day. The worth of the little bettor is so well recognized in other countries that 30¢ lets you wager on a horse in England and Japan, 40¢ in France. The day the horse tracks of the U.S. ask customers to risk $40 a head on an eight-race card is the day they start driving customers away; also, perhaps, the day the race track industry upsets the delicate balance of legal and moral tolerance which now exists in its favor.
The TRA's own brochure about itself observes that "as racing's popularity grew so did management's responsibility to the public." Well said, gentlemen. Think of the long lines in front of your $2 windows and remember those responsibilities in New Orleans. Incidentally, that will be to your own best interests, too.