De Quincey ate opium; I play the daily double. Recently I won the 200th daily double of my lifetime. This represents an investment over a period of 18 years, occasional at first, regular during the past five. On the occasion of my 100th daily double five years ago some kind friends gave me a party. It might be said that I should have given the party, but a perspicacious lady in the group—also an occasional horseplayer—remarked: "They ought to take up a collection for a man who has won 100 daily doubles." She was right. I never have dared keep a budget of the number of tickets involved in my passion, but it must amount to about 2,000.
Once a friend with the mind of a bookkeeper, with whom I was working at the time, started keeping a record of my bets, daily doubles and otherwise, in a nasty little notebook. I stole the notebook one day while she was powdering her nose. I was afraid that if knew exactly how much money I was losing annually might stop betting, and I wouldn't want to do that.
My daily double addiction began quietly in 1943. I had a war job that took all my time six days a week. On Thursday, my day off, I took to going to the track and after some weeks won my first daily double. It paid $13.60, a chalk beginning. Then, with visions of sugarplums dancing in my head, started betting doubles at the track, and through friends when I could not make it myself.
I don't like the manners or methods of some bookmakers, but sometimes they are the only game in town. I think most of them should be sent to finishing school at nights when the only action is on trotters. (I seldom go to the harness races; the action makes me nervous, for the animals are like a bunch of big Afghans pirouetting and doing entrechats.) Bookmakers set arbitrary maximums for long shots—and 100 to 1 is the best they'll give for a daily double. I haven't often hit a double that paid higher than $200 for $2 at the mutuel machines—though once it was $282.50—but I don't see why bookmakers should not be legalized and compelled to pay track odds.
The smart-money men at racetracks scorn the daily double. To them it is an amateur's vaudeville act, and they may be right. They prefer to parlay with horses in other races besides the first and second. However, the daily double usually pays more than a $2 win parlay, and logically I have never been able to see why, if a man can win two races in a day, they shouldn't be the first and second. I have won some good parlays, but for me they never have had the triumph and excitement of winning the daily double.
There are few pleasures equal to sitting in your seat at a racetrack with a daily double ticket in your pocket, waiting for the second race after your horse in the first race has come in and paid a good price. You begin to have lovely daydreams. If the horse in the second race clicks—and I am always confident that it will—you can take the whole family to dinner and might even pay off that personal loan at the bank before the final installment is due. Then there is the heartsickening—but stirring—sensation of seeing your horse lead by a couple of lengths as they come to the stretch turn and then get beaten at the wire by an animal that never belonged in the race. One day my horse in the second race was leading by four lengths coming down the stretch, and I was getting ready to go to the cashier's window and collect $187 for $2. Suddenly, his left foreleg buckled under him, his leg broke and he threw his own jockey and four others. I was sorry for the horse, who had to be destroyed, and for the jockeys, who were bruised, but I was also sorry for myself.
I once sat at the track with a daily double ticket worth $66 in my pocket. In front of my eyes the horse in the second race, Ten Goal, threw Dave Gorman and ran all the way round the track before he was captured. A burly colored man beside me, who also had a ticket on that combination, shouted: "Oh, I'd sell my ticket for $1! I'd almost give it away!" They put Dave Gorman up on Ten Goal again, and he came out of the gate first, led all the way and won by several lengths. My companion and I got up exuberantly, shook hands solemnly and bought each other drinks.
Among my victories have been three $10 daily doubles, on one of which I got $336 for $10. I have sat—quietly I hope—with a $10 daily double ticket worth $970 if the horse in the second race won. He finished next to last.
There are people who go to racetracks to bet only the daily double and leave after the second race, win or lose. But that seems to me like going for heroin instead of marijuana (I bet other races, too). One day I happened to sit next to a man who played only daily doubles. He told me he always bet the numbers on the parking ticket of his car. The combination lost that day, and he promptly got up, saying, "You can't win 'em all," bade me goodby and made for his car. Barmen and waiters at tracks have identification badges with two numbers. Many of them bet their badge numbers every day. Those of their patrons who are drunk enough by the time the daily double windows are ready to close bet the same way.
I don't bet bartenders' badges, my age or my house or telephone numbers. Perhaps I should. Once was tempted to bet a friend's age, but didn't like the horse in the second race. The mystic numbers came in, and I would have had $476.30 for $2 if I had been superstitious instead of rational. There are people who take at least one ticket oh the same combination of two numbers everyday. My friend Hilda, who sells sandwiches at all New York Thoroughbred tracks, told me of an elderly lady customer of hers who always bets 9 and 9. She hit twice in one year, and one of the tickets was worth more than $1,000—more than enough to give her triple her money invested throughout the season. My seat companion in a race train one day told me a sad story: his father-in-law always took 7 and 8 in the double in New England. One day his daughter asked him to be her baby-sitter and, feeling grand-fatherly, he could not refuse. The combination of 7 and 8 came in that day, and he would have had $670 for his $2 if he had been at the track. He has never sat with a baby again, and he finds it hard to speak civilly to his daughter or her husband for having had that baby in the first place.
Women vs. horses
The hunch daily double players are disgusting to me. I once saw a woman win a big double with a horse in the second race called Uncle Ev, which she bet because she had an Uncle Ev. The horse won, and her double was worth $573.80. I thought she should have been spanked. I almost lost the friendship of a woman who insisted on betting 2 and 2 because those were the numbers on the badge of the porter in the train she had come to New York on from Florida, and because she had noticed a telegraph pole en route that also had the numbers 2 and 2. I made cutting remarks about woman horseplayers, she turned into Christabel Pankhurst and would not speak to me. After the 2 and 2 combination clicked and she had collected $238 for $2, she moved away from the seat next to me, and had to send her flowers to make her civil again next day.
There are compulsive daily double players who buy so many tickets of various combinations that it is hard to see how they can show a profit unless some terrific long shots win the first two races. The late Grantland Rice used to play almost innumerable doubles. I stood behind him one day at the seller's window, and they had to give him a fat rubber band to tie up his bulky investments. Once at a $10 daily double window I saw a woman buy $400 worth of tickets.
It is surprising how many strangers think they should share in a daily double player's luck. Among them are some mutuel clerks who like to take what they regard as their share when paying off by shortchanging you if you don't stand there and count your money. Mutuel clerks sometimes give you daily double tips and ask you to meet them at a specific cashier's window after the second race. I never take their tips and have never found one of them that won. They hope to make a good living by giving each customer a different combination, so that someone will win and pay them.
People who have heard that I have won 200 daily doubles are always astonished—they don't care how many years it took and how many tickets were involved. They often ask: "How do you do it?" I do it, as all regular horseplayers do with more normal bets, by a combination of study and hunch. I like to think that I operate on a system akin to that expressed in the title of Immanuel Kant's Critique of Pure Reason. But I am ready to admit that factors besides reason enter into the daily double. My source material for study is, of course, the past performances in The Morning Telegraph. I like a horse that has been coming second, third, sometimes even fourth in his more recent races. I don't mind if he has won a few times, provided he hasn't done it in cheap company. I don't like to bet on trainers or jockeys. I take into consideration, of course, that some jockeys have been winning more than others, and if one of these is on a horse I like anyway, it reinforces my convictions. People can fall in love with jockeys and also get to hate them. Either emotion is financially dangerous. In the end, the horse counts, and it is tough enough depending on him or her.
I like to look carefully at the conformation of horses before betting them. That is almost impossible in betting the daily double because the horses in the first race don't come out of their stalls in the paddock until shortly before the daily double windows close, and by that time there are such long lines of last-minute mind readers that one runs a strong chance of being shut out. It is frustrating to wait on a doubles line behind a slow thinker when you know the window is about to close.
Some of my friends laugh at my addiction to the daily double, and some of them encourage it. The skeptics think me slightly crazed, which is entirely possible; the romantics enjoy my ventures vicariously—with my capital. I don't care what they think. I have never had to go to a psychoanalyst, nor have I ever had to file a petition for bankruptcy. I intend to go right on betting the daily double in this world and in any other where there may be racetracks. I am hoping to hit 500 before I pass on to my reward or my punishment.