Horse racing is in deep road apples. Track attendance has dwindled, the regular players are an aging bunch and drug scandals have battered the Sport of Kings’ remaining cred. Nails in the coffin? L.A.’s Hollywood Park—where Seabiscuit, Citation and Affirmed once thrilled 25,000 shouting railbirds — will go dark this December after 75 years. Toronto’s Woodbine could follow suit.
In other words, this book has come none too soon. Written by a retired FBI agent with a happy weakness for thoroughbreds, it combines, in an unlikely but entertaining how-to approach, two of the author’s passions: betting the nags and the Way of Zen. Frederic Donner grew up going to Seattle’s Longacres Race Track (now defunct), and after a quarter-century of trying to beat the odds and achieve inner peace, he’s brought what he learned to the present volume.
Sample lessons: If you see the whites of a horse’s eyes in the paddock, don’t fire, because the horse is scared. Always consider a European grass horse on a soft U.S. turf course. Study the Daily Racing Form religiously. Be cool: don’t whine when you lose or gloat when you cash.
And this: race horses, like people, have their own Zen (awakening): that’s why some of them must take the lead, while others run late. As for bipeds with a couple hundred in their pocket, Guru Donner promises: “An enlightenment or awakening will allow us to clearly see through the needless clutter in a race and feel the winner.” Appropriate meditation technique, “centering” the self and a wise betting scheme will do the rest, he seeks to show us, “whether it is the upcoming trifecta or nirvana.”
Most of Donner’s handicapping advice, dispensed in serviceable, gray, textbook prose, is a rehash of old pace, class and trip theories, albeit still useful. Some references are out of date: he writes in the present tense about Bay Meadows Race Track (closed), race riders Pat Day, Eddie Delahoussaye and Jerry Bailey (all retired) and trainer Bobby Frankel (dead). But much of what he says is timeless (he distrusts jockeys; track bias is crucial), and the mystical buoyancy of his Zen-centric views makes this a welcome addition to any contemplative horseplayer’s bookshelf.
Also available in hardcover and ebook.