Saturday, April 28, 2007

Ted McClelland's "Horseplayers"

Formerly a staff writer for the Chicago Reader, Ted McClelland's stories and essays have been published in Salon, Utne, Mother Jones, the Chicago Tribune, Slate, and Potomac Review.

He applied the "Page 99 Test" to his book, Horseplayers: Life at the Track, and reported the following:
There is not a lot of action on page 99, but there is a lot of attitude. It’s very revealing of the racetrack culture, which is made up of men who prefer gambling to money and sex.

It’s Derby Day, and I’m in the grandstand of Hawthorne Race Course, in Stickney, Ill., waiting to watch the televised race with my friends Bob and Soren. Neither are racing fans, but the Kentucky Derby is the one race a year that interests squares who would ordinarily never risk $2 on a horse.

Bob and Soren “had each been to the track with me once and never returned … I’d taken Soren to Arlington during my first spell of gambling fever seven years before. After we’d both lost sixty dollars, he suddenly began moaning as though he’d locked his only child in a hot car.

“Oh my God, I can’t believe I lost sixty dollars. I could have bought a new guitar case with that money!”

“People who think money is for buying stuff shouldn’t be gambling,” I told him.

I then bet fifty dollars on a turf race. After my horse finished eighth, Soren grabbed me by the shirt and dragged me out of the track.

It had taken me longer to get Bob to the track … the first time I invited him he was married, which meant the track was in the same no-fly zone and strip clubs and wet t-shirt contests. Eventually Bob graduated to bachelorhood, and I was able to talk him into a trip to Sportsman’s during its final spring … The races were called on account of snow, after a horse belly flopped in the mud to finish the sixth race, and Bob left without cashing a ticket.”

I won’t go so far as to say this passage is misogynistic, but it does show the gambler’s disdain for the stability that women and marriage represent. A common theme throughout the book is that horse racing is a bachelor’s game. As one observer put it, “I don’t know if the bachelors are the kind of guys who play the horses, or if playing the horses makes you unattractive to the opposite sex.” Most men devote their lives to pursuing riches and women. Not horseplayers. We thought we were devoted hobbyists who’d found a more exciting, more satisfying pursuit. Re-reading page 99 at a point in my life when I’m finally more interested in women, money and stability than in playing the ponies, makes me see that we weren’t. We were just junkies.
Visit Ted McClelland's website and read an excerpt from Horseplayers.

--Marshal Zeringue