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In an era when a book, or any other product for that matter, becomes obsolete within  months after it reaches the public, I’ve been rereading books from my racing library, in search of longevity. One of the dozen or so that pass the test of time happens to be a book that I co-published with Ed Bain. 

I have often criticized publishers, including some of my own, for abandoning a book too early on. Yet now I find myself as the culprit. Or, perhaps we need a decade or more to elapse in order to discover what gets more enriching with the passage of time.

Signers: The story of a woman in the men’s world of horse betting, by Susan Sweeney, remains a universal lesson about horse betting,  but in a larger way it is a treatise on the rewards of being different and on calculated risk as a way of life.

I consider Susan as a good friend, so I invite you to read my words with all the skepticism you can muster.  Consider me an advocate for Signers, but also consider that as editor and co-publisher, I have a right to toot the horn of my authors. I am convinced that what I have to say is a fair appraisal.

Since I play the races in France, I do not use Susan’s betting “method”, but I do use the overall statistical approach that she advocates in the book. The innovative method contained in Signers is incidental to this larger approach.

“Even if the player does not abide by my methods,” Susan writes, “it is absolutely necessary to be in tune with the human aspect of his or her betting decisions.”

Voila! Finally we have an existential view of horse betting in particular and calculated risk in general. Too many horse betting methods have been presented as something separate from the human being who applies them. Susan recognizes that her methods are there as examples of how necessary it is to find a different path, since the pari-mutuel system exacts extreme penalties against those who march to the same music as the majority.

“You do not have to choose my ways,” Susan writes, “but you do need to find a path that differs from the behavior of the betting public.”

The path forged first by Ed Bain, and then redefined by Susan, is not “found”. They had to carve out a path as one cuts through the information jungle with a discerning machete. This process involved rigorous research and even more painstaking testing, of what Susan calls “statistical” handicapping.

Without using the specifics of Signers methods, I have faithfully followed Ed’s and Susan’s research ethic in applying a statistical method, derived from their approach, to my own profitable betting in French racing.

Another “factor” that lifts this book above the usual competent handicapping books its engrossing narrative. There is some absorbing story-telling here. The narrative converts what should have been only a technical treatise into a real page turner. You will discover classic existential struggles against external forces and demons from within, well-crafted characters, and an authentic love story.

Even trainer statistics are humanized in order to understand them better.

“ No betting method,” Susan affirms, “can exist in a vacuum outside the human history of the person putting it into practice.”

For Susan, this human history involved a philosophical need for calculated risk, combined with a Draconian work ethic. Some of this risk taking involved being a woman in an all-male recycling business. It also had to do with real danger, such as her sky diving hobby. 

“The dive looks scary but I use all the right equipment,” she writes, and applied to handicapping, we understand that to mean having a wealth of research and solid statistics before making any wager.

“Statistics are the ultimate reason for my making or passing a bet,” she writes.

Susan emphasizes that the universe of statistics is in constant movement, and this requires the player to adapt.

“For me, identifying and defining such existential changes [within the betting psyche] is more important than handicapping itself.”

You would think that all this becomes quite complex, but there is a certain minimalism here, and Susan is really wading through complexity to extract some elegant simplicity. Some of this simplicity involves how the player can blend the objectivity of hard data with an acceptance and application of elements of chaos, by combining a true discovery in one part of the bet with the ALL in another part, and this involves what she calls “extracting a routine from chaos”.

Often Susan’s discoveries occurred when walking along the beach with Ed. (Much has been written since then about walking as a superb medium for thinking and discovering.)

“In the context of an infinite number of waves rolling onto the shore, what was the meaning of a few thousand races?” she asks.

Signers is an exquisite balance between hard-core statistics and the human existential struggle. In some ways, Susan could become an anti-guru, showing readers, by example, how to find their own way. Like all superb stories, this one includes daunting obstacles and devastating setbacks, along with moments of wry humor and sublime joy.


The Story of a Woman in the Men's World of Horse Betting

 Susan L Sweeney Bain

Price: $28.88

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