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
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
“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”
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.
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
The Story of a
Woman in the Men's World of Horse Betting
L Sweeney Bain