The Work of Greg Clark and Jimmie Frise

Tag: Horses

Horse Sense

As I backed away from the dog, I felt my hat being lifted from my head….

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, May 18, 1940

“When the races start…” started Jimmie Frise.

“Horse racing,” I informed him, “ought to be abolished. In time of war, I can imagine nothing more sheerly wicked and wasteful than horse races.”

Jimmie slowly turned purple.

“Horse racing,” he gritted, “is the foundation of the breeding of horses for war…”

“Heh, heh,” I laughed pleasantly. “You’re a bit out of date, my boy. The Duke of Wellington might have used that antique argument. But times have changed. The mechanization of the army has pricked that bubble, my friend. Horse racing is doomed. Since the army no longer needs horses, your horse racing stands forth as what it really is. A sheer gambling device. As bare-faced as a roulette wheel.”

Jimmie slowly changed to a deeper shade of purple.

“It is the sport of kings,” he said huskily.

“And of absconding bank clerks,” I sneered.

“It is the last manly sport left,” grated Jim. “The last he-man game, where a man can feel his freedom and his power. Life is being social-serviced out of all reality. One by one, all sports, all games, are being scienced, organized, made safe and prim. The only game left where a man can go and feel he is a hell-dinger is racing.”

“That’s a fine recommendation,” I scoffed

“Is it?” queried Jim sadly. “Here we are with a war on our hands, and we want fighting men. Yet, for the past 20 years, we have been breeding all kinds of men except fighting men. We have been breeding gentlemen and scholars. We have been teaching our young men to play the game, lawfully and piously. We have been stressing the social rights of men, so that tolerance is our ideal. And all of a sudden, we want a million men with intolerance in their hearts, a high and mighty intolerance.”

“And what has all this got to do with horse racing?” I interjected.

“Well, you say horse racing should be abolished,” said Jim, “which declaration is part and parcel of the namby-pamby spirit of the age. The same point of view would abolish not only horse racing but all the other tough, rough and nasty characteristics of our society that we need so desperately right now.”

“Do you mean to say that if our young manhood was a horse racing lot, they would be better soldiers?” I demanded.

“I certainly do,” stated Jim. “I would say offhand that the more horse racing, corner lounging, pool room loafing, crap shooting, low down element we had in the country, the tougher and more deadly our army would be. There is no use blinding ourselves to the facts. Maybe it would be a fine thing to have a country so advanced that we had nothing but the type best described as splendid young fellows. But in the last war, it seems to me the splendid young fellows were the company clerks. And when you wanted a raiding party, you went snooping around after the corner boys and the crap shooters and the racetrack bums.”

“You’re romanticizing the bum,” I protested.

“Think it over,” suggested Jimmie. “Recollect your toughest job in the old war. Who were the guys with you?”

And I had to recollect Jimmie Post and Sergeant Sturgess and Charlie Windsor and people like that, whom I could hardly describe as public-spirited citizens. In fact, they did know a lot of horses’ names, now that I came to think of it.

More Than a Sport

“What is it about horses.” I inquired, that gets men the way it does?”

“They’re so game,” said Jim, emotionally. “There are only three animals out of all Christendom that have won the hearts of men. The horse, the game cock and the dog. These three have a heart, a spirit, that is high and noble in the sense that men can conceive. Bulls aren’t noble. Rams, cats, hogs aren’t noble. Out of all the animal kingdom the only creatures man has chosen for his love are the horse, the dog and the game cock. Why? Because they fight on though the blood blinds them.”

“It seems a low standard,” I asserted.

“Stick to your high ideals,” cried Jimmie, “and see where you land in this war! This is a war in which the noblest attributes of the horse, the game cock and the dog are the things that count in men.”

“You would drag us down to the level of our enemies,” I stated.

“You bet,” said Jim.

“Still,” I said, “it is some satisfaction to know that the old hypocrisy about racing being important to the breed of horses is exploded at last.”

“Why is the French army buying horses all over Canada and America?” demanded Jimmie. “Why are there ships laden with horses streaming across the Atlantic every day?”

“The French eat horses,” I explained.

“Yes,” said Jim, “but before they eat them, they have them to drag ration wagons across shell riven roads impassable to machines, and to haul guns forward where the last tank has sunk in the mire. Up over the night black tracks and paths, the horses will struggle, laden with ammunition and food and water, while the engines lie dead for want of gas, blown to hell in some vast holocaust. No, sir, in the end will be a man, and behind him, laden till he sags, a horse. That is the old tradition.”

“I still don’t see what racing has got to do with it,” I insisted. “It wasn’t race horses that brought me up my rations and my bombs at Vimy. It was plugs.”

“Racing,” stated Jim, “makes men respect and admire horses. If horses merely hauled bread wagons and plows, men would not respect them. It is that little extra something a horse has that earns men’s respect.”

“It’s a funny world,” I muttered, “when you come to think about it.”

“And when you think of a crowd of 10,000 people, jammed at a race meeting,” said Jim, “don’t forget the tens of thousands who wish they were there, at that minute.”

“I suppose,” I agreed.

“And don’t forget,” went on Jim, “the ones that live by race horses, the thousands of men whose livelihood is breeding and rearing and training horses.”

“Just so,” I admitted.

“Why, when you come to think of it,” cried Jim, “it’s not only a sport, it is not only an industry, it’s a cult. How else can you explain those who get up at 4 a.m. for no other reason but to go down and watch horses train?”

“Lunatics,” I submitted.

“Okay, I’m a lunatic,” said Jim bitterly. “Because this morning I was up at 4 a.m. and down at the Woodbine, and tomorrow morning I’ll be up again at 4 a.m. to drive down…”

“For goodness sakes, what for?” I protested.

“What do you get up at daybreak to go fishing for?” demanded Jim. “You know as well as I do that you don’t get any more fish. It’s just a legend. You get up in order to enjoy the mystery of the sport. To be up with the dawn, while all mankind sleeps on. To look into the mists of the morning, with the birds and the beasts. It’s purely religious.”

Rising With the Dawn

What can you see about race horses at 4 a.m.?” I scoffed.

“Horses,” said Jim raptly, “rise with the dawn. You arrive at the race track, when morning mists still wreath it. In all the little stables and huts you hear the stamp and whinny of the horses and the muffled calls of men. Roosters crow, dogs bark. All is astir. You hear the champ and grind of feeding. The high, spirited yell of blooded horses. Out in the mist, you see the boys leading the blanketed beasts, and the jockeys saddling them up, and the trainers standing by with thoughtful chins. Out on the deserted track you see the gamesters led, and, fresh and full of heat, the splendid beasts run… like wild things, like heroes, like creatures of fire and courage. Between the furlong and quarter-mile posts they rush, in the mist, while the trainers clock them…”

“And,” went on Jim, “along the fences, stand such as I, with our clocks, timing them, too. Yes, at all race tracks, you will find the devotees, the devout, only a handful, straggled apart along all the fences in twos and threes, getting to know the horses by sight, imagining they can tell, from what they see through the mists of dawn, what cannot show in the printed form chart…”

Well, Jimmie went on in such a vein that, somehow or other, I must have become mesmerized by his fervor and I asked him to include me in his plans for the morrow. Because I set my clock for 4 a.m. and got up in the pink gray of dawn, tiptoed about a resentful house for a cup of coffee and a bowl of cereal and stood in the silent morning out in front until Jim bowled round the corner and picked me up and drove pell-mell for the race-track.

And it was all as he foretold. Maybe a dozen cars were parked in the open court of the track besides ours. And besides the trainers and stable crews resident at the track, maybe twenty devotees were scattered along the rails in the brightening morning in groups of two and three, intently watching the antics of a dozen horses idly curvetting and now and then racing, in short bursts, about the track near and far.

Jimmie led me along the white fences, greeting this group and that a little standoffishly, as though they were all special worshippers at an early service. We picked a vacant spot along the fence, with nobody within 20 yards either side of us, and there leaned. Jim pointed out this horse and that, by name. The trainers led them out, the jockeys rode them slowly around the track, as though merely exercising them. Every little while one of the would suddenly burst into stride and race madly a short distance. It was then we were all supposed to be electrified, because it was these sudden explosions that were imagined to be the tests by which the trainers knew what shape the horses were in. And it was our privilege to try and time them, clock them, and make shrewd guesses as to what unknown possibilities the various, horses possessed.

“So what?” I inquired after about fifteen minutes of this business of leaning on fences. “It’s a nice scene. It’s fresh air, and the morning is pleasant. But is this all there is to it?”

Jim had his watch cupped secretly in his hand, and was intently peering at a horse far off on the other side of the track, galloping furiously.

“Look,” I said, “nobody is watching you. Nobody cares if you time them or not. This is all pretence.”

“So is all sport,” said Jim. “It’s the hocus pocus with which we invest things, whether they be sport or professions or any belief whatsoever that makes them interesting. If you can’t feel the spell of all this, okay.”

“I sure can’t,” I said, stamping my feet and slapping my hands to warm them.

Animals Are Mind Readers

We walked around the track to the stables.

At the first three stables, there were “no admittance” signs, and when we spoke to the stable boys, they regretted to inform us that the owners did not allow strangers to hang around. But at the fourth stable, Jimmie seemed to be well known for the black man sitting in the doorway of one of the shacklike stables, hailed him cheerily and called, and two or three men popped their heads out the doors and cried “Jimmie” as if they really meant it.

The stables were in pairs, each two being a little household unto themselves. The aisle between was a sort of barnyard, and from the stables opposite, the horses looked out of their stalls amiably. The crews went busily about, feeding, grooming, bandaging, combing tails and manes. And the smell of fried eggs and bacon mingled with the odor of hay and saddle soap.

As we entered, the trainer and the stable boys came forward and shook hands warmly with Jim, which made me feel that there must be some fellowship about this horse business, after all. Jim introduced me right and left.

There was a sort of gipsy charm about the whole affair. Horses whinnyed and stamped, men ducked eagerly about their little chores, voices cried gaily. And a white bull terrier, with slant eyes, the only kind of dog that really can never mean anything to me, came lazily around a corner of the stables, saw me, and broke into a bow-legged and very muscular canter.

Out of the corner of my eyes, I saw it, and there was no doubt about it. It was not the mere fact that Jimmie and I were strangers that intrigued that bull terrier. It was me he was interested in.

He made straight for my calves, and, whirling as he came by, rounded with a high, nasal growl.

“Hey,” said the black man, who was standing by, and he gave a kick at the dog.

“Here, Sam,” warned the trainer, sternly.

But Sam’s slanty eyes were mere slits as he split his long jaw back and bared his bone crushers in another nasty grow at my legs. The fat part.

I backed away.

“Heh, heh,” I said, “nice doggie.”

A small banty game cock came out of one of the stalls all in a fluster of cackles, and, as if attracted by the increasing row, strutted down his wings and advanced upon me. And, as I backed away from the dog, I felt my hat lifted from my head

One of the horses in the stalls behind me had stretched out and lipped my hat, tossed it in the air. Before anybody could so much as speak, a hairy looking goat bounced out of the same stall and snatched my hat off the ground and ran, shaking the hat from side to side. And nibbling at it.

“It’s just a trick,” shouted Jimmie above the laughter and yelling. The black man was chasing the goat and one of the stable boys was driving Sam back, though the dog twisted muscularly from side to side, as though determined to take one bite, about the size of a pound of butter, out of my leg. The banty rooster crowed excitedly and pranced back and forth, taking little runs in my direction.

“Look,” said the trainer, “if you don’t mind I think they’ve got something against you…”

“I’ll be glad to go,” I stated clearly. “If can get my hat.”

“The boy is getting it,” said the trainer. “But if you don’t mind, before they all get upset…”

He was escorting me out.

“Animals are funny,” he said, as we reached the main lane of the stable. “They take scunners.”

The black man came laughing back with my hat. It was shapeless and muddy, and the goat’s chewing was like pleats all along one side of the brim.

“I’ll see you later,” called Jimmie to his friends, the trainer, and boys.

And we walked down the main lane towards the clubhouse and the white fences again.

“You can have your cult,” I submitted.

“Don’t tell me animals aren’t mind readers,” retorted Jim.


Editor’s Notes: Horses were used extensively in World War Two, primarily by the Germans and the Soviets for transport. However Greg was basically correct, in that the war relied more on trucks and engine power.

As we are back at the race track, there is a stereotypical depiction of a black man. See my article About Stereotypes for more information.

A scunner, means taking a strong dislike to something. I don’t know what a hell-dinger is.

One Sure Thing

I felt two large hands seize me by the shoulders from behind. And, glancing back, I saw another very large and heavy stranger had Jimmie by the shoulders.

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, October 19, 1946

“Your prejudices,” declared Jimmie Frise, “are costing you money!”

“I’m willing to pay,” I retorted, “for my principles.”

“Look,” pleaded Jim, “it’s a sure thing.”

“In this life,” I countered, “nothing is sure.”

“Aw, for Pete’s sake,” cried Jimmie. “I tell you we can pay for the winter’s coal with this race. It’s the end of the racing season. All kinds of long shots come home at the end of the racing season. It’s the time for trainers and jockeys and horse owners to balance the budget.”

“You mean,” I sneered, “that racing is crooked…!”

“No sport on earth is as rigidly policed as horse-racing,” replied Jim hotly. There’s a continent-wide organization that embraces every track and every breeder and every angle of the horse-racing game and it is devoted to keeping horse-racing on the level….”

“Okay,” I scoffed, “then how about these benefit races, for balancing the budget?”

“At the end of the season,” said Jim picking his words carefully, “there is a sort of devil-may-care spirit that enters the sport. Trainers who have been nursing their horses along, so as not to overtax them, allow them to go full out in one last fling. Jockeys who are cautious riders suddenly became inspired with the spirit of the end of the season and ride with an abandoned quality that upsets all the calculations of trainers, other jockeys and all the dopesters who do the adding up.”

“Adding up?” I inquired.

“Sure,” said Jim. “How do you suppose the experts pick the winners? Simply by adding up all the factors that go into the race; the condition and past performance of the horse; the trainer; and the jockey. But at the end of the season, all these factors are muddled up by this sort of last-fling spirit. Nobody knows what horse is going to win.”

“Nobody but you!” I laughed.

“More long shots come through this week,” insisted Jim, “than at any other season.”

“Because nobody can pick the winner,” I suggested.

“Exactly,” agreed Jim.

“Then how do you know you’ve got a sure thing?” I triumphed.

“This horse, Schnitzler,” stated Jim flatly, “has been running second and third all season. Why? Because his trainer has been ordering the jockeys to ride him easy and let him develop himself. No forcing. The trainer figures, from Schnitzler’s pedigree, that he is a horse that develops slowly but steadily instead of one of those flash performers that is all through before he’s four years old.”

To Balance the Budget

“It’s all Dutch to me,” I interrupted. “Jim, look. I just don’t care for racing. It’s like stamp collecting. Either you like it or you don’t like it.”

“Schnitzler,” said Jim slowly, “is going to win today in the fourth race. And it’s going to pay 30 to 1.”

“You mean.” I asked, “that for a $2 ticket, he’d pay $30?”

“For a $10 ticket,” said Jim in a low, vibrant voice, “he’d pay … THREE… HUNDRED … DOLLARS!”

“Aw, Jim,” I pleaded, trying to wake him from the trance, “how do you know? What facts have you got to justify this fixation that’s got you, like some sort of lunacy…?”

“I,” said Jim, still in that low intense voice, “know the trainer, I know the jockey and… I know the horse!”

“Ah,” I said, “so you’ve bet on him before?”

“I bet on him all through the season,” admitted Jim.

“But he always came second or third?” I inquired.

“And I always bet him on the nose,” said Jim.

“And you’re going to bet him today again, on his last race of the season?” I demanded.

“The budget,” said Jim with that faraway look that hypnotized race fans wear, “the budget is just about to be balanced.”

“Tomorrow maybe,” I sighed, “you’ll wake up. Ten or fifteen dollars poorer…”

“I’ll have the money,” said Jim, with certainty, “for the winter’s coal.”

All this was at 10 o’clock in the morning.

At 1 o’clock, Jim appeared at the office door with his hat on.

“Coming?” he said heartily.

“I…” I said.

It was a beautiful day. Too beautiful to sit alone in an office pecking at a typewriter.

“Well,” I chuckled, “I might as well go, if for no other reason than to watch the expression on your face as all these castles in the air come tumbling down…”

So we drove out to the track in the lovely Indian summer afternoon and once again I found myself in that completely alien atmosphere of the race-track, surrounded by thousands of people all concentrated on a sport that leaves me cold. I never feel so completely a stranger on this earth as at the race-track. Sometimes I feel all these thousands are queer. And then, suddenly, I feel a little queer myself.

We got into the grandstand where Jimmie seemed to know everybody by their first name. It was like a club. Very chummy. Full of a lingo of its own. I began to feel queer.

These race meetings are something like a symphony concert. Each race is like a number on the program. Each number builds up, like a symphony, to a familiar climax. The first race, there was the usual tuning up, as the horses were walked to the starting post. Then the intense gathering up of feelings and emotions as the horses prepared for the start. That would be like the fine string music of the symphony. Then, suddenly, like the brass and woodwinds of the orchestra letting loose, the start! Then a kind of gathering pandemonium, as the orchestra of these thousands of fans swelled and rose to a crescendo that ended as climactically and violently as a Beethoven symphony …

Jim’s horse lost. He also lost the second race, and the third.

He asked me to come under the grandstand for a cup of coffee and while we were drinking the coffee, he asked me if I had any money.

“I never bring money to a race-track, Jim,” I informed him. “You know that. I have my principles. And I safeguard them.”

“Haven’t you got even five bucks?” pleaded Jim.

“I haven’t got even five bucks,” I replied firmly, fondling the $10 in $1 bills I had in my left-hand pants pocket.

Jim looked desperately around.

Meant For a Killing

“Look here,” I said sternly, “didn’t you say this horse Schnitzel or whatever it is ran in the fourth race?”

“Yes,” gritted Jim. “And I want to put 10 bucks on him. But that last race, the brother of one of the jockeys gave me a hundred to one chance on that horse I bet …”

“I see,” I said, amused. “Sure things all over the place!”

“I was going to make enough to put maybe 30 or 40 bucks on Schnitzler,” pleaded Jim. “But now I’ve only got four bucks left. Do you see anybody you know that you could borrow a few bucks…”

“I certainly do not!” I stated sharply.

“Six bucks,” muttered Jim bitterly. “Six bucks, six measly bucks. Take a walk around and see if there’s anybody you …”

“My friends,” I stated, “are not to be found around race-tracks. Why don’t you make a touch on any one of those sportsmen surrounding you up in the grandstand? You call each other by your first names…”

“I…I…” said Jim anxiously.

We finished the coffee and walked out on to the lawn.

Jim was acting like an expectant father. He was breathing big deep breaths, biting his teeth together, putting his hands deep in his pockets and pulling them out again. He looked at his four dollars several times. And he kept his eyes on the clock. All around us, the eager swarms were reading their programs with fatuous expressions. Already the procession towards the betting enclosure had begun.

“Hello, Mr. Clark,” came a pleasant voice.

I turned and recognized one of my neighbors from up the street.

“Why, how do you do!” I replied heartily. “Are you a follower of the sport of kings?”

“Oh, I usually come out for a few races,” said my neighbor, whom I had always taken for a deacon at least.

Jimmie was gripping my elbow and squeezing it meaningfully. I shook my arm free.

“How have you done?” asked the neighbor.

“Oh, I don’t …” I began.

But Jimmie, linking his arm through mine to show we were buddies, broke in: “As a matter of fact,” he said, “my little friend here has been cleaned in the last three races. And he’s trying to borrow six bucks off me…”

“I am not!” I cut in indignantly, but Jim got a Judo hold on my funnybone that almost made me screech with pain.

“Six bucks is all he wants,” cried Jim jovially. “But one of my superstitions is, never lend money to the guy you came to the races with. It’s okay to borrow from anybody else. But NOT the guy you came with …”

“Why,” laughed my neighbor, reaching into his pocket.

“Not…” I began but again Jim, laughing jovially, gave my elbow such a horrible dig with his digits that I felt myself wilting And at the same instant, he reached out and took the $6 my neighbor was holding out, and stuffed them playfully, in my breast pocket.

“There you are! Come on,” he chuckled, “come on and let’s place the bet…”

And before the slightly puzzled gaze of my neighbor, he swung me around and started up the lawn.

At the same instant. I felt two large hands seize me by the shoulders from behind. And glancing back, I saw another very large and heavy stranger had Jimmie by the shoulders. And we were both being propelled forward at a rate that kept our feet trotting smartly to keep us from falling.

I struggled.

“Here, what the dickens are …” I shouted.

But the two of us, side by side, were hustled through the crowd, up the lawn, out the side entrance past the grandstand and towards the gate.

In the privacy of the entrance, the big men relaxed their shoving. I shook myself.

“Will you inform me,” I demanded, setting my hat back on straight, “will you inform me the meaning this outrage!”

“Okay, bud,” said my man, dusting his hands. “Okay, scram!”

The whole thing was incomprehensible, bewildering. Out-of-place though I feel at a race-track, this was too much.

“I’ll call the police!” I grated, readjusting my clothing.

“Heh, heh, heh,” said both the large men.

“Look,” said Jimmie, who was pale as Swiss cheese, “look, boys, you’re making a mistake. My friend was only …”

“Aw, stow it, bud,” said the one with the black hat, “now scram. We seen the whole transaction. We seen you approach the gent. We seen you pass the tip. We seen you accept the money …”

“Jim!” I commanded. “What is this all about?”

“These are the Pinkerton men,” explained Jim pleasantly. “They watch out for touts and hangers-on. They have mistaken us for touts…”

“Heh, heh, heh,” agreed the two large men, preparing to shove us right out the gate. “If we ever saw a tout, this little guy is the champeen. Come on now! OUT!”

“Too Late”

And before I could even go of my own volition, the big fellow in the brown hat took me by the back of the coat collar and the pocket and fingered the 10 one-dollar bills I had there.

Jim followed.

And the two large men walked businesslike back into the grounds.

“But the race, the race!” suddenly yelled Jimmie, snatching the $6 from my breast pocket and adding it feverishly to his $4. “We’ve got to get this on the race …”

“Jim,” I ordered loudly, “I came here as an innocent spectator. I have been treated to every indignity…”

A bugle blew.

“Too late, too late!” moaned Jimmie, leaning against the fence, a broken man.

We stood there. We heard the silence fall. The slow, muttering silence. Then we heard the wild horse roar … “They’re off!” Then we listened to the rising symphony of the roaring grandstands. Then a mad cheer.

Out the gates poured the little dribble of people who always quits after the fourth, or fifth, or sixth race.

“Who won?” croaked Jimmie, seizing one of them by the lapels.

“A horse named Schnitzler,” said the passer-by disgustedly. “Paid 30 to 1.”

Jim crumpled beside the fence and sat, huddled, counting the $10 in his hands.

I ran my left hand cautiously into my pants pocket and fingered the 10 one-dollar bills I had there.

“Okay, Jim,” I croaked too. “Let’s go and get the car and go home.”


Editor’s Notes: As noted before, Jim was the gambler of the two, who would participate in activities like attending the race track and pool halls that Greg would not. Greg was more of a follower of his Victorian upbringing. Jim was hoping for enough money to pay for all of his coal needed for a coal furnace for the upcoming winter.

Touts at race tracks were people who offered racing tips for a share of any resulting winnings.

Pinkerton men were a generic definition for private detectives. In this case they would have been hired by the race track to root out undesirables.

Touts

By Greg Clark, August 24, 1935

“If,” said Jimmie Frise, “we could only think of a racket.”

“Mmmm?” said I.

“The only people making money nowadays,” went on Jimmie, “are people with rackets. Plain ordinary business no longer pays. You have to have a racket.”

“Oh, I know lots of plain businesses that are doing all right,” I corrected. “Stores, restaurants, nice little factories.”

“No, you don’t,” stated Jimmie. “They look all right, maybe, but they are worried sick, they haven’t any money, they can’t collect their accounts. They’re worried sick.”

“Maybe so,” I said.

“But the boys with the rackets,” gloated Jim, “Ha, they’re doing all right. By rackets I don’t mean anything illegal. I mean legal rackets. Schemes by which you can shake down people in distress. The greater the distress, the easier the racket.”

“Such as?” I inquired.

“I don’t like to name any,” said Jim, guardedly, because he knows I sometimes quote him. “But when people need money badly, they can always be soaked. Or when people are afraid of failing or losing their business, they can always be taken for a ride. Strange as it may seem, when the world is poorest, the pickings are easiest.”

“It doesn’t make sense,” I protested. “Nobody has any money these days.”

“Don’t be silly,” scoffed Jim. “The banks are fuller of cash than they have ever been. A larger percentage of people may be out of work. But the great majority of the people, all those tens of thousands of people living in all those long, long streets of comfortable homes we pass every day, all those tens of thousands who still ride to work in crowded street cars and congest the main streets with motor traffic every morning – all those people have plenty.”

“Isn’t there a depression?” I wanted to know.

“They call it that,” said Jimmie. “But as a matter of fact, people are merely holding tighter to what they have. I know a man that makes stationery. He tells me there has been an enormous Increase in the consumption of those little black notebooks men carry in their pockets to itemize expenses in. Enormous increase. I know men that used to leave a dollar tip for the waiter when they took their family downtown to the hotel for Sunday dinner and even forgot to feel big by the time they walked out the door. Now they leave 15 cents and carefully itemize it in the little black book. To tip, 15 cents; like that.”

“How disgusting,” I agreed.

“In the good old days,” went on Jim, “people threw their money around because they knew there was lots more where that came from. But, all of a sudden, everybody got scared. You’ve seen chickens suddenly take fright, haven’t you, and seen them start running all ways for cover, when there was no apparent reason for It? Well, that’s what happened to us. We’re human, just like chickens. A few years ago we got one of our periodic frights over nothing. Everybody ran indoors, locked and barred the door, and now we are hanging on to our possessions grimly in the dread fear that somebody, maybe the man next door, is going to try and take it from us. Everybody has plenty. We are merely clutching it tighter than usual.”

To Loosen Things Up

“Then how do you racket it away from them?” I inquired.

“By scaring them further,” said Jim. “By showing them ways to make their money safer. And so doing, take it from them.”

“I can’t think of any racket along that line,” I confessed.

“Neither can I,” said Jimmie. “But I wish I could. I’m tired of working for my living. I’d like to be one of those fellows that just sits in a swell office and thinks.”

“All the stories I’ve read,” I submitted, “about racketeers shows that they started with a little racket and then worked up to the bigger rackets. For example, a big millionaire bootlegger started as a book salesman. Don’t you know any little rackets? Haven’t you heard of any ordinary little everyday rackets around the poolrooms or race tracks?”

“Ah, yes,” laughed Jimmie. “Of course. Touts, you mean.”

“What are touts?”

“Well, for instance,” explained Jim, “there are six horses in a race, see? The tout works fast. He selects six sappy-looking individuals and approaches each one. He asks each one for a match. Then he starts in and tells them he is the brother of the jockey riding one of the horses in the next race. He gives each sap a different horse. He tells them the horse can’t fail, because they are letting his brother win the race in order to get married.”

“Well?” I prodded.

“Naturally, one horse has got to win that race,” said Jim. “And when the race is over, the tout rushes to the man he gave the winning horse to, and generally, the sap is so delighted, he gives the tout a ten spot. Or maybe more. I knew a tout once that used this old gag and the man he tipped off bought him a $2 ticket on the horse in gratitude. The horse won and paid $150 for the $2 ticket. Nobody was more amazed than the tout.”

“Jim,” I said reflectively, “that sounds to me like a real racket. It is merely telling a story, that’s all. You tell a story to six men. I bet you and I could make a nice thing out of touting. At last you can start making something out of the race tracks, which have been costing you plenty for years.”

“Touts,” explained Jimmie, “are a rather low grade of bums.”

“All the better,” I cried, “If two respectable-looking fellows like us went in for it, it would raise the standard of touting and we’d make a lot more money. We would be brokers, not touts. Just like the brokers, we would recommend certain investments in horses, and as the brokers make money out of the buying and selling of stocks, we would make our money out of the gifts of grateful people to whom we gave the right tip.”

“But you’d be giving the wrong tip,” cried Jim, “to half a dozen others!”

“Once,” I continued, “we have mastered the technique of race track touting, we can go into it on a larger scale.”

“I think we ought to look into ways and means of making easy money. Not for the money’s sake, but to loosen things up. The more we shake people loose from their money, the sooner money will start to circulate and hard times end. Let us go into this thing on good moral grounds.”

“All racketeers do,” said Jim. “Meanwhile, let’s go out of town to the races. Nobody would know us.”

“I could wear my yellow vest,” I pointed out. “It gives me a very horsey look.”

One Sportsman to Another

“By Jove,” cried Jim. “I’ve got it! You be the owner of a horse. I’ll speak to the saps and tell them that the gentleman with me, in the yellow vest, owns the horse. I’ll tell each one you own a different horse, see? You can be standing off a little to one side, keeping your mouth shut, with your mouth kind of clamped tight, and a beady look in your eyes, like horse owners have. And you can stand sort of gazing across the race track, as if you hadn’t a friend in the world, and didn’t want one. That’s the way horse owners look. And I’ll step aside in each case, borrow a match, and then tip him off that my friend, there, you, in the yellow vest, are about to clean up. It’s in the bag. It’s all arranged with the stewards and the jockeys and everybody. It’s your turn to win, see?”

“Jim, how perfect,” I said. “And people wouldn’t have the nerve to give you, the friend of the owner, a mere five spot.”

“I’ll laughingly tell them,” said Jim, “to buy me a ticket for the tip. One sportsman to another, you know. In that way, my dear boy, we will have a winner in every race.”

Thus we went out of town to the races.

My yellow vest, which I bought for beagling by mistake, certainly gave me a beautiful horsey look. I bought three cigars and hung my field glasses over my neck and threw a raincoat over my arm.

“You look like the Agha Khan himself,” cried Jim triumphantly, as he received me into his car for the drive.

The first race, we did no work, because Jim said it would be better if we just paraded up and down in the crowd, letting everybody have a good look at me, while he kept his eye peeled for saps. He could pick the saps out by the way they looked at me. If they gaped sort of respectfully at me, Jim knew they would be easy suckers.

“Boy,” he murmured to me, after we had made a couple of grand tours of the big lawn, crowded with race goers, “the place is full of saps. You ought to see the way they are gaping at you.”

“I notice it myself,” I said, removing the cigar and waving it about.

When the first race was over, and everybody dispersed after feeling their various disappointments, Jim started to work. He led me to the upper end of the lawn.

“Up here,” he said, “I saw a well-dressed guy that looked as if he had never been at a race in his life before. But his eyes were popping with excitement. And when he saw you, his mouth fell open.”

“Did he look as if he had money?” I inquired.

“No, he was one of those obscure, half shabby sort of men, who are the kind that carry $200 in their pocket all the time.”

“Find him,” I directed.

And it was no trouble finding him.

Moodily standing with one elbow on the picket fence, a gentleman of middle age was carefully studying his program. He was biting the end of a pencil and frowning.

As we drew near, I could see he was aware of us, and was watching us out of the corner of his eyes.

I stepped along the fence a little way, and Jim sauntered over to him to borrow the match. The gentleman gave Jimmie the match and then they started to converse. I could feel them both looking at me, and when I turned, waving my cigar, to stare boldly up at the grandstand, as if wondering how many fools were betting my horse to-day, I caught a quick glimpse of the man, who was listening wide-eyed to Jimmie. And he was staring straight at me with his mouth slightly open.

Acting Like an Owner

In a few minutes, Jim left him and came back to me. We started to walk along in search of more suckers.

“How did he take it?” I asked, out of the side of my mouth.

“Like a lamb,” said Jim. “He wanted to meet you, but I said you didn’t care to meet people. I explained you were the typical horse owner. But he’s going to bet and bet big. I laughingly told him he ought to buy me a two-dollar ticket for the tip.”

Time went fast. By the time the bugle went, to call the horses out for the next race, we had only got two more prospects, one of them a fellow who wanted to split a $2 bet with Jim, and another who just looked at Jimmie all the time Jim talked and never said a word one way or the other.

“Once we get on to this thing,” said Jim, “we can work faster. Anyway, there are only five horses in this race and we’ve got three of them planted.”

“It’s no good unless we have them all covered,” I pointed out.

“I know, I know,” said Jim.

We got a place back a bit where we could watch our contacts, especially the moody gentleman in the corner, the one who wanted to meet me.

The horses lined up. They were soon off. A race with one bet on it is exciting enough. But touts must get a great kick out of having six or seven bets in one race.

Jim cautioned me to show no excitement. Horse owners never get excited. They just stand stolidly, chewing their cigars and occasionally taking a brief glance through their field glasses. I did that.

“Paraboy, Paraboy wins,” shouted Jim.

That was the horse we gave to the gentleman down in the corner.

“Let’s go right down,” I said.

“No, no, I’ll take him oft to one side,” said Jim. “Because if you are the owner of Paraboy, you should be in the steward’s paddock in a minute, leading out your horse.

“Oh, oh,” said I, backing away.

Jim pushed through the crowd.

I saw him work his way to the corner.

I could not see the moody gentleman. He had suddenly vanished.

I saw Jim pushing rapidly back towards me through the slow moving and woe-begone throng.

“Did he skip?” I asked scornfully.

“Skip?” said Jim. “Look where I’m pointing.”

I looked. Jim was pointing into the winner’s paddock where they were unsaddling Paraboy.

“Why,” I said, “he’s in there.”

“Sure he’s in there,” said Jim. “He’s the owner of Paraboy!”

“Jimmie,” I said, “this yellow vest awfully hot. I think I’ll go around behind and take it off.”

“Better than that,” said Jim, “let’s get to heck out of here altogether.”

So we drove home along the lake, admiring the big homes and yachts of the gentry.


Editor’s Notes: The Aga Khan mentioned in this story was the grandfather of the current Aga Khan.

This story was reprinted in Greg Clark & Jimmie Frise Outdoors (1979).

One Grand!

By Greg Clark, June 13, 1936

“With your luck,” said Jimmie Frise, “and my brains we could clean up a fortune at race-tracks.”

“I think racing,” I declared, “is the dizziest pastime in the world. I wouldn’t give you five cents for the races. I would rather stay at the office and work any day.”

“Come this afternoon,” begged Jimmie. “Just to change my luck, see? I’ll buy you a good mystery novel. You can sit in the grand-stand and read it. You don’t even have to look up when the horses come down the stretch. Honest, I have a hunch. Do me the favor of coming to the track. For luck.”

“There is no such thing as luck,” I stated. “There is a co-ordination of circumstances. There is a series of facts, always shifting, always varying in force and value. But there is no luck.”

“You said it,” agreed Jim. “Get all the facts and you get all the luck. But just the same, I have a hunch that if you would come to the races with me I’d make money.”

“How silly,” I submitted.

“Put it this way,” said Jim. “You’re sort of simple. You see things that most other people don’t see, just because you are simple. You could come to a race-track where there are fifteen thousand people and, because you are the only one that never looked at a race-horse before, you could see that race-horse the way nobody else could see it. We would be looking at its legs. You would be looking at the expression in its eyes or something.”

“Offhand,” I admitted, “I would suggest you could tell a lot more about a race-horse by looking at the expression in its eyes than by looking at its form in a chart.”

“There you are,” cried Jim. “It is that instinct you have that I want to work for me. Just come to the races once. Come this afternoon.”

“I would rather go this morning.” I pointed out, casting an eye out the window at a very bright and cheerful day, “if it is to look over the horses you want my particular gifts.”

“There’s an idea,” confessed Jim.

So after a little business of confusing the editors with a few imaginary phone calls and busy dashing out into the corridor and back, which is the way Jim and I create the impression there is a big story about to break and we have it exclusively, we slipped out the back door and into the parking lot and in no time at all, through a shining morning. we arrived out at the race-track. If I were ever to become interested in racetracks it would be only in the middle of the mornings. There is something so old-world, so Kentucky, so lazy and roostery crowing, so stable boys sleeping in the sun about a race-track in the middle of the morning that I wonder anybody can be bothered crowding into the enclosures in the afternoon just to watch a pack of skins go panting around the ring.

“Now There’s a Horse”

“Jim,” I said, as we started to stroll down the first aisle of stables, “do they mind us walking in here?”

“We’re newspapermen,” pointed out Jim.

We nodded smilingly and wisely to little groups of stable boys sitting and lying about, looking up at us from under the peaks of caps. We paused and watched men binding horses’ legs, brushing, petting. We stood and gazed at the splendid beasts, brown and lean and with that curious quality of specialness that you feel in actresses and beauties and all people who do something very extra particular. To me, at least, there is no feeling of communion with a race-horse, such as I can feel with a common horse. It is like looking at a china horse or a picture of a horse. They have developed rice-horses so fine and far they have pushed them almost over the distant edge of plain, hearty, common life.

“What a beauty,” breathed Jim, as we came to a stall where a horse looked with wild bright eye out of the upper half-door. “Did you ever see such spirit?”

“Yes,” I said, “in a maiden lady rowing a boat in a gale of wind. I wouldn’t bet five cents on that horse. It has the jitters. Any horse that can look like that on a lazy morning like this is in need of a couple of months at a sanatorium.”

“All race-horses are like that,” explained Jim. “They wouldn’t be race-horses unless they had spirit.”

“In that case,” I informed him, “the highest form of track athletics ought to be the St. Vitus dance.”

Down near the end of the second aisle of stables we came to a deserted set of stalls where one horse stood looking sleepily out.

“Ah, now there’s a horse,” I said, “There is a happy horse.”

It twitched one eyelid at us. It wobbled its upper lip.

“A healthy horse,” I declared, “A horse without a care in the world.”

Jim stepped up and spoke tenderly to it and caressed its silky nose.

“Hello, baby,” said Jim, running his hand up the horse’s flat face bone and slapping its neck.

The horse opened one eye and looked sleepily at Jim.

“If this horse is running to-day, Jim,” I said, “bet him.”

The horse, with a heavy sigh, woke up and lifted its head and tenderly nibbled Jim’s arm. Its eyes were dark and gentle. Its expression was benign. It stretched out its neck and rested its long chin on Jim’s shoulder.

“It likes us,” I cried.

And while Jim and I admired the great creature with the heavy chin it closed its eyes and kept shifting its chin from Jim’s shoulder to mine and back again, and continued to emit large, lazy sighs.

“I love the smell of stables,” said Jim, stroking the horse’s neck and scratching its ear. “I sometimes think I might have been a great horseman. I get queer feelings when I am around racing stables, as if I had been on earth before. As if something were trying to call me, to tell me, to waken me.”

“I kind of like it myself,” I admitted, taking the other side of the horse’s neck. “The laziness. The color. The interesting people.”

“If we ever make any money,” said Jim, dreamily stroking the horse’s nose, “there is nothing I’d like better than owning a little string of race horses.”

Getting Into the Game

“I could wear the kind of clothes I like, then,” I agreed.

“The Frise-Clark stables,” said Jim.

“I would wear a yellow vest,” I said.

“The King’s Plate,” said Jim. “Mr. Frise and Mr. Clark, from left to right, receiving the King’s Plate from His Excellency.”

I heard footsteps and turned to behold an interesting looking gentleman smiling cheerfully at us. He was tall and had bushy black eyebrows. On his chest dangled a pair of binoculars. He was smoking a big cigar.

“Like her?” he asked proudly.

“It’s a her, is it?” I said.

“That’s Cleopatra,” said the stranger, in a moving voice. “One of the grandest horses running to-day.”

“Are you connected with this stable?” asked Jim politely.

“Connected with it?” smiled the stranger, “I’m the owner of it.”

Jim and I showed we were duly honored. We praised Cleopatra.

“Could you take her out and let us have a look at her?” asked Jim.

“Excuse me, boys,” said the owner. “I never break routine. Cleopatra is resting. She done a grand workout this morning. She’s just cooled out. I would rather not disturb her. She’s got a race this afternoon. And she’s going to win.”

He said this in a whisper and looked around carefully as he said it.

“It must be great,” said Jim, stroking Cleopatra’s cheek, “to be an owner. But I suppose you have your worries.”

“It ain’t the worries,” said the owner confidentially, “It’s the lone responsibility that gets me. I got six horses. I’ve owned hundreds. But I got it down to six of the best. Six of the best anywhere from Tia Juana to Montreal. But sometimes I wonder what would happen if anything ever happened to me.”

He removed the cigar from his mouth and coughed deeply and sepulchrally.

“You should get some partners,” said Jim.

“Never,” said the owner, firmly. “Never. I’ve had partners in my time. But they’re ruin, that’s what they are. Sheer ruin. Never no more partners for me, brother.”

“They gypped you?” asked Jim.

“Gyp isn’t the word,” said the owner sadly. “Not only can’t you trust them, but they are always trying to run the stable. I bet you Cleopatra there would be fit for the boneyard if I ever had partners. You don’t find men with a love of horses every day. No, nor every year.”

“Why,” asked Jim, stepping on my foot quietly, “don’t you take on some ordinary business men as partners? I don’t mean professional horsemen, but sportsmen?”

“Ah,” sighed the tall man, sadly, “but how often do you meet sportsmen?”

“They’re some,” said Jim. “There’s some. Now you take us. We’re ordinary business men. But we love horses. We love the sport of racing. We were just saying a moment ago, as we chatted here with Cleopatra, that if we ever got any money, we’d love to own a little string of race horses. Not to make money, you understand. But just to have something to think about. A hobby. Something we could quit work and go out into the country to see. Imagine us having a horse like Cleopatra here we could come and see every day or so. See her training. See her getting into shape. And imagine the thrill of being on the lawn when she races?”

“You must be sportsmen,” said the owner, sincerely. “You’ve got it. I wish I could find a couple of gents like you to come into the game with me. Not nosey. Not trying to tell me how to train horses. But just to share with me the interest and joy and thrill of it all. Ahhhhh!”

“I wish we had the money,” I said devoutly, for the gentleman was exactly the kind I would like to stand on the lawn with, and me in a gray derby.

“Money,” he laughed bitterly. “Money. It isn’t money you need. It’s the heart. The right spirit. The sporting blood.”

“Money counts,” I pointed out.

“Listen,” said the owner. “I would be glad to sell a half interest in that beautiful mare there, Cleopatra, one of the finest horses running to-day, for one grand. One grand! Can you imagine?”

“A thousand,” Jim explained to me. “One grand is a thousand bucks.”

“That’s it,” I said, dismally. “Where would we ever get a thousand bucks?”

Sportsman At Last

The owner looked at us for a long moment with an expression of mingled tenderness and contempt. Suddenly he laughed and snapped his fingers at us.

“Boys,” he said, half bitterly. “I’ve been a fool before and I suppose I will be again. But I’ll tell you what I’ll do. I’ll give you a half interest in Cleopatra for one grand. I’ll do more than that. I’ll take whatever cash you’ve got in your jeans right now — right now — whether it be a hundred dollars or fifty dollars — I’ll take it as the down payment. And … listen … and … you can pay the balance of the grand out of her winnings!”

“But,” I gasped, “you don’t even know our names.”

“I know a lot of guys’ names,” said the owner grimly.

He held out his hand, cupped.

I had only $3.65. All my life, when opportunity knocked at my door, I have always had about $3.65, Jim had seven dollars in ones.

”Ten-sixty-five,” said the owner. “Good enough. It seals the deal.”

He pocketed the money. He stood looking at us fondly.

“Boys,” he said, “I have a feeling you are going to bring me luck.”

“This morning,” said Jim to me, “you said there was no such thing as luck.”

“When certain of my relatives and friends hear of this,” I chuckled, hardly grasping the splendor of the situation. I reached up and patted Cleopatra’s nose. Jim seized her affectionately and wth a proprietorial air by the neck. She sighed heavily.

Along the long aisle of stables a man in a wide hat was walking slowly. The owner said sharply:

“Well, boys, take care of her. I’ve got a busy morning. See you later.”

And he walked briskly around the corner.

The man in the broad hat strode towards us, head forward, his eyes searching us keenly.

“What do you want?” he asked in a bass voice.

“Where?” I asked.

“How?” asked Jim.

“I say, what do you want?” repeated the man in the wide hat. “I don’t like birds hanging around my horses.”

“We’re not around your horses,” I said. “This is our horse.”

Jimmie took a few fast steps to the corner of the stable and looked in all directions.

“Come on,” said Jim to me. “He’s gone but maybe we can catch him.”

“Who?” I asked, “What are you talking about? This is half our horse.”

“Get going palooka,” said the man with the bass voice. “And don’t let me see you hanging around my stables any time, any where.”

He sort of tightened himself up as if he were going to either kick or punch. I stepped after Jimmie.

As we hurried out past the stables, to look for the man with our $10.65, we heard Cleopatra whinny loudly.

“That’s the horse laugh,” explained Jimmie.

But he had to listen to me all the way home to the city as I chatted about horse racing.


Editor’s Notes: St Vitus’ dance is a term used to describe Sydenham’s chorea. It is characterized by rapid, uncoordinated jerking movements.

The King’s Plate is oldest and most distinguished horse race in Canada. It refers to the reigning monarch, and so was changed to the Queen’s Plate in 1952.

Palooka was a slang term used to refer to stupid, clumsy, oafs, and was particularly used to describe boxers. It was popularized by the comic strip Joe Palooka which began in 1930.

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