Racing for a job

Outside of being born and raised into the horse racing industry, there are two-and-a-half ways to get jobs in the clean-shoe side of the business.

The half-hearted entry to the writing or picking or management side of the horse race business is to know somebody who will give you a job for old time's sake, as a favor to a friend or relative, or as a result of blackmail. People given jobs in horse racing usually wash out because this is one of those sports and careers requiring a strong sense of belonging to succeed: You're supposed to be around these good animals and complicated puzzles, that's all there is to it.

There used to be three solid approaches to the business, one former manner of entry being old-school: Start out as an intern, run errands, fetch facts for the senior writers, write press releases, hang around the barns on your own time, develop handicapping skills, work your way up through the ranks. But now "senior" writers are 30 years of age. Nobody has the time to sit quietly and think and learn. It's science: sitting quietly and thinking evokes positive reactions from the brain. But there are entire channels on cable television devoted to true stories of regular people murdering each other, the common hook that brought them together being an almost manic fear of being alone; anymore, it's as though people are afraid to be alone with their thoughts.

One of the biggest people in the on-camera TV horse racing business today started out by running a tip sheet in the back of his car and selling the picks on the street at Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, Ark.

At many race tracks and horse race publications and sites, you will find people who have been around a while, doing three or four jobs.

Besides being born to an executive, here are the two legitimate ways to bust into the horse racing business.

One is by, in all seriousness, picking winners.

One of the biggest people in the on-camera TV horse racing business today started out by running a tip sheet in the back of his car and selling the picks on the street at Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, Ark. Some halfway decent cons originated from tipsters at horse race tracks, sheets that showed four winners yesterday, for example. These sheets were printed after the races were over when it was pretty easy to find winners. There are legitimate pickers with talent. The fellow at Oaklawn got hot one spring and was putting out $30 winners like he was picking the replays. He parlayed a genuine handicapping skill into one of the top TV jobs in the industry.

Another fast track into the business is through writing well.

Two sports have always attracted fine writers like Damon Runyon and Dan Jenkins, and even those who feel poetic, golf and horse racing. A frisky colt at dawn and somebody whacking at practice balls at sundown seem to typify the great meaning of all life, and emphasize the foggy line between hard work and pure luck.

Great writing is fast becoming a lost art. Are journalism schools still called journalism schools? Is it now something like the Northwestern or Missouri Schools of Blogging and Self-Publishing? There's only one way to learn how to write really well and that's by reading. Which takes time. School can't teach a person what to think. Only reading the minds of great writers can. Some of the greatest writers ever are Evan Hunter, Donald E. Westlake, John D. MacDonald and Harry Crews, all dead. Evan Hunter also wrote as Ed McBain and invented the form for all the good stylistic cop shows on TV. Reading Evan Hunter dialog is exactly like eavesdropping on whomever, it's that good. Harry Crews specialized in writing about the strange place that remains the south. Nobody has ever written funnier than Westlake. John D. MacDonald wrote the Travis McGee novels with colors in the titles. Read anything from any of those people, and you'll be immediately better for it.

Even the best people in the TV horse racing business have strong foundations in writing. Pretty people who say dumb things won't last long. Average-looking people with great picks or creative phrasing have been around horse racing forever, as it should be.