Racing loses handicapping pioneer

There was a time when the only things being sold or written about handicapping were get-rich-quick schemes or the kind of useless gizmos that appealed to no one else but the gullible. That was back when just about everyone thought horseplayers were a bunch of degenerates and suckers. Then Dick Carter came around.

Before there was Andy Beyer, Jim Quinn, Steve Davidowitz or anyone else who had something intelligent to say about playing the horses, there was a gentlemanly, soft-spoken journalist and author named Dick Carter, who found playing the horses to be the type of intellectually stimulating exercise that he craved.

Racing lost not only a nice man but an important pioneer earlier this month when Carter, who wrote under the pseudonym Tom Ainslie, passed away at his home in New City, N.Y., at the age of 89. The name Ainslie came from his favorite brand of scotch.

It was Ainslie/Carter who broke important ground, writing intelligent, seminal and successful books on the sport. In doing so, he proved that people wanted to learn about handicapping and study the game. With his words and with his professionalism, integrity and his reputation, he did an awful lot to make playing the horses respectable.

"Here's someone who had a whole career outside of racing, was very successful and he became an advocate of playing the horses as an intellectual challenge that was the equal of bridge and chess," said Davidowitz. "I took a tremendous amount of encouragement from that and from the fact his book was so successful. He stimulated in me the idea that I should write a book. There's no doubt that in that era he was the Charles Goren (a world champion bridge player and author) of handicappers and writers of handicapping. He popularized the idea of the intellectual challenge of horse race handicapping like no one before him."

Well before he wrote his first handicapping book, Carter was a successful, award-winning author. His works included a biography of Jonas Salk and a collaborative effort with baseball player Curt Flood, the first to successfully challenge baseball's reserve clause.

In the 1960s, he began searching for literature on handicapping and was appalled to find that there was none, at least not any that was intelligent. In the preface to the third edition of "Ainsle's Complete Guide to Thoroughbred Racing," he wrote of a time when, after finding no handicapping books at a local bookstore, he asked a clerk why there was nothing available on the subject. This was the clerk's answer: "The reason they don't publish books for horseplayers is that horseplayers can't read."

The "Complete Guide" came out in 1968. To legions of horseplayers and aspiring horseplayers, here was someone who could write about handicapping in a straightforward and stimulating manner and with an exciting message: if you're smart enough and study enough, you can actually make money betting on horses.

Carter wasn't an egomaniac or aloof, as some horseplayers can be. Rather, he was a pretty straightforward and down-to-earth person, which was reflected in his writing. He advocated making win, place and show bets rather than going for trifectas and other exotic wagers. He didn't try to tell you that you could read his books and get rich. Rather, the books were analytical and enlightening and after reading them you were sure to be a better player. He advised people to always keep studying and learning the game.

"His legacy is multi-dimensional and seriously important," Quinn said. "In the broadest terms, he did legitimize the game of playing the races and using an intellectual approach to handicap the races. He did that not just for the players, but for racetracks and for book publishers. He opened the door for a new wave of writers who came along after him, including Bill Quirin, William L. Scott, Steve Davidowitz and myself. Ainslie and these authors had a serious and positive impact on the ideas and methods of playing the races and I think that contributed to the growth of this industry."

Ainslie didn't stop with his first book. He also wrote "The Compleat Horseplayer," "Ainslie's Encyclopedia of Thoroughbred Handicapping" and "Ainslie's Complete Guide to Harness Racing." He also wrote for the Daily Racing Form and for the Racing Times.

Since the "Complete Guide" was published, hundreds of books on the subject have followed, and many of them have been outstanding. Anyone who has ever written a handicapping book, enjoyed a handicapping book or profited from reading a handicapping book owes thanks to Dick Carter.

Bill Finley is an award-winning racing writer whose work has appeared in the New York Times, USA Today and Sports Illustrated. Contact Bill at wnfinley@aol.com.