09/18/2007 12:00AM

Friendship with Carter a thrill and honor

EmailTUCSON, Ariz. - Steven Crist told the story here last week of what Tom Ainslie did for horse racing in America.

This is about what he did for me, and for countless others like me fortunate enough to know this remarkable man who died at 89 as September dawned.

It is about the impact he had on my life and others, the inspiration he provided, the friendship he offered, and the bizarre role I played in starting his descent into a living hell.

I first met him in 1970, when his "Ainslie's Complete Guide to Thoroughbred Racing" was just changing the way people perceived the sport and bet on it.

He walked into my office in Chicago unannounced.

"I'm Dick Carter," he said. "I wrote a book on Thoroughbred handicapping under the name Tom Ainslie, and I'd like to do one on harness racing. I thought this would be a good place to start."

I told him I knew who he was and was honored to meet him. I still am, 37 years later, knowing what I would have missed if he had not walked in.

We became close friends, but his calls and letters stopped eight or nine years ago, and my efforts to find out why, or where he was, went nowhere. We had talked regularly for three decades preceding the silence, and I worried that somehow he blamed me for the event that changed his life, and may have contributed to ending it.

Dick and his wife, Gladys, a brilliant woman who was a New York editor in her own right, came to visit us in Tucson 11 years ago. They stayed for a hugely enjoyable week. On the Sunday morning that they left to visit their daughter Nancy in Seattle, I asked Dick what route they were traveling, since there were no nonstops to Seattle from Tucson at the time.

"New York," he said, and I told him that was the long way to get to Seattle from Tucson. He explained that Gladys had some editing assignments that needed to be handled.

Four days later, as Gladys Carter drove home on a parkway to Ossining north of New York City in a blinding rain and windstorm, a tree fell on her car, killing her.

Dick and I stayed in touch for a few years after that, and then silence.

It was only last week, when I heard from Steve Bochnak, who helps guide racing matters through the Legislature in Albany, that I learned that Dick Carter was not angry with me. He apparently was not angry with anyone. Steve had encountered the same void I did in trying to reach Dick. He assumed Dick had quietly slid into another world of non-recognition.

All this is important to me, and perhaps of interest to others, because of what Dick Carter represented. He was, intellectually, as close to a Renaissance man as I have encountered in a lifetime in racing.

He could discuss anything, with a wide-ranging mind powered by an inquisitive intellect and an argumentative streak to accompany it. If he believed in something, you had better study up a bit before trying to change his mind.

His obituary indicated the width and breadth of that mind. He wrote the history of Dr. Jonas Salk's development of polio vaccine, an event that helped change the world. He wrote the story of Curt Flood's challenge to the reserve rule that helped change baseball. He wrote the story of waterfront crime in New York that became "Slaughter on Tenth Avenue." And he argued against, but never changed, racing's reluctance to try to do serious experimentation with some form of guaranteed-odds wagering, where a bettor would be paid at the odds on his horse at the moment he made the bet. Thirty years after he insisted it could be done mathematically, only rudimentary research has been conducted despite huge technological advances since then.

A journalist friend named Pete Lawrence e-mailed me this week to thank me for something I had little to do with: He happened to sit next to Dick Carter on a bus going to Pompano Park for a night at the races I had arranged.

"What did we talk about?" he wrote. "I have no idea, but it probably included some gushing and genuflecting on my part and was a long-ago thrill that's still with me. He'll always be Tom Ainslie to me, and he helped rope an impressionable kid from Brooklyn into racing 30-odd years ago, and the kid stuck around."

Dick Carter will always be Tom Ainslie to a lot of us. It was, as Lawrence discovered on a short bus ride, a thrill to know him.