01/09/2007 12:00AM

An idea from past to push sport forward


TUCSON, Ariz. - Before Andy Beyer, there was Tom Ainslie.

Actually there was no Tom Ainslie. His real name was Richard Carter, but he was the Andy Beyer of his day, and as Beyer was ducking literature classes at Harvard to bet on horses, he learned the trade from Carter's masterpiece of 1966, "The Compleat Horseplayer." It was the largest selling handicapping book of all time, and Carter quickly followed it with another betting blockbuster, "Ainslie's Complete Guide to Thoroughbred Racing."

Beyer, in his own 1983 classic, "The Winning Horseplayer," wrote: "It was Richard Carter who raised the sophistication of the American horseplayer to a new level. . . . His books educated a whole generation of racing fans. He taught them how to read the Daily Racing Form's past performances intelligently and critically. And he wrote so literately about the handicapping process that he appealed to a smart, educated breed of horseplayer. What Ainslie did was to make the game much more competitive."

Carter was working on a harness racing sequel when he first walked into my office, then on Michigan Avenue in Chicago, in 1968 and held me spellbound for three hours prophesizing that the future of horse racing, regardless of breed, would be guaranteed-odds betting.

He campaigned for it, unsuccessfully, in his columns in this newspaper and elsewhere, until he disappeared from sight six or seven years ago after his wife Gladys, a New York editor, was killed when a huge tree fell on her car in a fierce storm in Westchester County north of New York City.

Critics, then and now, say Carter's idea of guaranteed-odds betting is unfeasible, undoable, in fact impossible. Carter argued convincingly that it could be done.

He wrote a column in this newspaper headlined, "The future is now with guaranteed odds," and he argued that both here and in Australia, where it was tried, "neither politicians nor track operators are eager to embrace the new and controversial." America's two major tote companies told him they were uninterested and that the idea was unworkable. He called their response, "Something like the horse-drawn buggy manufacturers' appraisal of flivvers."

"When you propose constructive effort in horse racing," Carter continued, "you are odds-on to hear why nothing can be done. The buzzword, bookmaking, does not nullify an issue as important as this. An amendment to a state's parimutuel law and guaranteed odds would become legal. And business would improve."

In June of 1993 a young mathematics whiz named Ray Gomez was my executive assistant. He wrote an 86-page report titled, "Automated Guaranteed Odds. A Feasibility Model, With History and Background." Ray believed, with Carter, that a bettor can be guaranteed the odds that he causes once his bet is absorbed into the pool. Those are not the odds that existed before that bet, but they would be immune to any further changes regardless of parimutuel play. Ray created a computer model showing how bettors can be guaranteed the odds they create the instant their bet is absorbed in the win pool. He wrote: "With a few modifications and enhancements to the system, we are able to effectively control liability, and, in fact, keep the track commission at precisely the level of the legislated takeout [18 percent in his model] regardless of which horse wins. The problems will be political, not mathematical."

He answered all the questions asked. And his report still sits on my desk.

Gomez concluded that "a concerted industry effort could yield an exciting new wagering alternative for racing," and he quoted another very wise racing man, Alan Balch, who said, "It doesn't have to be done all at once, or every race, or every day, or every place. But it must be tried."

I bring this up now because the game is broken. No matter how much we who live in racing thrill to its heroes and heroines, admire their courage and strength and speed, suffer with their tragedies, exult in their victories, we are a minority.

The public does not like our product, regardless of how much we think it the ultimate sport. They are rejecting it under the onslaught of fierce competition, including slots that may temporarily save it but ultimately can strangle it.

It is time to listen to Tom Ainslie. Guaranteed odds, and other dramatic changes in the product, are worth the effort and education that will be needed to make them legislatively acceptable. Lamentation and self pity no longer can carry us through.