12/21/2001 12:00AM

A player is lost - his stories remain


Many of us develop friendships from sitting in the same race book seats for years - friendships based solely on the common ground of betting horses.

Over the years you may only remember these friends' birthdays or ages by the daily double number they bet. You may see their family members only when they visit the race book, and know their children only by faded pictures in a wallet.

But you will know by heart every bad beat, Derby future book miscue, handicapping angle, and road-trip story they ever had. And they will know yours. Only other players can appreciate, or even understand, a lifetime's worth of racetrack stories.

Las Vegas lost a lifetime player this week who left behind a lifetime of great racetrack stories.

Billy Scott, or Scotty as he was known to his buddies, died leaving his apartment on the way to the race book on Monday. He was almost 90 years old, I think, and lived in Las Vegas for a few decades or so, I think. He played at the Orleans race book since it opened in 1997, I think. Scotty was widowed and had two daughters who lived in California, I think.

What I remember for sure are Billy Scott's stories of attending the opening of Santa Anita on Christmas Day 1934 and, later, the openings of Hollywood Park and Del Mar while he lived in Southern California as a young man. He told of the many road trips to Agua Caliente in Mexico during the track's heyday to play the "5-10," forerunner to today's multi-race exotic bets, way before "pick six" became part of every horseplayer's vocabulary.

Scotty said the best horse he every saw was Citation, "bar none." Eddie Arcaro and Johnny Longden were etched in Scotty's memory as the best riders he saw, until "that bug boy Shoemaker" came along.

Billy Scott knew something about bookmaking, too. Scotty used to run bets for bookmakers in California and laid off money at the Southern California tracks for them back when the commute in Los Angeles involved a few minutes on the freeway and a couple of stoplights.

Then came World War II. Scotty's best story came from his tour of duty with the Air Force on a base in the Pacific.

One day, Scotty and three buddies jumped a transport to India and took in the races in Calcutta. Pooling their money, Scotty and the boys bet a three-race parlay. This was, as Scotty would say, "about 50 years before the pick three, now." About an hour later, they took down the entire pool - about $2,500. Like all players who just scored, Scotty and the boys hit a local watering hole after the races.

While they enjoyed their newfound riches, a trainer approached them with a proposition, and after a few drinks Scotty and his guys owned a racehorse. Like a true gentleman, Scotty kept the trainer in for a percentage of the action.

Back at the base, Scotty kept track of the horse. The horse kept winning and the boys kept earning purse money. As the Calcutta meet - and the war - wound down, the boys were informed that their trusty steed had made his way up the class ladder and was running in the big race of the season. Scotty and his partners took another Calcutta run in time to see their horse win the big race.

Scotty had his dream horse and a pocketful of money. Trouble was, the horse was in Calcutta and Scotty and the boys were shipping home. With visions of Phar Lap, Scotty tried desperately to ship the horse to Mexico, but he couldn't pull it off. In a final trip to Calcutta, Scotty and his partners sold their horse back to the trainer for "all the cash he had," Scotty said, and the percentage of the action he was owed.

Scotty and his buddies returned stateside with enough Calcutta cash to marry, settle down, and buy houses and new cars.

Billy Scott had setbacks in health before Monday, but he always said he couldn't die because he was alive with a good prospect in the Derby futures. Billy cashed in on his way to do what he always loved. His stories will live on.

Ralph Siraco is turf editor for the Las Vegas Sun and host of the Race Day Las Vegas radio show.