Updated on 09/16/2011 8:07AM

Tough way to make a living


DEL MAR, Calif. - To any horseplayer who ever fantasized about making a living betting on horses, clocker-gambler Gary Young says "don't even try."

But why not? It's a dream job: time morning workouts at Santa Anita or Del Mar, wager in the afternoon, hit the pick six every few days. Young smiled. "[Bettors] come up to me and say, 'I want to do what you do.' I say, don't try . . . a 55-hour work week without a paycheck at the end of the week is not something made for everybody."

The vocation - clocking and gambling on horses - also is widely misunderstood. "You get some weird looks from people off the racetrack," Young said. "You meet someone and they ask 'What do you do?' Well, I gamble on horses. They look at you like you're the creature from the Black Lagoon."

Except that the profession is nonfiction, and tailor-made for Young. A 40-year-old clocker-gambler whose twin brother, Steve, is a trainer in New York, Gary Young has carved a reputable niche in California. Young's opinion, based primarily on his interpretation of morning workouts, is widely sought.

Leading trainers routinely cross-check work times with Young. Jockey and bloodstock agents have his cell number on speed dial, and public handicappers regularly quiz him regarding first-time starters. The reason is simple. "I am good at what I do," Young says. "Damn good."

When you wager more than $300,000 a year, as Young did regularly in the 1990's - your competence level shows up in the bottom line. Says Young: "I'm up." He also has come a long way from his first racetrack job, walking hots at Calder at age 17. "When I first started, if I left the races with $100 in my pocket, all was right in the world." Over the years, the ante was raised.

Young worked six years as stable agent for trainer Arnold Winick, teamed in the 1980's with professional gambler Rene Romero for a lucrative 15-year assault on the California pick six, and has ventured into the bloodstock business. It was on Young's advice Albert Broccoli purchased 1993 Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner Brocco; stakes winner Crafty C.T. was purchased by Carl Grether on Young's recommendation, after watching the colt at a 2-year-old sale.

Those would be Young's credentials on a resume. He hasn't needed one; self-employment was the only way. "I don't think I was ever meant to have a boss," he said.

Young can be found most mornings in the box seats at Santa Anita, a few yards before the finish line. Stopwatch, tape recorder, and notebook are the tools of his profession. Able to identify hundreds of horses by sight, Young watches them gallop and breeze, interpreting their condition by how they move. The morning observations apply directly to afternoon performance. At least, that is the simple explanation.

"The biggest misconception people have about this part of the game is that - because we clock horses - we immediately walk in and know who to bet on," Young said. "If every horse ran like they worked, I'd be in Hawaii playing golf every day for the rest of my life."

Instead, Young plays golf locally, usually only on dark days. On a typical afternoon of racing, Young is putting together pick six tickets, wagering, applying the subjective workout information to the black-and-white interpretation of Daily Racing Form past performances. He has been doing it for more than 20 years.

Partly because of his backstretch experience, and primarily because few others were clocking horses for the sole purpose of wagering, Young discovered "there was a tremendous edge. It's not only timing them in workouts, but recognizing how they're galloping, recognizing which ones are going good, which ones are going bad."

Young spent summers in California starting in 1981, when Winick sent East Coast-based Spence Bay out West. Young, a "stable agent," made one of his first workout-related scores in 1983 with a California first-time starter trained by Tommy Doyle.

"He just looked like a really nice horse who covered a huge amount of ground," Young recalled. "He drew the one-hole, which people tend to shy away from with a first-time starter, and he was sitting up there at 35-1." Young bet straight, Mighty Adversary rallied. Young does not offer specific dollar amounts of his wagers, but the impression was the win-wager score was at least five figures.

The pick six offered greater opportunities. Playing tickets in the $1,500 range - higher on carryover days - Young and Romero banged profits year after year, before going their separate ways. "I have made some pretty big scores straight betting, but it's mostly been pick sixes," Young said. "There's no way you can continue to eat chalk and wind up winning. If you try win-place betting on 5-2 or less, you have no chance."

Although Young said his parimutuel advantage has declined (he cited proliferation in California of work-related information and an accompanying decline in quality), the hits keep coming. Only two years ago Young put together a pick six ticket at Santa Anita (Feb. 5, 2000) that returned $601,025. It was a huge payoff considering 3-5 Strub Stakes favorite General Challenge effectively made it a pick five.

Since much of Young's handicapping addresses the gray area between preparation and performance, it follows that his strong suit is analyzing horses whose form is unclear. Maiden races, comebackers, and recent imports provide his biggest advantage. "The 4-and-up, $25,000 claimers . . . rarely are you going to cash a bet based on [clocking information]."

Young has declined offers to publish his observations, but noted that today's bettors have abundant access to similar California information. He cited National Turf (nationalturf.com) and Handicappers' Report (hreport.com) as leading sources.

"The weekend player has a lot more chance now of coming out ahead than he used to. When we first came to California, there weren't even any trouble notes in the [past performances]," Young said. "Now, not only can the weekend player read that, he can go to [video replay machines] and see it."

He can win also, but only with proper wagering. Young's strategy requires self-discipline. "I don't bet every day," Young said. "I only bet when I like the card, or when there's a carryover. Like a Thursday card. I can't pick one, how am I going to pick six? When I like a card, I have at least two singles, one of which cannot be a favorite. Preferably, both. A lot of the pick sixes I hit, both were not favorites."

According to Young, handicapping is "always is a process of elimination, eliminating horses you think can't win." He explained his basic approach marking up Daily Racing Form. "I either kick a horse out totally with a slash through him, or if I think a horse is a secondary [contender] I put a 2 through him. If I think he's got a chance but I'm not too sure about him I put a question mark through him. If I like a horse, I put a circle around him.

"I don't pay a lot of attention to [speed figures]. I go by what my gut feeling is, what my eyes tell me when I watch them in the afternoon, what my eyes tell me when I watch them work in the morning. I try to bet on the best horse, not the fastest horse."

Ultimately, Young uses a sports analogy in buying horses, and gambling on them. "You've got to hit the ball out of the ballpark," he said. "When you're buying horses, you're going to have some Hindenburgs, you're going to have some lemons. It's just like gambling, when you hit one" - Brocco and Crafty C.T. for example - "you better hit one good."