My Doo-Dah Days: Fifty Adventurous Years as a Horse Trainer and Owner
Alfred Pollock knew at age eight that he wanted to race horses. By the time he was in high school, he had already designed a course for sneaking out of Commerce High School on the Upper Westside of New York City. He arrived with binoculars, a racing form, and betting money, but sneaked stealthily down the steps and out the doors to the racetracks.
Reviewing his doo-day days--a term from Stephen Foster's famous song, "Camptown Races"--Pollock combines a natural flair for finding the irony and absurdity in each event.
Readers will be magnetized by Pollock's retelling of his uproarious, rib-tickling adventures—some raucous, some surreal, many unbelievable. Add to those scenes his ingenious reworking of and commenting on the rich language he encounters, and you have one remarkable personal testimony based on tenacious perseverance.
May 16, 1952, my thirteenth birthday, was a glorious day. I arrived breathless at Belmont Racetrack at 12:45, which gave me a half hour until post time. Since I rarely had more than ten dollars after admission, financial partnerships were a necessity in order to get down for every race. My own consortium consisted of Chalky Jack, a WWII veteran; Chico, a retired pilot; Whitey (I know he did something), and yours truly. We would buy shares of two dollar tickets at 50 cents each if we liked the same horse. However, if there was a difference of opinion, we were either on our own or we had to form new temporary partnerships. No problem on this day, though. We all liked Hambone in the first..
The announcer said, "It is now post time," and, like everyone else, I stood up on my seat. I raised my Roy Rogers binoculars and lit a cigarette. This day, aside from its being my birthday, was no different from any other school day.
I had gotten in touch with my love of horses when I was eight years old. I was taken to the movies to see The Story of Seabiscuit (1949 version). Well, it was like the first time Mozart saw a piano. After that, I sat through it a second time. I would have stayed for a third, but I was dragged out, kicking and screaming.
After that, the only movies that interested me were racing flicks. There was Kentucky with Walter Brennan and Loretta Young, Kentucky Blue Grass with Billy Williams, The Story of Black Gold with Adolph Menjou, The Killing with Sterling Hayden, and, of course, the greatest of them all: A Day at the Races with the Marx Brothers. When there were no racing movies around, I'd look for Westerns, just to see the horses. The only horses I had seen up close had policemen on their backs who, although they wouldn't let me ride, did allow me to pet their horses' noses.
Ultimately, as a result of my tenacity and continuous nagging, my mother capitulated and took me to The Manhattan Riding Academy on West 66th Street. On your first visit, you had to ride around a ring so the owner could see if you could ride safely or not. As I was about to mount Mickey, the owner asked if I had ridden much before.
I replied, "I've been riding all my life." Once I was on the horse, he had no reason to doubt me. It came so naturally, it was easier than walking. I don't know where it came from but, if you believe in nature over nurture, my maternal grandfather was a cavalry officer. My father's father, on the other hand, was a rabbi who would probably have been quite upset when I was thrown out of Hebrew School.
I spent the better part of my high school years in places named Belmont, Jamaica, Aqueduct, Bowie, Pimlico and Lincoln Downs. Since there was no winter racing in the East in those days I went to school. If I was in school in the spring or the fall I was broke. For me, school was a punishment for picking losers.
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