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Monday, February 07, 2011

Number 1

The title of the book was so unusual, that I still see the words on the spine sitting in my library: Horary Numerology of the Turf.

For the gambler or, if you prefer, the person who enjoys the occasional wager, New York City has not been devoid of betting opportunities, licit or illicit. Off Track Betting was legalized in 1970 and in time, hundreds of betting parlors dotted the city (in December, 2010, the entire business operation closed). And although not on the hit list of most tourists or residents, the city is also home to a major race track: Aqueduct in Ozone Park, Queens, serviced by its own subway stop on the A train. It is a convenient, affordable and pleasant way to spend a sunny afternoon.

For a brief time I became very interested in horse handicapping, driven by my interest in mathematics and lured, like others, by the "easy money." I foolishly believed that somehow the entire endeavor could be stripped of any horse hide and reduced to numbers, akin to the dream of many investors with approaches like Elliot Wave theory, Fibonacci series etc. I was never a gambler at heart, so my interests remained more academic, driven by the challenge of finding a credible method to gain some advantage. My attendance at the racetrack was very infrequent and betting even less so.

My library of books on handicapping horses ran the gamut, but certainly the most intriguing and arcane was that volume, Horary Numerology of the Turf, by Rosajo, published and printed in 1979 in India. The book had a look and feel of biblical authority. I am sorry to report however, that Rosajo's treatise was not a key to the promised land and I soon learned that although a beatable game, betting horses was far from easy money and the few that were successful invested their lives. Andrew Beyer was one of these.*

My interest in numbers has become eclipsed by other life concerns and much more casual, piqued at idle moments, most often when confronted with the numbers of New York City - such as subways lines or the streets. There are only 12 avenues in Manhattan, hence, there are 12 possibilities of intersections where the number of an avenue and street could be the same. And in fact, there are only two such intersections: 1st Avenue and 1st Street and 2nd Avenue and 2nd Street.

I normally hate waiting for traffic lights in the city - I feel like each one steals 60, 90 or 120 seconds of my life. But here, at 1st and 1st, I can spend the time pondering the meaning or usefulness of the number 1. The unitary, solitary and primary significance of the number one always makes me pause and take notice when I am at this intersection. Let's see - both the first letter of Aqueduct and the A train stopping there share the first letter of the alphabet. Perhaps I should look at the the first race for horse number 1 :)

*In 1975, Beyer authored Picking Winners: A Horseplayer's Guide.
Beyer, a Harvard graduate and syndicated columnist since 1978, was however, not a man with a casual interest in racing. He became interested when he was 12 years old. Many consider him to be the most important and best handicapper in America, with a rare, if not singular ability to have profited consistently betting on the ponies using numbers. His once proprietary edge, now the Beyer Speed Figures, have become an industry standard, are incorporated into the odds - they are no longer adequate for beating the races.