Great Horse Racing Videos – 1984 Frontline Episode

Frontline Season 2, Episode 11

Air Date: May 7, 1984 as “The Other Side of the Track” ; Rebroadcast Date: November 6, 1984 as “King of the World”

At the time, horse racing was still American’s number one spectator sport. In 1982, more that 77 million people wagered almost $12 billion at the nation’s racetracks. Frontline gives an insider’s look at the ‘sport of kings, ‘ focusing on tracks at Belmont, NY, where the rich indulge their interest in racing, and at Great Barrington in Massachusetts where horses, many with soundness issues, run for purses that can barely pay the feed bill.

Washington Post columnist and inveterate bettor Andy Beyer discusses the beauty and excitement of the sport, praising its virtues as a crucible for one’s character. Handicappers Connie Merjos and Len Ragozin enumerate the incredible complexity of the variables involved in predicting winners.

This program examines the phenomenon of horse racing in the United States. Frontline reporter Irv Drasnin goes behind the scenes of the industry, speaking to track stewards, professional handicappers, so-called “touts,” horse owners, and gamblers to explore the mystique and emotional thrills that attend betting on the horses, as well as the seamier side of the pastime.

The elegant, patrician atmosphere of horse racing associated with tracks such as Belmont Park and Hialeah are contrasted with the “Great Barrington Fair, a rundown venue with worn-out horses that caters to gambling addicts, who desperately flail for the dubious tips provided by Great Barrington’s unscrupulous, bottom-feeding touts.”

Former steward Herman “Slim” Summers, former Massachusetts Racing Commission member James Mosely, and detective Joe Pomarico comment on the rumors of race-fixing and horse-tampering that abound at Great Barrington. The program concludes with Beyer’s annual trip to Hialeah, where he hopes to win at least $50,000, reflecting the the optimism and eternal hope — or destructive self-delusion — required of the serious bettor.

It’s a fascinating look at our sport from nearly 40 years ago.