Picks and Pans Review: A Breed Apart

updated 08/05/1991 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 08/05/1991 AT 01:00 AM EDT

by Mike Helm

From the grandstand to the paddock, Thoroughbred horse racing has always attracted a remarkably motley crew. In this diverting, though at times dense, book, Helm examines that fascinating subsociety.

A confirmed amateur handicapper and contributor to the Utne Reader, Helm goes behind the scenes to find out what makes a track thrum by spending a season at Golden Gate Fields near San Francisco.

That was the setting for Bill Barich's excellent 1980 book, Laughing in the Hills. But Helm's work is more reportorial, less introspective than Barich's handicapper's odyssey. Helm interviews trainers, jockeys, veterinarians, grounds keepers, stewards and owners, as well as his own $2 exacta friends.

The book is often too detailed. (Who wants to read 10 pages on blinkers and other equipment?) But you do learn many things about how horse racing operates, including the fact that jockeys are almost universally bulimic.

You are also informed that betting on horses is always a crapshoot. Of course, no self-respecting railbird had to put down his Racing Form and pick this book up to ferret out that conclusion. The size of the print in this case, however, is considerably larger. (Holt, $22.50)"

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