That Time the Calder Race Course Saved Larry King's Life

Severe depression and the Calder Race Course go hand in hand. If you've just finalized your divorce or gotten fired from the United States Postal Service, we recommend you take a trip to Miami Gardens and visit the dilapidated, smoke-filled stuck-in-the-70s environs where a solid majority of the resident addicts will certainly agree with you that life is shit. It's like a giant bus stop, but filled with sad, slow horses and the diminutive men that mount them.

That said, we agree with the aforementioned addicts that it's a great place to go if you want to get drunk and throw small amounts of cash around.

Larry King understands all this.

Long before he was interviewing presidents and Octo-Moms, King was Lawrence Zeiger, a young radio host running an interview-show out of a Miami Beach diner. As he got some local fame, he became a color announcer for Dolphins' broadcasts and a columnist for a paper called the Miami Beach Sun. His new memoir, My Remarkable Journey, is all about Old Miami, if the released excerpts are any indication. This one talks about the 23-year-old novice host getting his last name from an ad for a liquor wholesaler in the Herald. Here he is recalling the first time he met Miami Beach icon Jackie Gleason.

But our favorite excerpt has a down-and-out 38-year old King having nothing better to do than to take a trip to Calder- where he strikes it rich on a lucky bet. We would've spent our winnings in the exact same way he did:

Things got bleaker and bleaker. I became a recluse. By late May, I was down to forty-two dollars. My rent was paid only until the end of the month. I locked myself in my apartment wondering how bad things could possibly get. Pretty soon I wouldn't even be able to afford cigarettes. I remembered a night when I was a young man in New York, alone, cold, and without cigarettes or the money to buy them -- I had smashed open a vending machine to get a pack.

A friend called up and told me to start living like a human being again. He invited me to the track. I had nothing better to do, and I figured it would be good therapy to get out and have lunch with a friend and watch the horses come down the stretch.

I'll never forget that day. I put on a Pierre Cardin jeans outfit that had no pockets and drove to Calder Race Course. I can still see the horses warming up before the third race. There was a horse called Lady Forli -- a filly running against males.

Normally, female horses don't beat males. We're talking cheap horses. I scanned the board and saw that she was 70-1. But my eyes really opened when I looked at the racing form. Racetrack people talk to each other. So I turned to the guy next to me and said, "You know, this horse, three races back, won in more or less the same company. Why is she 70-1?"

"Well," the guy said, "there's a couple of new horses here."

"Yeah, but she should be, like, 20-1. Not 70--1."

Screw it. I bet ten dollars on the horse to win. But I kept looking at the horse. The more I looked at this horse, the more I liked it. So I bet exactas. I bet Lady Forli on top of every other horse and below every other horse. Now I had what's called a wheel.

I kept looking at the horse. Wait a minute, I told myself, I've got four dollars left. I have a pack of cigarettes. I've gotta give the valet two bucks. That still leaves me with money to bet a trifecta.

My birthday is November 19. Lady Forli was number 11. So I bet 11 to win, 1 to place, and 9 to show.

Now I had bets in for 11 on top, 11 on bottom, and 11 to win. And I had a trifecta -- 11-1-9. When the race began, I had two dollars left to my name -- and that was for the valet.

They broke out of the gate. The 1 broke on top, the 9 ran second, and the 11 came out third. The 11 passed the 9, passed the 1, and they ran in a straight line all around the track. There was no question about it. The 11 won by five lengths. The 1 was three lengths ahead of the 9. I had every winning ticket. I had it to win. I had the exacta. I had the trifecta. I collected nearly eight thousand dollars. Eight thousand dollars!

It had to be one of the happiest moments of my life -- certainly the most exciting. But I had no pockets.

So I stuffed all the money in my jacket. It was bundled up. I didn't know what to do with it. I ran out of the track. The valet attendant came over and said, "You leaving so early?"


"Bad day, Mr. King?"

I tipped him fifty dollars. The guy nearly fainted.

I had to go somewhere, to stop and make sure it was real. I drove to a vacant lot, which is now called Dolphin Stadium. I parked among the weeds and opened up my jacket. All the money spilled out. I counted out about seventy-nine hundred dollars.

I paid my child support for the next year. I paid my rent for a year. I bought twenty cartons of cigarettes and stacked them up in my apartment, and I filled the refrigerator.

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Gus Garcia-Roberts

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