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

Categories: Media Watch, News
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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?"

"Yeah."

"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.
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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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