The progenitor of exotic wagering in harness racing was the twin-double, which was born at Monticello Raceway on May 30, 1963. Leon Greenberg was a visionary when it came to giving bettors an opportunity to win a lot for a little: later on the exacta, triple and superfecta were all available at Monticello before they were embraced by the Metropolitan New York tracks.
The twin, of course, requires the bettor to hit a double, and then turn that ticket in for a bet on a second double. It was almost always offered later on in the card; Monticello used races five through eight, Roosevelt used races six through nine and Yonkers used five and six along with eight and nine.
It was very successful at Monticello, relatively speaking. We’re talking pre-OTB here. In June 1963 there was a record twin pool of $39,346 at that track and the winners got $2,790. The record payoff to that point was $13,635.70, and shortly thereafter that rose to $22,345.20. Nice numbers, but nothing like what would happen when Roosevelt and Yonkers got hold of it.
Roosevelt started offering the twin on July 8, 1963, and within a week the state payoff record was theirs. When a four-year-old maiden mare won the ninth race, paying $80.70, six bettors collected $25,582 each.
Yonkers began offering the bet in August, on Tuesday and Wednesday nights. The handle for those nights immediately jumped 17%. On August 27 Hugh Bell won three legs of the twin and 723 winning tickets brought $214 each.
Meanwhile the twin was also successful at Batavia, Sportsman’s Park, Suffolk Downs and Brandywine. Yonkers handed pamphlets explaining the rules of the race to everyone as they entered the track. It was so popular that they had 113 windows dedicated to the wager, 68 in the grandstand and 45 in the clubhouse. The betting commenced after the second race and there would be long lines forming at that time. Soon attendance on Tuesday nights was up 23%, so they went to three nights a week. Soon enough Atlantic City introduced the twin at their T-bred meet and Liberty Bell asked permission to offer it at their fall meet.
At the end of August a bettor at Timonium Race Track in Maryland held the single winning ticket on a $21,612 twin. Meanwhile, at Yonkers there were ten winning tickets worth $15,330 each.
The large payoff got everyone’s attention, but having more than a few winners was also a plus. For instance, in late September there were 70 winning tickets worth $1,330 each at Roosevelt. The attendance that night was 18,000. That struck a nice balance. On the other hand, in mid-October there were six winning tickets worth almost $19,000 each at Roosevelt and that drew headlines and attention. You needed both.
In November, Joseph Mariano, a 39-year-old bartender from Waterbury, Conn, hit for a record $79,660 at Roosevelt. Then on November 8 that track experienced the worst riot in the history of New York racing when the judges declared an accident marred race in which two horses finished official. It was race number six, the first leg of the twin. Those holding the 3563 live tickets received a consolation payoff of $40.80. Since the presence of the twin was blamed for the riot a meeting was held about whether it should be eliminated.
Despite the riot, more than 31,000 showed up the next night and 93 held winning tickets on a 1 2 5 1 combination that paid $1,617. Then the following Monday the track experienced a record low twin of $59. There were 2492 winning tickets.
Since all sales were on-track it took a lot of manpower to handle the initial rush of bettors, but the mechanics of the exchange weren’t generally a problem, especially when a longshot won in the first half. For example, on April 28, 1964 there was a bad accident in the ninth race, a four-horse pileup that led to three horses not finishing. John Chapman broke his arm. There was only one ticket sold on the 7 5 1 2 combination and that paid a record $132,232.80. The previous record was an $84,000 payoff at Gulfstream Park. There were 17,500 in attendance that night. The winner of the sixth paid $52.00 and a $23 horse won the seventh. There were 2374 live tickets after the sixth race, 168 after the seventh and 21 after the eighth. And then there was one.
On February 22, 1965, there were 56 live tickets going into the ninth race at Yonkers. When Maurice Pusey’s brother Roger knocked off the odds-on choice with a $53 mare he killed 55 of those plays. The unidentified winner, who said he spent six nights a week at the trotters, took his $127,552.70 in cash. They tried to convince him to take a check but he’d hear none of that. It was not his first time winning the twin. He had invested $160 that night. If the odds-on choice, Places First, had taken the ninth he wouldn’t have won. He said he planned to invest his winnings at Roosevelt and Yonkers.
Another regular, Benjamin Belzer of Manhattan, a four night a week man, held the single winning ticket on a $90,557 twin at Yonkers in early September.
In November the S.O.A. of New York petitioned the Harness Racing Commission to abolish the twin. Their purses were based on handle and they claimed the twin was depressing the handle in those four races. The racetracks wanted to keep it, stating that the twin accounted for about 10% of the nightly take. The bettors also seemed to like it, so the commission decided it should stay.
However, the wise guys were figuring out how to game the system and bettors were developing more sophisticated strategies. Syndicates were buying up live tickets and dominating the bet. Keeping order during the exchange period was a headache for management and regulators alike. In addition to that, the IRS was getting crushed as ten percenters seemed to be cashing most of the high dollar tickets for a $600 fee. As a result, the New York Harness Racing Commission outlawed the twin on September 30, 1966. The most exciting bet the sport had ever known had run its course and been discarded.
About five years later, December 15, 1971, to be exact, the indomitable Leon Greenberg introduced the superfecta at Monticello Raceway. Unlike the convoluted twin, the super was sweetly compact. It fit nicely into a small window of time on television and was broadcast in conjunction with OTB. Folks could buy their tickets at one of the many OTB parlors during the day and watch the race that night—the potential to win a lot for a little from the comfort of your easy chair. It became a huge success. 40% of the OTB handle from Monticello came from that single race. Levy and Tananbaum were not happy. The super flourished, but by the spring of 1973 it was too dirty for the authorities to ignore and the bet was eliminated and replaced by the triple. Greenberg lobbied for the reintroduction of the super, with the stipulation that there be a minimum of ten starters. And on it goes.