Thursday, August 23, 2012

The Miami Beach Dog Track Story

                                                   The Miami Beach Dog Track Story
                                              A true story that no one believes
                                     Written 2010 rewritten 04/12/2016 unedited
                                                          Howard Yasgar 
      Over the years, I have told this true story to many people, but still no one believes me.
      Even I have found the story hard to believe myself, but I assure you it’s a true story.
      In 1963 my grandfather Ed Lazaroff, was living in a condominium located between 5th and 6th Street on Collins Avenue, on South Miami Beach. It was only because of my family visiting my grandparents that I became familiar with that area of South Miami Beach. My mother and father started coming to Miami Beach to visit my grandparents in the 1950’s and they always brought me along with them. Thus every year, coming to Miami had become like a ritual for me, we always stayed at the Corsair Hotel which was the very first hotel in the long line of art Deco hotels that were located on Ocean Drive. We stayed at the Corsair Hotel because it was the closest hotel to where my grandparents lived. The Corsair hotel unfortunately is long gone now, but I remember it very well. It had long hallways and louvered wood doors on all the rooms. I think a room was eight dollars a night and another dollar fifty if you wanted an oscillating fan on your dresser. You couldn’t beat the price and the back yard of the hotel was the beach and the ocean.
      Next to the Corsair Hotel, was a park that was absolutely loaded with coconut palms, and in the middle of the park there was a bandstand. The bandstand had a big dance floor, a stage and lots of fold up chairs for people to just sit. They played live music there several nights a week, and the dancing was free.  My grandfather said the music and dancing was the main reason he had moved back to South Beach, he just loved to dance with all the ladies.
      After you walked by the band stand, there was a pathway leading to what was called the “South Beach Fishing Pier.” The fishing pier was a long concrete pier that extending several hundred yards out into the ocean, the pier had another smaller bandstand on it, as well as rest rooms. On the end of the pier was a roofed sitting area, where you could sit and watch all the people fishing. I remember seeing that some people fished there all night, and some people sat there watching them all night.
      To the left of the fishing pier was the public beach and then the Corsair Hotel’s beach. From there the Miami Beach ran north forever, all the way up the coast and behind all the big hotels. On the right side of the South Beach fishing pier it was mostly undeveloped land, and there was more free public beaches, if you looked real hard you could see huge gray boulders at the end. They were placed at the very south tip of Miami Beach to keep the beach from washing away.
     When I was there in the early 1960’s, there was still nothing built on the south end of Miami Beach it was just free public beach and undeveloped land.
      By 1963, my mother was happily leasing the small “Norman Hotel” on Miami Beach. The hotel was located on 6770 Collins Avenue. It was just a small place with only 24 rooms but it was located right across the street from the Deauville, the Carillon and the Sterling hotels. Below the Norman hotel was a public auction gallery, and in the evenings, people walking down Collins
Avenue would come in the open doors to the gallery and sit down, and they listened to the auctioneer selling everything from diamonds to frying pans.
      My mom said that she was having a grand time leasing and managing her little hotel, fortunately she said that she was  catching the overflow people from the big hotels across the street, as well as renting rooms to the various dealers that came to sell their wares at the auction gallery.   
      By November of 1963, I had just gotten married in Connecticut, and my wife and I came to
Miami so I could run an auto wrecking business for my good friend, Lou Gladstein. Lou and his wife had made a strong case for me to move to Florida. They gave me a 1959 Plymouth to use to make the trip and they said it would be just like a honeymoon for us. Besides that I would be helping them to run the wrecking yard business. So in December of 1963, my wife and I drove all the way down to Miami from New Haven Connecticut, and we stayed for a while at mom’s hotel.
     It wasn’t long before I found that my friend Lou’s former manager had embezzled so much money from the business that it would be impossible to make a go of it. So I suggested that the best move for Lou, was to close the place down, and he did, and that was when my wife and I decided to stay in Florida rather than return to Connecticut.   
      Eventually by 1965, my mom had given up managing the hotel, she said that she had never made a dime running it, but she had loved every minute she was there. Because my mom loved South Beach so much that she then rented an apartment at the Cadillac Hotel. At the time, when she did this, I was working at a company in Hialeah Florida. So my mother’s living on Miami Beach now gave my wife and I a good reason to drive to Miami Beach to see her whenever we could.
      I must mention that by 1965, South Miami Beach had started changing dramatically, there was a lot of new development going on. We thought it certainly was a very interesting for us to watch the changes on Miami Beach happening right before our very eyes. Tourism was in high gear, and companies like “Tower Air” were bringing in European tourists for four days and three nights for only $450.00 dollars a person, and that was including airfare from Europe. We would always see loads of European tourists standing on South Beach street corners. It was easy to identify them with their, shorts, pale white skin, light hair and multi colored camera straps.
     One day, as we were showing off Miami Beach to some newly visiting friends, and we noticed that all the former vacant land south of the Miami Beach fishing pier was now being developed. We assumed that there was going to be another big hotel built there. But to our surprise there was a sign that said there was going to be a South Beach dog track, complete with a parking garage.   
      Although we knew that there were several other dog tracks already in South Florida, we had never been to one, so now, as we watched the dog track construction on Miami Beach progress, we became determined to go there when it was completed.
      By late 1965, we now read that the new South Beach Dog Track had been completed and we were excited to go there to see it.
      When we got to South Beach we noticed that everything had changed, the coconut tree park, next to the Corsair Hotel now looked dark and menacing, it looked like it was dangerous to walk there, the Coconut palms were still there, but the bandstand appeared to be all boarded up, and the once beautiful concrete South Beach fishing pier was now just completely covered with graffiti.
     We parked in the new dog track parking garage, and just followed the crowd of people into the lighted entrance of the huge track.  Right in the middle of the entrance there was a podium set up with a fellow selling racing programs for fifty cents each, so I bought one.
      Inside the giant stadium, we sat down in an upper row of seats, where we had a perfect view of the entire race track, and right behind us was a row of what appeared to be ticket selling windows set up where you could place a bet.
      Once we were seated I opened the racing program to study it. It certainly was a mystery to me, as I had no idea of what I was looking at, and neither did my wife. The race program looked
To be too complicated, so we both studied it carefully. We could clearly see that there was going to be ten races that evening. We also saw that there were numbers that were corresponding to each dog that was going to be in each race. Then there was a lot of information regarding each dog. Well, I have to admit we didn’t understand any of it, so I looked behind us, to where the betting windows were. It was a Thursday evening, and there were not too many people placing bets, and there was no one at all standing at the first few windows, so I got up and walked over to the first betting window.
      At the window, I asked the fellow standing there, can you tell me how to read this racing program, as I don’t understand it. Fortunately there was no one waiting to place a bet, and I was the only person standing there at the window. So the ticket seller, a young man about thirty years old appeared to be a friendly enough guy, and he took my program and tried explaining everything to me. First he said that I should just look at the bottom of each page. That was where the professional handicappers already picked who they thought was going to win each race.  He said all you have to do was bet on the dogs that the handicapper’s already picked. OK, that appeared to be easy enough to do. It appeared that these handicappers told you which dogs they thought would win, place or show. I thought that was pretty simple, so I went back to my seat and told my wife all about all my new found knowledge regarding the dog track betting procedure.
      So, now that we were fully educated regarding dog racing, it was time for the first race, and I saw that the three handicappers had all picked dog number three. So I went back up to the ticket seller in the first window and I played one dollar on dog number three to show. Well, the ticket seller was right, and the system worked perfectly, our dog number three came in, and I went back up and collected my winnings, which was a total of one dollar and thirty cents. I had made a thirty cent profit.
      On race number two, we did the same thing, we looked at who the handicapper’s picked and I bet one dollar and this time we won one dollar fifty cents, making a fifty cent profit. We were amazed at how easy winning at dog racing was, we had already won eighty cents.
      But then I got to thinking, if we bought two hot dogs, and two beers, the cost of the food was going to be way more than we had won, so I looked around, there still were not a lot of people at the track, so I got up and walked back up to the same ticket seller at the first window, but this time I had to wait to talk to him, he was engaged in what was obviously an important whispering conversation with someone that had just walked in from a side door that was to the left, behind his window.
      After a few seconds he saw me looking at him and finally came over to me. I told him that betting on a dog to show was fun, but we didn’t win much money. He agreed, and said that to make more money we had to play more money to win, not to show. He then pointed to dog number seven on the program and said for me to play him to win the next race, which happened to be race number three. I saw that two of the handicappers had also picked dog number seven.
     I did exactly what he said, and then I went to sit with my wife and watch the race. While sitting there I told my wife everything the ticket seller had said, about how we could  win more money. My wife looked at me very skeptically, and she said “Why would a ticket seller tell me who was going to win.” But you know how wives are, they always think like that.
     We watched the race, and dog number seven won, and our winnings was five dollars. Boy I was really excited now as we had played three races and won all three of them. So, just like before when it was time for the fourth race, I again walked up to the teller window. This time he smiled broadly, when I gave him my winning ticket to cash, he paid me my five dollars.
     I showed him my program for race number five and he told me again what dog to play. I did exactly as he said, and this time we won twelve dollars. It appeared that winning at dog racing was going to be an easy thing to do, all I had to do was ask the ticket seller who to play, he would tell me, and we would win, it was as simple as that.
       So when race number six was coming up, I again walked up to the window and asked the ticket seller what dog to play. He looked around to see if anyone was looking or listening to us and he said that I was to take two dollars from my previous winnings, and place it in a wooden brochure rack that was attached to the wall about three feet to the left of his window “Just look, the rack is about three feet to your left of where you are standing.” He said, so I looked to my left and saw the rack he was talking about. He then said, I was to take out one of the papers from the rack and fold it in half with my two dollars inside it, and then replace it back in the rack.
    Well, I didn’t like this one bit, I didn’t know if he was serious or joking, and I certainly didn’t like giving any of my meager winnings away, but I relented and did exactly as he said. He watched me and again he told me what number dog to play in race number six.
     I went back to my seat and told my wife all about what was going on, she also didn’t know what to make of it, and neither did I. So we just sat there and watched, as the sixth race went off.
Again, as usual we won, but this time we had won twenty four dollars.
     Now I was getting really nervous, the ticket seller said I had to put six dollars of my winnings money in the brochure rack. That’s when I started to get real concerned, I wondered if someone was watching or photographing me. Were we possibly on “Candid Camera”.  I wondered if what I was doing, was illegal. My mind was running wild with all sorts of thoughts, perhaps it was some kind of a sting set up, and my wife and I were going to be arrested. But anyway, I did what he said, and put the six dollars in the wooden rack. But this time I had to ask the guy how the hell he knew who was going to win all the time. He simply said it was the dog handlers that told him everything, and they were all getting a share of my winnings. As I talked with him, I saw my wife was watching me. That’s when the ticket seller gave me the winning dog number for race number seven.
     By the time the seventh race went off, I was really sweating. I knew whatever was going on had to be illegal. When the race was over we had won thirty six dollars, my wife and I couldn’t believe it. We could either become rich doing this, or I could possibly go to jail.
     Both my wife and I were so nervous, that we got up, and walked over to a different ticket seller window and I cashed in our thirty six dollar winning ticket, then we both walked out of the South Beach dog track as fast as we could, and we never went back.  
     For several years I wondered how that ticket seller did what he did, and how did he really know who was going to win? Whenever I told the story to anyone, they said I was crazy, they said no one could possibly have the information as to which dogs will win each race. I agreed but it happened to me, and that’s when another strange thing happened. We were living in Hialeah at the time, and we had a neighbor up the street that said he was a bologna salesman. One day he asked me if I would go with him to Flagler Dog Track with him, he told me that he and his wife, were semi- professional dog race gamblers. His wife was ill so he wanted to know if I would go to the Flagler dog track with him. He said that if I went with him he would show me how to bet, so I agreed to go with him.
     On the way to the track, I told him the story of my experience at the South Beach Dog Track and like everyone else, he said my experience of winning there was impossible to have ever happened, so I just shut up and didn’t say any more. My neighbor said that the only way to win at dog racing was by studying each dog’s history, their weight, their medications, etc. He said he would show me how it was done.
     We arrived at the Flagler Dog Track, and I was very surprised to find it was very crowded, there were so many people it was hard for us to find good seats. Finally when we found seats, I tried my best to place all my bets by looking to see which dogs seemed the liveliest. And I also looked at the program to see who the handicappers picked just like I had done at the South Beach dog track. Well, I won only one race out of the first four. My neighbor, said I was doing everything wrong, but I could see he was irritated as he hadn’t won anything.
     When it was time for the fifth race, I was standing in the long line with all the other people, I was waiting to place my bet, the line was slow, and I was becoming concerned that I would not reach the ticket seller before the next race had already started. I had picked a three dog combo,
number three, number five and number seven, and just as my turn came up to place my bet, I saw someone pass right behind the ticket seller and I heard her whisper the numbers two, four and five into the ticket seller’s ear, so I immediately changed my bet to two, four and five. When I went back to my seat, I told my neighbor what had just happened. He looked at me like I was a lunatic, he said that he had never heard of such a ridiculous thing in his whole life.
    When the race was over the winners were number two, number four and number five, exactly as I had played them, and I had won thirty five dollars. I saw that my neighbor had lost again, but he never said another word to me. After I collected my winnings, he did say he wanted to go home.
    Over the next several years, I have told this story to many people, but no one believes it.
    The dog track at South Beach is no longer there, nor is the bandstand or the South Beach fishing pier, they are all gone. The bandstand has been replaced by a restaurant, and the Corsair Hotel also no longer exists, it was torn down a few years ago.
       Every word of “The Miami Beach Dog Track Story” is true, and exactly as it happened in 1965, and my wife was a witness. Do you believe it? I only write true stories.


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