The Gambler and the Bug Boy
1939 Los Angeles and the Untold Story of a Horse Racing Fix
University of Nebraska Press
"Six Jockeys Admit Horse Races Fixed," bold headlines shouted in the Los Angeles Times in October of 1940. "Scandal On The Turf!" It had been only a few months since Seabiscuit had won the Santa Anita Derby. Now this report of fixed races at California tracks was described as a shocking "bombshell." Track touts called it "Running for Sweeney." It meant the fix was on, and in the summer of 1939 at Hollywood Park, a handsome and flashy bookmaker and gambler named Bernard "Big" Mooney began threatening young jockeys to make them "run for Sweeney."
For the most part, the jockeys were ambitious but callow farm boys from Idaho and Oregon and the Great Plains, dazzled by the glitter of Los Angeles and Hollywood, and too frightened by death threats to disobey Big Mooney. They were an easy mark for crooks, none more so than Albert Siler, an 18-year-old apprentice rider from eastern Oregon. Son of a farmer and horse trader, Siler had spent five years during the Depression on small town, half-mile tracks, sleeping in tack rooms and horse stalls and training for an eventual chance at the big time. That came in June of 1939 at Hollywood Park Race Track, where his daring riding and numerous victories soon established him as an emerging star. But when Big Mooney confronted the young jockey on a lonely street in the Hollywood hills and ordered him to began pulling horses, Siler felt he had no choice but to obey.
Throughout the summer of 1939, Big Mooney bilked Hollywood stars and producers by encouraging them to bet on fixed races. Still, by the fall of 1939, turf writers were hailing Albert Siler as one of the most promising apprentice riders in the country. What remained hidden, however, was the young jockey’s daily struggle to escape the criminal grip of Big Mooney without ending his riding career, or worse, his life. THE GAMBLER AND THE BUG BOY is the story of a dark chapter in the history of horse racing, featuring two unforgettable characters--Big Mooney, the slick and violent gambler, and Albert Siler, the young, unworldly jockey--whose paths crossed in a riveting escapade in the shadowy world of Los Angeles on the eve of World War II.
In his customary fashion, John Christgau has spun an engrossing tale, rich in salient detail and peopled with memorable characters. From the starting gate to the finish line, The Gambler and the Bug Boy is a winner.
--Jay Feldman, author of When the Mississippi Ran Backwards and
Suitcase Sefton and the American Dream
Recounts a great story of intrigue in a place filled with mystery. . . . the stuff of legend. A very strong narrative rings at the heart of this story.
--True West Magazine
Chistgau is skilled at making memorable characters from his subjects . . . history minded handicappers will find much to appreciate.
One could almost think this entertaining work . . . is a novel. Christgau brings this 'Scandal on the Turf' back to light and life.