The Gambler and the Bug Boy: 1939 Los Angeles and the Untold Story of a Horse Racing Fix

Overview

“Scandal on the Turf!” the Los Angeles Times proclaimed. It was October 1940, a mere few months after Seabiscuit had won the Santa Anita Derby, and now this bombshell: “Six Jockeys Admit Horse Races Fixed.”

The Gambler and the Bug Boy recounts this dark chapter in horse racing history. At its center is Bernard “Big” Mooney, a flashy LA bookmaker who began his seedy career by threatening young jockeys with death if they didn’t “pull” their horses. His unwilling partner is Albert ...

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Overview

“Scandal on the Turf!” the Los Angeles Times proclaimed. It was October 1940, a mere few months after Seabiscuit had won the Santa Anita Derby, and now this bombshell: “Six Jockeys Admit Horse Races Fixed.”

The Gambler and the Bug Boy recounts this dark chapter in horse racing history. At its center is Bernard “Big” Mooney, a flashy LA bookmaker who began his seedy career by threatening young jockeys with death if they didn’t “pull” their horses. His unwilling partner is Albert Siler, a callow eighteen-year-old apprentice rider (a so-called bug boy) from eastern Oregon. Big Mooney manipulates this promising rider, while Siler tries to escape the gambler’s criminal grip without ruining his career. The harrowing details of the unraveling plot and the botched court case that followed riveted the attention of the nation. Told in full for the first time, this story brings to light a little-known but fascinating horse racing scandal.
 

 

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Editorial Reviews

Jay Feldman

“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
True West - Jason Strykowski

“This fascinating story of gambling and corruption has not yet been told. Fortunately, John Christgau brings the title characters into light and sets the stage effectively. . . . [A] well-researched piece that recounts a great story of intrigue in a place filled with mystery.”—True West
Aethlon - Laurie A. Sterling

“Christgau tells this true crime story with skill, providing plenty of intrigue and suspense, and reminding anyone interested in racing why ‘suspicion [is] as much a part of horse racing as hope.’”—Laurie A. Sterling, Aethlon
Library Journal

One could almost think that this entertaining work by Christgau (Tricksters in the Madhouse: Lakers vs. Globetrotters, 1948) is a novel if it weren't for the 40 pages of citations at the back. He recounts the story of how Albert Siler, an up-and-coming jockey from a struggling family, crossed paths with Big Mooney, an ambitious gambler determined to beat the odds on horse racing by bribing jockeys to lose races. Siler and other young jockeys of the late 1930s were torn between Mooney's easy money and the shame of losing races, but when they tried to leave the gambling ring, Mooney issued dire threats. As the Los Angeles district attorney closed in on Mooney and took him to court, it was up to Siler and the other jockeys to supply the information to close Mooney's operations for good. Christgau brings this "Scandal on the Turf" back to light and life. Recommended for libraries where there is an interest in racing or handicapping, as well as for those enjoying character-driven historical true crime.
—Amy Ford

True West

“[T]his fascinating story of gambling and corruption has not yet been told. Fortunately, John Christgau brings the title characters into light and sets the stage effectively. . . . [A] well-researched piece that recounts a great story of intrigue in a place filled with mystery.”—True West

— Jason Strykowski

Aethlon

"Christgau tells this true crime story with skill, providing plenty of intrigue and suspense, and reminding anyone interested in racing why 'suspicion [is] as much a part of horse racing as hope.'"—Laurie A. Sterling, Aethlon

— Laurie A. Sterling

Jay Feldman
"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

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780803271708
  • Publisher: University of Nebraska Press
  • Publication date: 11/1/2013
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 280
  • Sales rank: 1,432,961
  • Product dimensions: 5.20 (w) x 8.30 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

John Christgau is the author of numerous books, including Michael and the Whiz Kids and The Origins of the Jump Shot: Eight Men Who Shook the World of Basketball, both available in Bison Books editions.
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