Their names are Duke, Bob's, Bernie's Reliable, Baedeker's Guide, and Lawton, and it would be inconceivable for many horse-racing fans to go to the track without buying one. Can't tell the horses without a program? Some racegoers believe they can't find a winner without their favorite tip sheet.
At Santa Anita, five tip-sheet operators are allowed to sell their selections at kiosks inside track entrances, and for $2 you get one of their slogans and an eclectic list of betting possibilities.
"Be with us for winners," says Bob's card, adding that "none (is) genuine" without the thumbnail photo of Sam Giller, who is co-owner of the service with Bob Byram.
"It's winnerful" is the way Bernie's Reliable praises itself. Lawton says it has been "best for the bettor since 1906," and Baedeker's claims to be "the most respected name in handicapping for 40 years."
Which card is the best? That's like asking a group of horseplayers for the best horse, but the bottom line for the tip-sheet operators comes at the end of the day, when two of them are allowed to distribute their cards to fans leaving the track if they've accomplished one of the following:
--Picked a winner that pays $20 or more.
--Picked a cold daily double that's good for at least $50, or a crisscross double (from three horses in each race) that pays $100.
--Picked an exacta that pays a minimum of $75, or a crisscross that returns $100 or more.
--Picked at least five horses that win the Pick Six races.
If more than two of the cards meets one of these requirements, a coin flip determines which successful cards are passed out. "The reason for that is that we're concerned with crowd control," said Michael Manning, Santa Anita's director of operations.
Manning has a thick file in his office with applications from about 20 other tip-sheet operators who would like to sell at Santa Anita. "Considering the number of people our current operators deal with in a day, we get few complaints," Manning says. "One of the reasons it goes so smoothly is that they know there are a lot of folks out there who would like to do what they're doing."
Tip sheets are profitable for both the operators and Santa Anita. Giller, a retired distributor of the Daily Racing Form, and Byram paid $70,000 to get the Bob's card in 1975. Giller said that they sometimes sell their picks to 2 1/2% of the crowd, which would be more than 1,000 cards on a big day.
One of the card operators said that Santa Anita receives about $25,000 a season from his sales. Manning says that the track's share of sales averages 50 cents for each card sold.
Selling under the same roof, the operators and their employees practically rub elbows with one another, bombarding racegoers with a cacophony of claims as they pass through the turnstiles.
"Bob's had the $15 winner in that first race!" shouts one, failing to add that the horse was actually the card's second of three selections.
"We're very competitive, but we still work well together," said Jack Norman, a former handicapper for Bob's who took over Bernie's card about three years ago. "If we didn't work together, it would be chaos."
Norman, 63, is a former horse owner and loan officer who spends about three hours a day studying a nine-race card.
Carol Roper and Margaret Jojola have the most unusual arrangement. Roper, whose uncle, George La Duke, started the Duke card in 1936, handicaps the first five races, and Jojola does the rest.
Although the Racing Form's past-performance information on the horses is available the afternoon before the races, Roper does her work between 2:15 and 5:30 a.m. "I need total peace and quiet when I handicap," she says. "That's the best time to do it."
The Lawton picks come from the card's main office in New York. The Lawton New York Handicap started out as a hobby for Lawton Boone Garside, a New York judge, who was bought out by C. (for Clemens) E. (for Eugene) Sheldon and his brother William about 40 years ago. Lawton is the only Santa Anita operator that circulates nationally and reportedly sells a million cards a year at 28 tracks.
Clemens Sheldon was given his first name because his mother was "a second or third cousin" to Samuel L. Clemens, better known as Mark Twain. "It is a difference of opinion that makes horse races," Twain once wrote, and it is difficult to extract from Sheldon the handicapping philosophy that leads to Lawton's opinions.
"Their formula is supposedly locked in a vault back there," said Jimmy Kilroe, Santa Anita's racing vice president who used to work in New York.
Getting the recipe for the chili at Chasen's might be easier. "Mainly, it's present form and weight," said the 62-year-old Sheldon, declining to elaborate.