Pittsburgh Phil’s Thoughts on the Pari-mutuel Machines

Apr 17th 2013 09:00 pm |

Pittsburg Phil, 1903

In 1948, Horace Wade wrote an article titled “Uncle Phil’s Boy” for the Turf and Sport Digest about James McGill. McGill, a lifetime “racetracker”, was close to eighty years old working in California and Chicago as a racing official at the time of the articles publication.

Most “racetrackers” have a slew of stories but McGill’s book proved a bit more impressive than the others. He had first hand accounts about Pittsburgh Phil the legendary horseplayer who happened to be his uncle. McGill worked as a betting commissioner, placing bets for his famous uncle in the 1890s. It’s possible that the article from 1948 contains the only first hand accounts from someone who worked in Pittsburgh Phil’s betting operation.

While the article includes a number of great stories about the great gambler, one quote in particular is especially relevant today and worth sharing in a quick post here at Colin’s Ghost.

Wade opened his story with this:

If Pittsburgh Phil were alive today he’d sooner match coins on the street corner than buck the deadly percentage of the pari-mutuel machines.”

He then quotes James McGill directly to further his point:

Uncle Phil would never have condoned that ten percent slice of the mutuels, for he was a man who picked his spots and then plunged when the odds were in his favor. Today a heavy bet, such as he was accustomed to lay on the line, would cut his odds to the nubbin. To a big operator this would make an impossible situation and prove a short cut to the nearest poorhouse.”

Something tells me the famed horseplayer, who made his living laying mountains of money in the betting ring, would be contemptuous of the limited betting options at American racetracks today.


Horace Wade, “Uncle Phil’s Boy,” Turf and Sport Digest, January 1948

UPDATE (4/18): Our friend Neal, the author of the excellent Pull The Pocket blog and an entertaining follow on twitter, was inspired by our post here to write an article titled “If Pittsburgh Phil Were Alive Today…”. It is definitely worth a look — check it out here!

Thanks for reading and good luck!

Filed in Pari-mutuel,parimutuel wagering,Pittsburg Phil,Pittsburgh Phil,thoroughbred racing history

4 Responses to “Pittsburgh Phil’s Thoughts on the Pari-mutuel Machines”

  1. Larry McClelland says:

    Always well dressed, it lent an air of dignity completely lacking at today’s tracks.

  2. Joseph Martin says:

    Those were the days. Wish I could go back in time….when men wore hats.

  3. Nabil Syracuse says:

    I bought a Stetson Borsilino hat 30 years ago around the same time I bought my first race horse. I always admired those sharp dressed owners and trainers from years past wearing them. I hardly ever get a chance to wear it yet when I do I get lots of compliments as well as some people that don’t no what to make of it. But you are right I think we need to bring classy hats back on the seen instead of the ghetto caps.

  4. buzznott says:

    “Ten percent of the mutuels”….try at least 20%, sometimes 25%. Maybe that’s the downfall of the racing business.