The title of Mark Paul’s book The Greatest Gambling Story Ever Told is hyperbole but Mr. Paul’s book is nonetheless a captivating true narrative of two highly risky gambles.  The first gamble was betting in the 1988 Kentucky Derby futures pool that the filly Winning Colors would run in and win the race and the second gamble was that the bet could be collected on even if she did.

In the winter of 1988, D. Wayne Lukas was prepping the massive 3-year-old Winning Colors for the Kentucky Derby or Kentucky Oaks on behalf of her owner Eugene Klein, who also owned the San Diego Chargers of the National Football League.  Mark Paul and two acquaintances of his from California are convinced that Winning Colors has a solid chance to win the Derby.  They want to bet on her in a futures pool, taking on the risk that Lukas and Klein will opt instead to run her in the Kentucky Oaks for 3-year-old fillies, in which case their futures wagers will be worthless. 

Paul and his friends decide to bypass the Las Vegas casino futures pool and instead bet at the allegedly drug-gang-owned Agua Caliente Racetrack in Tijuana, Mexico, where they can get much higher odds.  This decision is treacherous because they may not be able to collect if Winning Colors wins the Derby…or if they do collect, they could be robbed and possibly killed in Mexico.  Another obstacle is how to get winnings of over $200,000 back into the United States without notice from U. S. border guards. 

Mark Paul, a commercial real estate broker nicknamed “Miami,” and his two accomplices are Damon Runyon-like characters, similar to so many racetrackers.  Paul has raced motorcycles, sailed a motorcycle through the Panama Canal, and was incarcerated in a Mexican jail for six days at age fifteen.  His buddies Dino and a rotund Big Bernie are expert horse-racing handicappers, who spend much of their days-off from work at Santa Anita and other West Coast tracks.

While the vagaries of betting on Winning Colors to win the Kentucky Derby—and collecting at a racetrack run by a suspected drug cartel—is the theme of the book, Paul also delves into the personal lives of himself and Dino and Big Bernie, notably Paul’s sometimes rocky relations with his girlfriend.  This provides a human subplot to a story ostensibly about gambling.

The 147 pages of Paul’s paperback fly by if you enjoy tales of risk-taking adventurers and horse racing.

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