Mel Brooks, the director of the classic comedies "Blazing Saddles" and "Young Frankenstein," began showing up at race tracks last year because a friend bought a horse. He doesn't bet much. He doesn't spend much time handicapping.
When other friends buy horses, he bets those horses. He bets on trainers who train for his friends. He bets on jockeys who ride for his friends. He's loyal.
He bets tips and doesn't recommend it. He likes to look at horses, he says, but he isn't buying one himself, forget it. "I think when God figured out what to make that's really gorgeous," Brooks said, "it's a horse. I mean, they are thrilling and beautiful animals. They've very gentle for the most part, very sensitive. But don't get me wrong, I'm not buying one.
"The rule is, if you buy a horse it will never win. It will eat more than any horse in the barn. The first thing it will do is lose a horseshoe and it will hit somebody in the crowd and you'll get a $100,000 lawsuit. These are laws: Never bet more than $2, never buy a horse. I won't even buy a Buick. I have three people, very strong, run me around town. I'm afraid of cars. I'm afraid of everything that moves except these three guys."
Next Saturday, Mel Brooks will somehow get himself to Hallandale, Fla., Gulfstream Park, for the Breeders' Cup program. A horse named for him, Mr Brooks, a son of Blazing Saddles, is entered in the Sprint. Blazing Saddles' sire, Brooks was amazed to discover, was named for the comedian and bust-out horse player, Shecky Greene. "I always suspected," Brooks said, "that Shecky's love for horses went beyond giving them an apple and petting them."
When I spoke to Brooks a few days ago, Mr Brooks was a possibility for the mile or the sprint.
"The sprint makes it tough for me," he said. "My friend, Ed Friendly, owns Gray Slewpy in the sprint, and I have to bet on him, too. I hope there's exactas."
The sprint doesn't sound as glamorous as the mile.
"No, no, I used to be a sprinter when I was a kid in Brooklyn. The 50-yard --. Nobody could beat me. I won all those bronze medals at PS 19 and JHS 50. Over 50 yards anybody could beat me."
Growing up in Brooklyn, I guess all you knew about horses were those movies where Mickey Rooney and Frankie Darro were jockeys.
"And Elizabeth Taylor. Don't forget Elizabeth Taylor in National Velvet."
Did you go to race tracks?
"No, Belmont was on Long Island and Aqueduct wasn't built yet. We saw lots of horses but they were all pulling ice carts and vegetable wagons."
Was your father a horse player?
"My father was a process server. He got his picture in the #F newspapers with movie stars, giving them summonses."
Dick Van Patten was the first guy to take you to the races. Will you ever forgive him?
"Never. I used to be a happy guy. We went out to watch a horse of his named Waterzip at Hollywood Park. Waterzip came into the stretch and he was a distant last. I mean, we couldn't see him. I mean, he was a speck on the horizon."
Are you a student of the game?
"I read the [Racing] Form a little but my wife [actress Anne Bancroft] and I are amateurs. We take $100 with us. I bet $2 across the board on long shots, 20, 30 to 1. If we win, it keeps us going for a few weeks. If we lose, we're only out $100."
And you're not going to buy a horse?
"No, not a whole horse. Not even a quarter of a horse. Buddy Silberman, he owns a quarter of a horse, Dr. Bounty. The right hind quarter, I think. Buddy Silberman, he's Gene Wilder's cousin."
He's Gene Wilder's cousin? That's what he does?
"No, he's in the cable business. And If he stays in racing he'll be picking up cigarette butts one day."
A guy like you must get lots of tips.
"Only from Milton Berle. He's very generous with tips. There's always an excuse. He got a cut hoof. He blinks too much. He's half a gelding but we didn't know that. Milton almost put me in the poor house."
But you're not complaining.
"Oh, no. I like the color. I like the fresh air. I like that it's outdoors. Most racetracks they keep outdoors. I like eating outdoors. I like the chicken chow mein at Hollywood Park. I like that the bar at Santa Anita is the same bar that was in "A Star is Born" with Janet Gaynor and Frederic March."
Who will you be sitting with at the Breeders Cup?
"My friends Sid and Jenny Craig. We see them at Del Mar. Maybe you know their friend, Bill Murray, who writes the racing mysteries. Bill sings very loud. And his wife grows tomatoes. My wife grows tomatoes, too. She does other things. She wins Academy Awards."
Do you think you'll ever make a movie about the race track?
"No. Richard Dreyfuss was in a movie about the races last year. I don't know the name. Everybody knows he made it but nobody knows the name."