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Wonderland - Chris Sarno Memoir

After he went on disability, Chris Sarno passed a lot of his time at the Wonderland Greyhound Park, which was a prominent race track. "I wasnít a big bettor," he said, "but I liked the glamour of the sport." Around the back area of Wonderland, he got to know the different kennel operators and owners. The operators leased dogs from owners. They ran the dog and gave a percentage of the winnings to the owners. The owner of Paul Discolo Kennel, a number one kennel, noticed Sarno because he used to be around the track working the dogs in the morning. "He asked me if I wanted a limited job in his kennel, but I didnít want the kennel work," he said. "Greyhounds are on a strict regimen 24 hours a day. A kennel worker has to be there for the greyhounds to let them out to relieve themselves, as well as to feed them. Everything has to be done at the exact same time every day and night, and the dogs become acclimated to that schedule. If the schedule doesnít happen, the dogs freak out. They have no patience. They know when it is time to go out and take a leak. Why isnít he here to let me go out? Or, itís time to go to sleep or itís time to go to the race track. Itís like the dogs have a time clock in their body. I didnít want to be tied down like that." But Sarno told the owner that he would pick up the dogs after the night races and care for them. The job involved bringing them back to the kennel, feeding them, putting them up, and cleaning them off. "Thatís how I got the general knowledge of how the kennels operated," Sarno explained.

For 16 years (1976-1992), Sarno was involved in greyhound racing in one form or another. From 1980 to 1984, he worked for Dicolo Kennel, taking care of the dogs under his care in a professional manner. He didnít gamble and he didnít smoke, as some of the high school graduates who worked at Wonderland were wont to do. "They sometimes got rough with the dogs," Sarno said. "I was different. All my attention was given to those five or six dogs at night. It got back to the owners through the trainers that I was doing my job and doing it well. I didnít mingle with the trainers. I was cordial to them, but I didnít sit down with them at the track. I always sat down away from everybody, ready to pick up my next entry. Most of the trainers were always together and goofing off to bet. They were in their own community. I worked at the track, but I lived in my own house. I wasnít in their social structure at all, and I didnít want to be."

Sarno and a partner got involved in the ownership side of the racing business when they pooled their funds 50/50 to purchase two greyhounds out of a Mexican track. "We put up the money for these two pups," Sarno said, "and they panned out pretty good. Buying a dog now opened a whole new world of some good acquaintances and a lot of competitive enemies. All of us were in quest of purse moneys by winning races. I was finally my own boss and was successful in a business designed to failure because of its competitiveness."

His next venture as a greyhound owner proved even more lucrative. He purchased an expensive dog from a small track in Arizona. A favorite to win in Arizona, Sarnoís dog caused a big stir of interest among the bettors and spectators at Wonderland. In 1981, Wonderland was at its apex. "Every night there were record crowds of three or four thousand people," Sarno recalled. His new dog, Tennessee Annabelle, was a public favorite due to the publicity that had been generated out of Wonderland after her schooling (first run) successes at the east coast track. As she won run after run, she became a heavy favorite among the crowds. "The people wanted to ride the star," Sarno said. "The public was enraptured with Tennessee Annabelle. She was the darling of the betting public now." She went on to win ten consecutive races, breaking the track record for consecutive races won by a speeding greyhound. "She was a sweetheart," Sarno said. "She was just a natural winner, bred for speed. She went on to win 17 races out of 20, and then she got hurt. She tore a muscle and she couldnít race anymore, but that summer she was queen of the track. She came out of the clouds and stole the bettorsí fancy."

After her injury, Tennessee Annabelle was put on a farm to brood puppies. She gave her owners four litters in the next ten years. Going against conventional breeding methods, Sarno bred Tennessee Annabelle with an Irish greyhound named Minnesota Vote. Their beautiful, well-built offspring were "master race greyhounds," according to Sarno. Annabelleís whole first litter of six pups survived. "We won the most races through that litter," he said. "We won by nine races over the nearest litter. We got the breeding award for the most winning litter (49 wins) through Annabelle." His top quality racers came from a breeding operation in Oklahoma, and when they arrived at Wonderland, they quickly caught the publicís wagering fancies. "The rabid fan base placed bets as much as $800,000 per night," Sarno recalled, "making Wonderland have the highest dog purse in the world circuits. I loved making it on my own for the first time in my life. I was very good at being a greyhound owner/breeder. When I traveled for dog-related business, I was accorded VIP status at the Phoenix Track and with Oklahoma breeders."

In 1992, Sarno got out of the greyhound business and his attention turned to writing about the Korean War. Rather than the usual blood and guts-type World War II stories, Sarno wrote about the everyday happenings that Marines were subjected to or tempted into during the Korean War. He isnít getting wealthy off of his many published articles, but he receives many compliments from readers who have enjoyed his anecdotes. "What I get back from my writing is priceless," he said. "Money canít buy it."


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