advancing progressive ideas and actions
Len Ragozin has devoted much of his life to back progressive causes. He grew up in a leftwing, anti-racist household in New York. (“I was always anti-the fat cats,” he says.) After graduating from Harvard University in 1949 "with a major in poker," he went to Memphis to help organize low-paid, mostly black workers in furniture and mattress factories.
Back in New York, Ragozin was hired by Newsweek and seemed bound for a comfortable if conventional life as a magazine editor—until 1954, when the Red Scare intervened. When Ragozin refused to inform on some politically active classmates from Harvard, the FBI persuaded the publisher to deny him a promotion. He decided then and there to take a more independent road in life.
Ragozin’s father, Harry, was a textile production manager and a devotee of the racetrack. For a hobby he became an early speed handicapper, one who used statistical analysis to define how fast a horse had actually run. Len’s mother, Sarra, was a math major at the University of Wisconsin, and Len was intrigued. He threw in with his father. In 1968, he struck out on his own and continued to refine and perfect the data into “The Sheets,” the statistical bible of the racing world. Ragozin’s great theoretical leap was the “bounce”—the idea that a horse that went too fast (and expended too much energy) in its last race was likely to regress in the next one.
Well ahead of the curve (The New Yorker called him the industry’s “Descartes, the supreme rationalist codifier”), Ragozin used his peerless speed figures and conditioning theories to net a consistent profit in a game widely considered unbeatable. He bought a stable and eventually built his business by selling his data to a network of owners, trainers, and handicappers. Over time, his avant-garde theories came to be broadly accepted.
Despite the demands of his business, Ragozin never lost sight of his political principles. He actively protested against the U.S. intervention in Vietnam. A gifted folksinger and banjo player in his own right, he has given much to politically simpatico artists over the years. He subsidized the work of Barbara Garson, the author of MacBird (an anti-war satire of Lyndon Johnson) and All the Livelong Day: The Meaning and Demeaning of Routine Work. He has underwritten independent films about racist inequalities in New York City’s schools, Kentucky miners, U.S. imperialism in Afghanistan, and anti-Muslim racism after 9-11.
Ragozin has donated a substantial portion of his company’s profits to organizations fighting racism and building workers’ power. He provided a life-saving mortgage to the century-old City and Country School in Greenwich Village, a pioneer in progressive education. He has funded the education of friends and the children of friends. His love of learning and boundless curiosity is matched only by his generosity.
In 2013, Ragozin sold his business and donated a major portion of the proceeds to found The Len Ragozin Foundation. Its mission is to sustain and expand his legacy in education and the arts, always on the side of the underdog.