Catching up with old friends can be enjoyable, informative, and sometimes down right sad. – I bet you never heard that one before, huh ? – In the course of one week I had a little taste of all three. – Being a member of the elite fraternity of horse players I have some of the most interesting acquaintances in the world. No, really I do. -I’m sure many would doubt the words above and dismiss this to old age, losing my mind, or just plain dumb. Maybe all three fit, but in seven days I’ve had the treat of having a little sample of all three and they all happened at my frat house; the race track. – As I’ve always said the track is the best melting pot of humanity. You’ll never see people gather around a slot machine, or just hang out at the lottery stand talking. – Being a member of this group of interesting folks has been a pleasure, and one that I hope to keep up for quite sometime.
Last Saturday, I was doing a short handicapping seminar. – I was filling in for my good friend John Engelhardt as he was attending a family reunion of sorts at Keeneland on Fall Stars Saturday. John has taught me many things over the years, and next time you can bet I’ll be wanting to do the same with my family. I think he is definitely onto something, and come to think of it I’ll bet dollars to donuts I won’t be dreading spending time with Aunt Sadie or Uncle Bill if we’re at Keeneland on a Saturday. Plain and simple, John is a genius. – But I digress. As I was finishing up, I started up the stairs back to my booth. It was at this time I had the most enjoyable conversation I’ve had all year.
His name is Elmo, and he’s read some of my stories over the years. – A friendly gent with a kind face who asked if I would like to sample some of his homemade hot sauces ? – Well, the answer was yes; as Elmo ventured out to his car to bring me back two bottles of his home-made goodness. One was sweet with my kind of flavor, and the other set my hair on fire. Both very good, but I guess getting older has it’s pitfalls. – Elmo said he has followed some of my writing on Winning Ponies and wanted to say hello as I had mentioned I call the races at Belterra Park. – His kind face and sweet demeanor is the exact recipe I have been talking about for years. Five minutes earlier we didn’t know one another, and now I have two bottles of home-made sauce from a new friend. – We passed the time with a friendly banter as he introduced me to a sweet young lady sitting next to him. They looked like they might have made this trek a few times in their travels, and once again a new friendship was born. – I’ll bet you a Diet Coke you’ve never had this kind of encounter at the casino. -For me this is the best part. Good people in a place we both enjoy. – I shook Elmo’s hand as I ventured up and thanked him once again. – The hot sauce was incredible my friend, and we shared it in the crow’s nest on chips, cheese coneys, and everything in between. My chance meeting with one of the good guys was enjoyable, and as I made my walk to my car and drove home. I smiled that one-of-a-kind smile that only comes when your heart is full of happiness. I met a new friend, and started thinking about the next time I run into Elmo. – Best of luck my friend, and your home-made gift was surely appreciated. I’ll borrow a line from my mother; “the best gifts in the world are the ones people make with their own hands of love.” – I think she hit that one right on the head, and meeting Elmo made my day.
I was telling a story about a friend who did me a dirty deed at the track years ago. Well, maybe not a dirty deed, but one that got my goat back in the day. – Funny how time eases something that made you mad; to something you laugh about now. – But as the story unfurled, the gal who works in the placing judges booth next to me said “Hey, Ed. I know that guy, He’s a jockey’s agent.” – From that moment I knew it would be a matter of time until Maquitta brought up Jeff to the booth. – It happened to be yesterday as I was preparing for my day.
Long ago, I was running the parking lot at Turfway. I was a much younger man then, and that meant a 12-13 hour day driving around, getting people to work in many areas, and collecting heaps of money to be taken to the counting room. – Lunch was a dream, and taking a break meant you better hurry up and go now ! – I had an all-access pass on a lanyard. I gave it to my good pal with whom I owned a cheap claimer. He was at my wedding, and we met in college. He was one-of-a-kind and a guy I had more fun with than the law allows. But, I digress. – He enjoyed the all-access pass and ventured into the VIP Tent and watched the horses saddle up. – He was a bit of a loner and that was just fine in his world. – As he was leaving he ran into his good pal from high school. The kind of guy who never met a party he didn’t like and usually had a cocktail or three before hitting the races. Rough and tumble back in the day, and where he’d end up was anyone’s guess. – This day had him in the winner’s circle for a $500,000 race drunk as Cooter Brown. He was giving the big thumbs up as they took the picture that would stand the test of time. – Unknown to me, I didn’t see the winner’s circle picture until our meeting the following week. – I have to say I was a little hot under the collar as he was smiling the biggest grin 90 proof with D. Wayne Lukas. When security hauled him in he said he found the pass in the parking lot on the way in. – That little part saved my skin as that’s where I was all day. – As “Q” brought him into the booth we laughed and hugged immediately. We talked about everything under the sun and how he had embarked on a new position working as a jockey’s agent. He told me of his longtime sobriety and how he didn’t even smoke anymore. – The guy I knew from days gone by had changed in a big way and we laughed for quite a spell. – That was the most informative moment of the week and it was good to see Jeff. – Before he left, I asked him about my old horse owning pal, and did he know how he was doing ?
“Ed, I would love to tell you he is doing fine, but Tim passed away about 6 years ago. – He was going through some bad times and we all kinda’ lost touch.” – It didn’t really sink in until he left. – We met in college, and he was a bit older coming back to school. – He was injured in a work related accident and ended up back in college. – We met by chance at the gym, and used to meet for lunch, or just hang out. When I would walk back to my car after my 11:00 am class, there would be a Daily Racing Form on my dash board and a note that said “let’s skip the noon class and head to Keeneland.” – Our friendship was forged, and we made that trek more than the law allows over the years. The same note and a new DRF on my dashboard. – I guess there’s a bonus to not having working door locks. – I introduced him to his wife, and they lived in a nice home with a large pool. I must have swam in that pool a hundred times. – Over the years we drifted as we all do. But the memories of my old pal were always with me. – I’m sitting under a winner’s circle picture at Hoosier Park when they still ran Thoroughbreds, and what a night that was for sure. There we are captured in time smiling the big grin and pockets full of winning tickets. We got so drunk on the ride home, and the three hour drive took much less time when you spend it with a friend. - Time and tide wait for no man. – Geoffrey Chaucer. – Tim was not doing well health wise and he battled as far as he could go. I guess we lose hope sometimes, and in our wake we leave friends who will always wonder why ? – State Budget was our runner, and the many times we went to the track will be cherished for my life. – I’ll never be able to repay my old friend, and I’ll just be grateful for the many times we enjoyed together. Thanks for passing my way, Tim….
The track is a melting pot. You’ll never see it come around again, as we allow time to move us whirling in many directions all at once. – In a matter of days I met a new friend, re-connected with an old one, and started missing one whose been gone for quite sometime. – The same place I took most of my first dates, the place I always went with my dad, and the sport that has kept me employed over the years. The track has been a big part of my life. I guess it’s fair to say as long as they run, racing will be in my blood.