Another One for The Books

by Ed Meyer

posted on July 2, 2015 in General Discussion, Horse Racing, Uncategorized, WinningPonies.com | 1 Comment >>

I woke after my Dad called me and brought me a card for my birthday. He came in and looked over my living room filled with horse memorabilia. As I watched his eyes gaze over the entire room, I realized something more important than ever before. – This was a visual soundtrack to our many years together. As I sit here listening to the sweet sounds of Tim McGraw, I find myself looking around seeing things for the first time in a long time.

Birthdays are for little kids and old people. Well, I guess I’ve officially become a little kid again. I kick back, and light up a cigar I’ve been saving. It’s been a long time since I’ve had one, and now feels just right. I draw the warm smoke over my lips and taste the Cuban goodness. It’s rich and smooth, and blows out like a cool wind on a warm summer’s night. I guess it’s been a good year, can you really name one that isn’t ? – There are good and bad ones, and this one’s been super. – I just poured myself a double shot of “Apple Pie” and dipped my cigar gently into the edge of the glass. Yeah, it was one for the books.

Rare are the people who can say they’ve done something for a living they love. If you just started reading, you’re hearing the inner words of the luckiest man in the world. First, how many folks can say they’ve had the opportunity to watch a Triple Crown winner ? – Now, how many have watched a Triple Crown winner from the announcers booth where they work ? – Yeah, that was pretty neat watching American Pharoah draw away at will, as I sit in the chair where I call races at a beautiful little track called Belterra Park. I don’t know if it’s the contrast of the two, or the beauty of watching the race and being thankful. As Victor Espinoza grabs up his mount and eases up in the saddle, I find a tear rolling down my cheek. If you didn’t have any welling up in your eyes, you just didn’t fall in love with racing. That’s OK. Just remember how 90,000 fans made the vast Belmont grandstands fill with sweet sounds of joy. Nothing like it, unless you turn in the chair and look over the setting sun on the hills of Kentucky. A little track in Ohio couldn’t be farther from Belmont, but it holds a mystique all of it’s own.  – Yeah, it’s been a great year, and summer is just starting.

I’ve been to Aqueduct, Arlington, Keeneland, Churchill Downs, Santa Anita, Dueling Grounds, Kentucky Downs, Latonia, Turfway Park, River Downs, Mountaineer, Sportsman Park, Hawthorne, Indiana Grand, Hoosier Park, Beulah Park, Thistledown, The Red Mile, Louisville Downs, Lebanon, Belterra Park, and flew over Hollywood Park wanting to parachute into the track of “Lakes and Flowers.” – My bucket list is yet to be filled as I want to visit Del Mar, Gulfstream, Pimlico, Tampa Bay Downs, Belmont, Presque Isle, Golden Gate Fields, Santa Rosa, Lone Star, Los Alamitos, and Woodbine. – I hope the Racing Gods allow me enough time to keep doing what I love. – I enjoy taking my teenage son, and I hope he’ll enjoy the races just half as much as I have. It’s not about winning, it’s about enjoying the journey.

I can’t say I’ve had a million dollar winner, but I’ve had a few close calls. – When I finished a hard fought nose short at Churchill Downs on Breeders’ Cup day. It cost me the pick-four three times. I would still be smoking good cigars. – Or, when I was playing in the Keeneland Grade One Gamble and keyed a 21-1 shot with a little known rider named Ricardo Santana. He came flying and finished 2nd by a nose. After 10 minutes, the inquiry and objection sign went up. It stayed lit for 15 minutes, and I had him keyed three times in the trifecta, and $100 to win on him. – Well, the stews must have went out for burgoo, as they didn’t put him up. It would have probably been my best score ever. – But all in all, I have loved every moment. Funny thing about playing the races, we tend to forget about the bad beats when we have the next nice score. For me it’s always been about the people I shared the day with. You’ll never be able to put a price on that.

 

As I light up my smoke and inhale slowly. I wonder what the next year will hold ? – Will this be a great betting year ? Could this be the year I qualify again for the NTRA / DRF finals in Vegas ? – Or, will I just enjoy many incredible moments with friends doing what I love ? – I’ll take that one, but the money would be nice. I wish everyone could fall in love with a sport as I have with racing. To be one of the luckiest guys in the world to work around something you have always loved, and look back on the special people who have become friends with. That’s a winner. – I’ll finish my cigar, and have just one more shot as I sit back thankful for all of my blessings. – I’ll leave you with an Irish blessing John Engelhardt used to close out his long running on-air handicapping show ” The Regular Guy.” – ” May you have walls for the wind, a roof for the rain, a warm cup of tea by the fire. Laughter to cheer you, and all you love near you, and all that your heart may desire.”

 

7 Rules to Keeping a Gambler Happy

I speak to folks around the track everyday. I’m not running for mayor, it’s just a little something I’ve always enjoyed. – The players are the most important part of racing. If you don’t believe me, just shut the doors for one year, and see if you’ll be up and running the next. One of my big pet peeves is the “new guard” who seems to think this is a waste of time. – Why would I say this ? Just tell me how many times you see top dog management walking around shaking hands and asking how they can do better. – I’ll guess you might see them on opening day, and after the Derby you can’t find them with a search warrant. – Ok, I’m off my soapbox. Start listening, and you may be surprised at what you’ll hear.

 

I was chatting with a high ranking manager. She was asking me to keep an eye on what the “big tracks” were doing. – Most would’ve run out with pen in hand and start scribbling. – It takes me back to a high school teacher who had a Zen-like approach to advice. ” Wise men don’t need it and fools won’t heed it.” – This manager wouldn’t take advice if it were etched into Moses stone tablets. But, I digress. – Listening to others is an art. You close your pie hole and actually listen. Don’t wait until you can speak, just take it in. You can mull it over later when they’ve left. – Two ears and one mouth.

 

After not doing her homework, I realized she had been given a task and didn’t know what to do. I know she doesn’t listen to others as she tuned out one of my co-workers daily. That being said, I wouldn’t toss her a life preserver on this occasion. – She didn’t have a clue she was talking to a bettor, a punter, a gambler, or whatever sanitized name she chose. Once again, my soap box has been put away. – Most have some form of VLT, slot machine, Instant Racing, Lottery, or a full fledge casino telling them what to do. Racing is a necessary turn key they consider a “must-do” until they figure out a way to do away with the beauty and pageantry of the majestic horses. I don’t have all the answers, or even the beginning of the magic potion.  – What do you have to loose ? You’ve tried it your way, and you’re still scratching your noggin.

 

1. – Everyday with the exception of the Triple Crown and the Breeders’ Cup, there is always FREE seating. If you need to charge something, ask them to use points accrued from betting, or charge them a “special rate” with your loyalty card. Don’t make them pay to sit. They’ll just walk away.

2. – You know the giveaways for the casino, racino, or slot players ? – Do the same for the racing fans. – I’ll bet you a Diet Coke you’ll see more action than ever before. It’s good to have aspirational levels to reach, but roll out the player rewards. They deserve “recognition” for their wagering dollar as well.

3. – The special “inner-sanctum” rooms that are lavish and cool. Use them. Make it a reward for the biggest race days. Not only is it a great way to thank them for their loyalty, you’ve created a player who believes in your brand. Think I’m crazy ? – Would you drive past one McDonald’s to go to the next one ? When you think of Holiday Inn, I’ll bet you can visualize the colors. Coca-Cola has stated that every time you see a 12-pack in the grocery store, they value that view at 12-cents of marketing power. – Create something by making people feel appreciated, and you won’t cry as much when the financial reports come out.

4. – Employees, team members, and the rank and file workers are always your best assets. If they don’t believe in your methods, how in the hell will they ever get others to drink your Kool-Aid ? – Treat these people with respect, give them the best training, and have a policy where there is never an “I don’t know answer.” – Have rewards for great employee service, send them off for weekend get away, let them see what you have to offer. Reward in public, and have that sit down meeting in private. You do not get points for making people fear for their jobs. – Once you have them dressed and ready to go, ask their very best everyday. Don’t make them fear for making a decision, and don’t be gung-ho to see how many people you can fire. It is more cost effective to re-train an existing employee than find a new one and invest money and time galore. This all applies unless there is theft, misappropriation of funds, or cheating the system or the public. Use some common sense. Not everything that was done prior to your arrival was wrong.

5. – Don’t walk around with the coat hanger in your shirt. Loosen up ! Gambling, gaming, and making a bet is about having fun for the guests. Make yourself accessible, always be willing to go the extra mile, and represent the company in a positive light. – Sound good yet ?

6. – Customer service is done on the move as they enter. Gamblers hate to be bothered when they’re playing. I had a pick-four coming back to four runners, and a casino host comes up to me and says during the race; ” Are you having a good time ? – I love betting the ponies with my boyfriend. We go here and there, and we just love when they come thundering home. Is there anything you need ? Bottled water, hot dog, may I clean up the losing tickets in your betting station ?” – Well, you can just imagine about the time she stopped talking they crossed the wire. I had the last four horses in the race. – Gamblers are pretty much low key, and just be available. Don’t make them hunt you down for a free comp or ask a question. They are also a cagey sort and hate to be bothered. The Machiavellian principle still exists to this day. – Be available, and be ready.

7. – Lead by example. If you are a manager, don’t let it be beneath you to pick up trash, wipe off a table, hold the door for a patron. The same rules your Mom would have employed at the house works magic in the workplace. – I had the pleasure of working for a few such leaders, and they are the definition of what a manager should be.

 

I would have liked to have helped this poor sap, but she was more interested in firing people and playing detective. My words are simple. Use some common sense, do the opposite of what you are currently doing, and seek the advice of long time employees who know the game. Don’t look down your snout, and pretend to give a hoot. – Racing is the key. It may not be the pearl you’re looking for, but you have to admit when racing is in session these are some of the best times in the casino. – Just act as if your job depends on it….

 

The Fox

 

There will be a void in the world that only a handful will know. The kind of void only people who love you, or the folks who enjoy your company will really notice. If you say you belong to both of the above groups, you understand the first few words. – Horse racing is a majestic game. For the true fans it could be the beauty, the pageantry, or the camaraderie that took place over the last few hours. The race track was a melting pot where you meet friends and passersby that may last a lifetime. I was lucky enough to meet one of the good guys. My Dad always had me right by his side, and we’d walk through the gates. He knew my love of the game, and I got to meet all of his friends and acquaintances at the track. – The ” Fox’ was one the good guys. He had a cool swagger, a friendly smile, and a racing form in hand. He knew my Dad from the “good old days.” Both were good players in their day and from that point on they belonged to a fraternity of sorts. He would drive out for the last few races a couple of nights a week. As we would hang in the dank basement of Latonia / Turfway Park, my education of both people and horses grew.

 

Paul could be seen from far away with eye glasses held in mouth, looking off in the distance at the odds board. He may handicap five races and bet just three. That was Fox. Good horse player with the discipline of a bean counter. Funny thing, he was an auditor with CG&E in Cincinnati. I guess some professional work habits know no boundaries. He was always chatting with my Dad about the races, and only after a long apprenticeship was I allowed to chime in on the conversations. – For the million times going with the old man came a time when a young horse player drives the old Maverick up the back road. I would run out for the last few races as we did for years when my Dad didn’t want to go. By the way, the Maverick was baby blue with smoke stained windows. I knew this as Fox sold it to my Dad for $200. – I didn’t go to college the traditional way, I didn’t know what I wanted and worked construction with my Dad. Well, he worked and I made pretty damn good union money. No bills, a car he let me use, and no plans. I had plenty of money to gamble the races. Fox would see me making my $20 to win and place wagers, and he would congratulate me after each win. – One evening I think he could see I may have bit off more than I could chew. It was at this time I received some of the best gambling advice of my life. ” Eddie, you like to play the races and there is nothing wrong with that. But if you continue to bet over your head, you’ll be out of the game and they’ll run without you.” – Thanks, Fox. You were right.

 

One day I was home from school on college break, and a car beeped outside of my house on Ludford street. It was Fox. – ” Hey, Eddie. You want to drive down to Churchill with me ?” – It was a 100 miles away, and it may have been on the moon for a 20 year old kid. – ” Sure, I’ll be ready in fifteen minutes. Drive by and get me.” – He bought us McDonald’s and we talked about everything. I can’t tell you if I won or lost, but I remember I had the best day. – Thanks, Fox.

 

I always loved being at the track and asked Fox one night how somebody could get on. Back then you had to know somebody it seemed, and luckily I did. – Fox spoke to the parking manager and got me a job. That was my official start of working in racing. I moved from collector to parking manager, admissions director, race book manager, player development manager, on-air handicapper, radio host, and eventually became a track odds maker and announcer. – His son Eric sent me a message and said how proud he was of me. That was our little town. He knew me from a young boy, and in one conversation I began a long career path that has been the love of my lifetime. – Thanks, Fox.

 

Paul Redfield shed his mortal coil on 6/24/15. He was 77 years old, and  a man who enjoyed a good wager. He could talk sports with the best of them, and with cigarette in hand I still see his Andy Williams swagger. He could laugh at a joke, and have the strictest convictions. A man’s man as they used to say when things made sense. He kept the score at Ludlow High School football games for years, and raised a happy family in a small town. A golfer and a proud grandfather, Fox was a man for all seasons. – His eldest son sent me a message on Face book this week. I was shocked to hear the news and sad to know one of the good guys is gone. They just don’t make men like that anymore. – For all of the wisdom, friendship, advice, help finding a job, and later in life greeting me a good friend. Thank you, Fox. – When I call them on to the track today, I’ll know you just finished up 18 holes and made it out to the races at Pearly Gates Downs. You’ll see the best in history, and you’ll have the best seat in the house. See you at the races someday again old friend. – Thanks for everything, Fox.

 

 

What Do You Think ?

... appears on this week's SI cover. (Photo: Courtesy Sports Illustrated

The big event has come and gone, and we have a Triple Crown winner. Thoroughbred history books open up, and another name is etched in gold. Most every fan felt there was going to be a rush of change, or at least more attention paid to racing.  Saturday marks three weeks of having American Pharoah’s name mentioned with the all-time greats. In your opinion, do you think the powers that be are more focused on using this moment for attracting attention ? Will there be any special efforts from the tracks to promote the sport ? – Or, will racing just allow this glorious moment in time to slip away quietly ?

 

I’ve heard plans the track I work for is already looking to make next year’s Triple Crown events bigger and better. If I had to bet a dollar it would be focused on having more access to wagering, and food and beverage booths availed with wonderful fare. – This is all in the making to allow fans to enjoy their experience, and hopefully better serve their needs. Racing in my neck of the woods is moving on the right track. But, I think we can do even more. Now before you toss your head away and complain about facility costs, give the idea an honest “think” before you give it the thumb up or down.

 

“Fan education” is heard in many gaming facilities. Not just informing the fans of who to bet. But actually teaching the fans of tomorrow about how to begin the process. Handicapping can be daunting, and if you allow the wave of information to bury them in their seat, they’ll start heading out to find an easier game to play. Tracks need to start at the beginning and work up. Yes, it will take a great deal of work. Yes, it will involve working more with this game than just plunking down a few dollars and pulling a lever. – In the end if you take the time and do it right, you may be amazed at what you’ve accomplished. If you think about the Sports Illustrated cover, think about the sea of humanity holding up phones and tablets to record the event. Have you ever seen this many people gather around a slot machine and do this ? Have you ever watched in amazement as fans stand and cheer at the top of their lungs for two minutes ? – This is where we begin. Racing has a golden opportunity, and in the words of Rage Against the Machine. – “It has to start somewhere, It has to start sometime. What better place than here, what better time than now?

If you missed the Belmont Stakes, didn’t read a sports magazine, or were stranded on a desert island. Just watch this clip and you’ll feel the energy, and see for yourself how fans are hungry for racing.

The game is far from over. It was 37-years-ago when the Racing Gods planted the seeds of hope, and on Belmont Day watched it blossomed into a beautiful event. – Fans of any sport hold their breath, wait patiently, and listen to behind the scenes problems. But still, there are fans. – Now it is our responsibility to use the power of the moment to recapture their interest. – As we read about tracks cutting dates, and purses being slashed to stay afloat. The business model may need to be re-examined and think about digging in and investing one more time. What happened last year means nothing, it is all about the now. The sport cannot be supported with empty promises and hoping they’ll show and do your work. So if you’re working in racing, get ready to roll up your sleeves and get busy. Or, you can hope you’ll eek out another meet, and maybe next year will be better. – Time isn’t on our side, and how we handle the next year can breathe life into the game, or we’ll listen sadly as the lonesome bugler plays the final call to the post.

 

 

Conversation with a Professional Gambler

Many moons ago I had one of the best jobs at the track. Serving the needs of the biggest players. Not just the rank and file $2 – $10 players, but the ones who’ll bet $15,000 – $25,000 daily. In Las Vegas they’re called whales, but anywhere else they’re called customers. If I could’ve duplicated one or two of these big timers, I could’ve sent most everyone else home. I knew who were the pretenders and who were the contenders. – As we fast forward 15 years later, the landscape is a little different. Instead of calling your contact (me), you have to swipe a loyalty card and wait for a young good-looking kid greeting you with a plastic smile. They can’t make a decision, and even if they could, they wouldn’t out of fear. So, this is where I walked into the race book. I didn’t see anyone I really knew, and I was about to head out before a voice called my name. It had been awhile, about 15 years to be exact.

 

Todd was in a wheel chair. He was involved in a car wreck some years ago, and believe it or not he was the only lucky one in the car. A drunk driver crossed the road and hit them head on. It was a terrible tragedy, and the tall good looking man was half the man he once was. But that didn’t stop him from doing what he loved. – Todd was a horse player from the old school. He didn’t want free coffee or a roast beef dinner. Just have his Daily Racing Form on his table. Have one of the best clerks to make his bets, and turn him loose. He’ll call if he wants to cash a $5,000 check, or if he has a problem. – ” Eddie, how’s it going my man ?” – “Good to see you Big Daddy, how the ponies treating you ?” – I recall days in his Don Johnson, Miami Vice suits and the ultra-business casual look before the words were invented. – ” You know me Ed, I’m making about five to six bets a day, and things are going pretty well.” – Todd is a professional. He wouldn’t break a sweat during a heat wave. He has the discipline and money, and his stats speak for themselves. Players like this move your bottom line, but they need to be handled by race track people who know what’s going on in their world. They are rare animals, and if you move too quickly from the brush with a handful of loyalty card promotions, they’ll run away with lightning speed.

 

He would find a key runner in a race he loved and go crazy decorating it in pick-three’s, pick four’s, and superfectas. Nine outta’ ten times it would win, and the day would be set. He liked to call them his “ducks” as they looked like easing shooting. His time was spent pouring over video replays, and he had a system that was designed special. He never spoke of the secret sauce, but the rumor mill has it that he hired a math professor to design a wagering algorithm. He gave him all the input and handicapping methodology, and it became a computer program that allowed him to focus on races where there was a high probability of a higher odds horse winning over short price runners. – He kept all the printed info in a binder, and when he went to the gentleman’s room, the binder was tucked under his left arm. – I guess that’s the secret of the good players. Keep it quiet, and keep it to yourself. He won $37,000 in one race, and he and his cronies got pretty loaded. He left his binder at the end of the night on the table. I saw a waitress the next day come up and hand it to him and he gave her $1,000.

 

“Ed, what the hell is going on here ? – Big players have to wait in line, and sometimes I get shut-out. Don’t they know how to take care of good players ?” – That’s a good question. From my vantage point, I see $2 players and $500 bettors in the same lines. There isn’t a real effort made to accommodate the big horse players anymore. They want them to use a loyalty card, and most of the time the new clerks have no idea about big money part wheels and shut them out. – I understand the future is wagered on slot machine look-a-likes, but there is still plenty of money left on the table. Truth be told, I don’t think most managers have a clue what racing is about. If you held them hostage they still couldn’t tell you who won the Triple Crown. – He wagered over $60,000 on the Belmont card, and not even the assistant to the assistant manager came over to see how this rare player was doing.

 

“I’m not using any card, Eddie. Not because I want to bitch or receive an invite to the private room. Let them keep the free buffet and their trinkets. If I want to eat, I’ll buy it myself. The big player room has three players, and if you add up what they bet all day, it doesn’t come close to my first wager.” – He’s right, plain and simple. There are three, and one doesn’t do anything but bitch and talk about how he could fix everything wrong. But this tends to happen when you don’t know what to look for. – For the time I’ve been around a handful of casino folks, I’ve come away with one opinion. They don’t want to hear your suggestions, and couldn’t care less about what’s going on outside the glitzy machines. – Todd shook my hand as I stood up and got ready to leave. ” Good to see you big man. I’m going to be doing my betting from the man cave. I have four big screens, and a large desk for my computer. Just the click of a mouse, and the rebates are more than generous. I’ll come out a time or two a season, but the new game forgot how they got here in the first place.”

 

My walk to the car seems to be a familiar dream. I start thinking about who I could call, or look them up in my private phone list. “We’ll put together a room that has about 10 of the biggest players in the area, and the room would handle more in one day than the rest of the track all weekend.” – Then I get into my car and start driving home. They couldn’t care less, and all of your efforts would yield the players nothing. Yep, Todd is right. Just keep it quiet, and keep it to yourself.

What Did They Say ??

I kept a tally of things said by horse players during the three weeks between the Preakness and the Belmont. They ranged from soup to nuts, but one thing was for sure. No matter who anyone bet, they wouldn’t be disappointed to see the next Triple Crown winner. – That in itself is odd, as gamblers are a fickle sort. It is hard to get three separate players to agree on most anything, much less who would be next to wear the crown. – As the fog settles and American Pharoah is tucked away nicely in his stall. The next round of speculation begins. Before we jump into the next race and where it will be. Here is a sampling of race track players responses to me as I made my way into the race book and started up a conversation about the Triple Crown. Each day I would run upstairs to my booth and write down the conversation. Now, put on your big boy pants as some will amaze. As we drew closer to the event, you’ll see the tide turn many ways.

 

  •   ” Ed, I don’t care if he’s 10-1, I wouldn’t play American Pharoah with your money !”

 

  •  Two weeks later – ” Eddie, that guy is a monster. I’ll probably use him in my exotics, and try to catch this thing about 10 times.

 

  • “American Pharoah is something special. I can’t wait for the Belmont, and his price doesn’t matter.”

 

  • “Ed, there is no way I’m taking (1-9) on this colt, He’s tired, and the Triple Crown has no chance this year. I’m taking all long shots, and I hope he comes off a step slow.”

 

  •  “My Dad would have loved to have watched this, and we would have been locked onto the TV to catch every second together. This would have been great if he were here to see this race unfold.”

 

  • ” Dad would have said f*** this price, this chalk can’t go a mile and half ! – Let’s nail a price and wait for the real big horse next time around.”

 

  •  ” Wouldn’t it be great for racing ? – I think the sport could use the boost to draw more fans to the races.”

 

  • Two weeks later – ” Who cares about another chalk ? – His owner is in trouble, and I think karma will deliver a close but no cigar photo again.”

 

As I’ve always said, gamblers are a fickle bunch. They tend to change their minds more than they change their socks ! – Some started off positive, and switched when they thought about betting a short price going 1 1/2 miles, and others made the big turn around. Either way, it all came true. Funny thing, upon speaking to these folks again on Sunday. they all recalled in great detail how they told me about the big horse etching his name in the history books.

 

Next on the docket for the court of public opinion is the response ” Racing needs a Triple Crown winner. It will create a new crowd of players and give the sport a needed shot in the arm.” – I’m all for growth and change in the sport, but will we handle this one correctly ? – How many tracks will draw from this and attempt to find new customers. – I fear a short term “high” for the big event, and we’ll watch it fade into the history books. Here are a few ideas and thoughts to get your creative juices flowing. If you like any or none of these. Let your track, OTB, ADW, or betting outlet know your feelings. You are the reason they open the doors, and your voice may be heard for a short window of time. Speak up !

 

Racing used to be the only game in town. If you wanted casino action you had to fly to lavish Las Vegas, or take your chances going to Atlantic City. Tracks were built and people would flock by the thousands to get their bet in. I remember leaving a race early to beat the traffic to get on the road quicker. You would make a bet, and read it in the paper the next day. If it won, you would have to go to the information window to cash this as the clerk would have to rifle through a giant ledger with all of the payouts and prices. They would then grab their pencil and pad and figure out how much you had coming back. – These were the times when computers had an eraser on the other end, and cell phones were something that was happening on Star Trek. – This is the time we’ve waited for, and if we don’t use this to our best advantage, we may not have to worry about it in the future. – Now tracks should find any and all extra money to promote what is going on at their ovals. Don’t lead with “free popcorn or $1 beer.” Create a festive environment where players and fans are excited about coming again. Just don’t open the doors and expect anything. This is a new frontier and the ball is in our hands. There should be no more blaming anything on competition, and maybe this is the time to cross-promote horse racing with your casino, racino, or new facility.

 

Churchill Downs presents the 34th running of the Stephen Foster Handicap on June 13, 2015. The race is a (G-1) $500,000 event, and the undercard is worth it’s weight in gold. By all accounts from Darren Rogers / senior director of communications and media services made comment that there is a very good possibility of parading Triple Crown winner American Pharoah on track. – People love history and they love even more to be a part of the event. If this holds true for the Churchill Downs card, you can expect a blowout crowd to watch the biggest star in racing walk under the historic Twin Spires. – Churchill has been talked about in negative light for sometime, but at the end of the day they get it. It is a blessing to have one of the best track management teams in racing, and to bring the champ to the races is a day you’ll want to keep on your calendar. – How many times have you read American Pharoah’s name in the past few days ? – It is everywhere, and it is our job to keep it alive and well.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A New Day

The Cubs had just completed a sweep of the World Series; my brother had paid me back the $20 he owed me, and gasoline was last checked at $1.00 per gallon. – Oh, and after 37 years there is a new Triple Crown winner. You can scrap the first three as they are events that will signal the end of days. But the last statement is in the books. – A bay colt by Pioneer of the Nile won the 147th running of the Belmont in impressive fashion. To say it was a long time between drinks is an understatement, and just to think Las Vegas is hard at work hammering out next year’s “Derby Winter Book” wager. But after the fog has lifted and the official sign is up. Here are a few observations this handicapper predicts will be in the cards.

 

Steve Cauthen = It seems like yesterday when we watched a youthful “kid” power down the lane striking Affirmed with his left whip for the first time. Yep, he hit him with the left stick to find that extra ounce of gas in the tank. – Every year you could count on every paper, sports show, scribe, blog, and graffiti artist to contact the Kentucky gent. He would be asked the same questions over and over, and after 37 years, his phone may stop ringing off the hook for the first time since 1978. Look for Mr. Cauthen to enjoy his farm and horses and stay clear of the limelight for awhile. – But who knows, the “kid” may be back before we know it.

 

Money Men = Eddie Arcaro rode about 1/3rd of the mounts of everyone else, and made one heck of a living. Gary Stevens travelled to Europe, and used his extra gained weight to spank the Euro-riders. Mike Smith has followed the patterns of Arcaro, and spends about 5 hours a day in the gym. He’ll still be the best money rider in the world for my money. – Victor Espinoza will now be known as “Mr. Triple Crown.” Want to know how to ride the Preakness ? Call Victor. – How sweeping are the turns at Belmont ? Call Victor. He lost previous attempts at the Triple Crown with War Emblem in 2002, and California Chrome in 2014. For the brain children who called his riding techniques in the Derby a bit over the top, he only went to the “encourager” twice down the lane to lock up the Belmont Stakes. – He isn’t magic, and didn’t make a deal at the crossroads. His ability is good every day, but the cream rises to the top when you put a confidant, talented rider in the saddle. Pair this up with a powerhouse trainer, and owners who love the sport. – Quoting my grandmother about cooking; ” You put the good things in, and you’ll get the great things out.”

 

Bob Baffert = Once upon a time, the “White Haired Wonder” used to dance and toss flowers in the winner’s circle. Now, after Father Time has set in and a brush with a health scare, in walks the man who defines racing. Ladies and gentleman, meet the new spokesman for Thoroughbred racing. – I’ve grown to enjoy Bob Baffert over the years. Now, he speaks with a lump-in-throat emotion that was found in the greats of our game. They didn’t talk crap, and you never heard them brag. Why ? – “It ain’t bragging if you can do it.” – I had tears in my eyes as he walked with the camera, and the questions asked hit him right in the emotional spot of his heart. – I’m so glad to see Mr. Baffert join the pantheon of the great names in racing. He’ll always look good in his tinted glasses and blue blazer talking about the sport he grew up with.

 

It’s Monday afternoon, and the big race is in the books. If you watched the race at Belmont, an OTB, a race track, or on DVR. You heard the roar of the crowd no matter how many were there. If you missed this one-of-a-kind event, just click below and you’ll find out just what you missed. – I’m so happy there is another name added to the list of champions. He was the real deal, and it just so happened we were lucky enough to see history made.

 

 

 

The Fish Feed the Sharks

The cards stick to the table a bit when I pull up the plastic corner of one and see the ace of hearts. I try to keep my blood pressure in check not to get my face the slightest shade of red. I know the others are watching all the while pretending I’m not there. I just know my other card is an ace, but I cannot reveal the card to myself or the other sharks will smell fresh blood. The betting is easy as it’s just money, but it’s the way we keep score. Knowing what to do with a good hand is easier, you just play in turn and hope for the best. But the real challenge is in the deception. If you act soft, you’ll be telling the others the other ace is in the hole. If you’re shooting for the wall with swing-a-way action. You might as well wear a sign proclaiming you’re stacked. So what’s a player to do?

I’ve always been fascinated by the psychology of the human condition. I guess it can be traced back to the first day of school when your chums had your books hidden, and they watched in cool calculated enjoyment with the “who me?” response when you turn to them and ask if they had them. Or maybe it was the first time a girl acted like she didn’t want me to sit at the library table with her, but I noticed she had my initials scribbled on the back of her binder. Either way, I have loved the chase and the solving of the puzzle. If you’ve been watching the road to the Belmont, you’ve seen some of the best cat and mouse in years. If you doubt my words, just think about three players at the table. They are loosely holding cards in their left hand while shuffling their checks with their right. All the while trying not to show too much, or you’ll have them cornered before the starting gate bell rings.

 

Bob Baffert = I came upon Mr. Baffert years ago at Turfway Park. We had an incredible September program called the “Kentucky Cup Day of Champions.” The best of the best would roll through Florence, Kentucky on their way to Keeneland and all points elsewhere accumulating money for the Breeders’ Cup. He had some real talent in his barn, and his owners were the stuff that dreams are made from. He would act the fool all week long as the gals on the notes team would fall in love with the magical “white-haired-wonder.” The words rolled off his golden tongue and believers he made by the thousands. If you doubted his efforts, you were found tearing up tickets kicking the trash can in disgust. If you played his (3-5) shot, you were suckered in by his (10-1) runner who was in the same race. Oh, this man had the goods. Cool as a cucumber and Teflon to the touch. He had a heart episode a while back. He has become a kinder, gentler player. His words are soft and his actions are filled with truth. For the first time since those long lost days at Turfway, he looks to be here for the right reason. American Pharoah looks like an absolute monster. But, has the Triple Crown run been too taxing for the fire-breathing monster? I think he has the other ace in the hole, but is relaxing and enjoying the moment. Once upon a time he would have had the trophy on his head, tossing the roses in the air, while keeping his eyes shaded away with his tinted glasses so you couldn’t see into his gambling soul.

 

Kiaran McLaughlin = He is the trainer of Godolphin Racing’s hopeful charge Frosted. This man has been the player you always root for. His credentials are rich. He came under the tutelage of the masterful D. Wayne Lukas in 1985, became a jockey agent for Chris Antley in 1992, and signed on as trainer for the ultra-powerful Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum in Dubai. In 1998 he was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis, and never wavered once about speaking openly about living with his disease, and not allowing it to define his life. I guess he must have a couple of aces in the hole as he talking about his runner and how he’ll need his A+ game. “We’re as close to the paddock as anyone, and we’re just glad to be here.” This is the kind of player who takes all of your bankroll, and offers to buy you breakfast on the way home.

 

Michael de Kock = The South African trainer has been a breath of fresh air. He is open and honest with the media, and sticks to his old fashioned training of a horse with natural tactics. His accomplishments are so many he would have to build an extra wing on his home. He has been quoted as saying American Pharoah is a “super-horse,” and he moves like a monorail with great ease. But what he doesn’t drive home is that he has a Irish-bred killer who can put out your lights if given an inch. Following the Derby, he immediately shipped Mubtaahij to Belmont. This is a man who doesn’t stand on ceremony. He is not here to catch a Yankees game. He would be more comfortable in Europe, or Dubai winning G-1 races and watching them weigh his money at the bank. His runner is taking to the track and has been quoted as saying he’ll be on the outside of AP. If you need subtitles, this means he’ll move sooner and apply pressure on his flank. “I don’t think it will be easy, and please American Pharoah stay away and don’t bring your guns town.” He couldn’t care less what the other guys are holding, he has all the aces in the hole and waits with patient care as you put the nooses around your own neck.

 

The cards are still sticking to the table, probably from the sweat on my hand easing down my arm to my palms. I can taste the money and the glory in my spit, but have to wait it out just a little longer. – I keep hearing this voice in my head. It sounds so familiar, and it keeps getting louder. Can you hear it?

 

 

 

Belmont Crystal Ball

About now everyone that knows there’s going to be a big horse race next Saturday has formulated an opinion. Funny thing how sports can bring everyone together for those brief minutes. It doesn’t matter if you like the favorite rooting for the next Triple Crown winner, or want to play the role of the spoiler and score at a price. The web is chock-full of opinions from the experts, and in the back row of the race book there is a daily round table of who’s gonna’ take it down. I don’ know which is more interesting, but the race book group wins the loudest award. It’s been since 1978 since we have witnessed history. That my friends is a long time between drinks. I have witnessed  blowouts, big prices, and the narrowest of defeats. This year finds me in a peaceful easy mood hoping to watch racing history made. Maybe I’m getting a bit older and want to see this rare event, or maybe I’m finally on the right path and it is glaring obvious. Whatever the reason, here is an update about some runners I feel could make an impact on the 147th running of the Belmont Stakes.

 

American Pharoah = He will be the chalk, and the bettors will make sure of this. Even if the savvy money goes elsewhere, the $2 tickets wagered for keepsakes will mount up and you’ll see the effect on the tote board. According to an article in the Courier Journal, A well-known private clocker who before the Kentucky Derby assessed American Pharoah as perhaps the best horse he has seen in 35 years is sticking to his guns. Gary Young predicted a Triple Crown for the Bob Baffert trainee in a recent interview with Santa Anita Park’s communications staff, asking, “Is he going to do it? I happen to think he will. “I acknowledge that (winning) four races in eight weeks is not an easy thing, and a mile and a half has become an antiquated distance on the main track, but if he breaks and makes the lead and relaxes like I think he will, when they go after him and try to tackle him at the half-mile pole, they better be tied on.” One of my favorite angles was found in America’s Best Racing. American Pharoah has a funny tail. It isn’t a normal horse tail. It’s shorter. Much shorter. Peter Caruso says it has an impact. A physicist who works with aerospace engineers, Caruso says that, all else being equal, a shorter tail can give a racehorse an edge in speed. “The faster a horse runs, the aerodynamic drag increases. And the back of a horse, that’s where all the down force happens,” Caruso explained. “The slipstream that moves over the horse will eventually meet up again in the back, right at the tail.” If all goes well in New York, I think the rest of field will get a great view of his short tail.

 

 

Materiality = Todd Pletcher will locked and loaded coming into this race. One of the best trainers on the planet would love to see a Triple Crown winner, but not just this year. His charge finished 6th in Louisville, and skipped the Preakness to freshen up. According to the Ruidoso News; As soon as Materiality cooled off from a sixth-place finish in the Kentucky Derby, the horse was sent straight to Belmont Park where his trainer Todd Pletcher regularly races horses. There was a thought for a brief period to race Materiality in the Preakness, but Moutray and his partner Eddie Herrell decided against it. But the Belmont appears ready for the taking for Materiality. His sire, Afleet Alex, won the race in 2005. The distance is a mile-and-a-half, which is the furthest any of the horses that will be entered will likely ever race. Since 1978, when Affirmed last won the triple crown, 11 horses have won the first two legs and then failed in the final race.

 

 

Frammento = ESPN .com had some great things to say about one of the “spoiler kings” in New York. That may be so, but he is still one of the classiest guys to lead a horse to the winner’s circle. Zito is likely to feel a familiar pull of emotions next week, when he’ll saddle Frammento in the Belmont Stakes and attempt to derail American Pharoah’s bid to become the 12th horse to take the Triple Crown. Zito knows an American Pharoah victory would be salutary for racing. But the continuation of the Triple Crown tradition, with its intense competition through three races in five weeks, with “new shooters” and new challenges at every venue — that’s even better for racing. “The sport’s bigger than any of us,” Zito said. “If American Pharoah wins, it’ll be a great job by the trainer [Bob Baffert] and a great horse and great for racing. And if we do it again and Frammento wins, that’d be great for us. But the game is bigger than anybody.”

 

Frosted = This son of Tapit woke up in 2015, and started putting all together after the Fountain of Youth loss at Gulfstream. He was kicked around a bit in the Derby and comes in with fresh legs for one of the most knowledgeable horsemen in the game with Kiaran McLaughlin. Two weeks after Louisville he blazed a bullet work over the Belmont surface. His style and cruising speed may fit very well if there is a blistering pace, or dawdling fractions as in the Wood Memorial. He is dangerous and must be respected.

 

If you would like to know the feelings of some of the last riders to notch a Triple Crown victory, there was an interesting article in WDRB.com. With American Pharoah attempting to become the 12th horse ever to win a Triple Crown next week, all three are hopeful. But as jockeys often are, they’re also skeptical in some ways.

Neither Turcotte, 73, nor Cruget, 76, was particularly impressed with American Pharoah’s Kentucky Derby effort, while all agree that he could benefit from an off track in the Belmont, like he got in the Preakness. “He didn’t really impress me in the Kentucky Derby,” Turcotte said. “I thought he was all out, or anyways, the jockey had to get after him pretty good, whether he was waiting on horses or whatever. But the Preakness I think the rain came just at the right time.”

Cruget said he thought American Pharoah looked like a Triple Crown contender after the Arkansas Derby “for sure,” but agreed his run in the Derby “was not impressive at all.” “He’s a good horse for sure,” Cruget said. “ He’s going to be challenged. It’s going to be, you know, it’s not going to be an easy race.”

Cauthen, now 55, said that after drawing an outside post in the Kentucky Derby, he thinks American Pharoah trainer Bob Baffert and jockey Victor Espinoza were “very careful with him.” “He went wide, but (Espinoza) really did have to pick up and get after him in the Derby,” Cauthen said. “The time was OK, nothing that fantastic. And, of course, he went to the Preakness and got the off track, which he obviously handled, and probably his two main competitors didn’t. The only thing that really kind of was concerning to me was the final three-sixteenths of a mile were quite slow, but watching the race you wouldn’t know it because he just ran away from the rest of the horses in the field. But the fact is, he beat a horse, you know, the horse that was second had just broken his maiden.” Still, Cauthen said he likes the looks of American Pharoah.

“He does appear to be just a really top-class horse,” he said. “He’s an excellent mover, beautiful confirmation, and he obviously has always been that. He was the 2-year-old champion. So I think he’s going to the Belmont with a team that’s been there before. It’s nothing new for them… If he can do the mile and a half, I guess, is really the question. He’s obviously the real deal. He’s the best 3-year-old at this point, but the big thing — the reason they call it the test of champions — it’s that mile and a half and there’s going to be some nice horses that will be testing him.”

Turcotte, in particular, knows the kind of expectation facing Espinoza. It had been a quarter-century since any horse had won the Triple Crown when he came along with Secretariat. People were starting to wonder if the feat ever would be done again. But Turcotte also pointed out that Secretariat was a different kind of horse, “the best horse who ever lived.” He worked a mile and a quarter — the Kentucky Derby distance — in 1:59 two weeks before the Belmont, and trainer Lucien Lauren worked him twice as hard before the Belmont as he did the other races.

The Belmont, because it’s run on a track that is so much larger than the others, is especially challenging for riders. Cauthen said that’s definitely a factor. “I think it certainly helps to spend some time riding around Belmont, because it is just a unique track being a mile and a half in circumference and it is so easy for guys that don’t ride there regularly to move a little bit prematurely,” he said. “When you’re at the half-mile pole at Belmont and you feel like you’re at the three-eighths pole on a normal track, it’s just easy to make a mistake if you don’t ride there regularly.  But Victor Espinoza’s obviously —- although he’s not a regular at Belmont — he’s ridden in the Belmont, so I think he’s got his perspective well there, and it’s just a question of, you know, pace in the race. As Ronnie was saying, every good jockey is usually a good judge of pace, and obviously Victor’s won enough races to do it. I don’t really think that there’s any disadvantage. I think they’re going into the race with every chance, but as you say, there are people lining up. Nobody’s going to give it to him, and they’re not supposed to.”

All I Ever Wanted to Be Was A Horseplayer

 

 

 

There was something magical about going with my Dad to the local bar/bookie. The room was filled with smoke, and men stood in a back room sipping draft beer, and reading the Daily Racing Form. I would occasionally see another local kid or two, and we would just hang around and wait. This probably sounds like a punishment, but after a while. It became part a fun part of our relationship. My Dad would tell Mom he was going to the store, and ask if I wanted to come along. Nine outta’ ten times we would end up in the smoky back room, and he would make a small bet we would listen to on the radio as the race of the day. There was nothing sweeter to my ears than to hear the “call to the post” on WNOP / 840 am. They announced the last race live with the incomparable Kevin Goemmer, and earlier payoffs and would be broadcast by a young man named John Engelhardt. Leo “Uncle Undie” Underhill would be the voice of introduction, and sometimes be the payoff / result man. The sound of the races was theatre of the mind.  We gathered around a small white oval radio won in a pie eating contest at Americana Amusement Park. The sounds of live racing brought to life by the voice of Kevin Goemmer gave me chills with each and every stride. These were the days, and life couldn’t be any sweeter. It reminds me of my life story with a “Goodfellas” soundtrack playing in the background.  “As far back as I could remember, all I ever wanted to be was a horse player.”

Eventually I was allowed to make a place bet here and there, and would root like the dickens as horses were  running down the lane. As I grew older, my Dad spoke to our local bookmaker and he put me on a $20 per week allowance, my Dad would settle up on Saturday morning. I was 16, and all I had to do was have decent grades and stay out of trouble. That was pretty easy, and there was nothing like picking up the phone and making a $2 win and place bet on the Keeneland race of the day broadcast on WLAP/Lexington. I used to read the newspaper in the school library that had full racing coverage. One day when a teacher asked me who I liked, I knew things were changing. Sometimes I would see him walking around at the track making small time $2 wagers. I knew more than he did, and when I told him to bet Carborundum at Keeneland. He treated me even better, as he paid $22 that day.

College turned into some of the best days of my life. Not for the school or seeking a degree, that stuff was pretty easy. I had to make the decision of setting my class schedule so I could dodge my last class and drive 80 miles to Keeneland. I met some good friends. One was a licensed pilot who started school after 12 years in the Air Force. He loved the ponies, and used to beg me to fly to Oaklawn Park in his small plane. I never had the guts as he would have more beers than all of us put together. Another gent became one of my best friends, and we would eventually own horses together. He and I would make the treks Keeneland, Churchill, Lebanon Harness, Beulah Park, and Scioto Downs. When going to the track was out of the question, I would drive up at lunch, grab a Lexington newspaper and make a few wagers by phone. If you kept track of time, you could run out to your car at 20 after and 10 til the hour and hear the taped stretch call. I can’t tell you how many times I walked out of the classroom to my car. One day, a young lady who got to know me from other classes asked me; “did your horse win?” She and I went out a few times, and I’ll let you guess where our dates took us.

In college I had three part-time jobs. They perfectly fitted into the racing seasons, as I began working in the track parking lot, and eventually rose through the ranks to run parking. After graduating, I couldn’t find a teaching job. Not to worry, my part time jobs became full-time occupations that allowed me to rise through the ranks, and better my lot with each rung of the ladder. Funny thing about gambling.  If you love what you’re doing, you become pretty competitive. I guess this ran over into my working life and I was given one-of-a-kind opportunities that allowed me to go from parking to admissions manager to Race Book manager to Player Development manager to on-air handicapper and radio host. Life couldn’t have been any better if I had a million dollars. A few life events had me on the sidelines for awhile as a single father. Racing looked to be a distant memory I would always carry in my heart. That was until one day I was attending a handicapping contest. I was asked by a manager to send him my resume as there was an opening for a new position at the track. I didn’t want the job as it looked like it wouldn’t work, but who knows where it would take me? I don’t regret anything racing related. I look back on my years as a horse player, parking manager, racing employee, on-air handicapper, radio host, blogger, and currently I have been give the job opportunity of my life. I’m the morning line odds maker and track announcer at Belterra Park. It used to be River Downs before the casino/racino explosion led to a sale. I never had it on my list of things to do, but it was something that always intrigued me. Being around the races again, and calling races isn’t like busting rocks. I consider it one of the best things that has happened to me along the way, and funny thing how life goes in circles. The man who called me for the job was that same young man years ago I used to listen to on WNOP radio working with the late-great Kevin Goemmer. John Engelhardt reached out and asked if I wanted to give it a try.

My Mom once told me I’m a lucky man. Not because I’m a billionaire, but for having the opportunity to do what I love. Not only would I enjoy it as I live my life, but this would be a double pleasure as I could look back some day and recall the wonderful people and experiences I’ve had. Mom was right. As I get a little older and look back it makes me smile. The people who have become my friends, the incredible job opportunities, and of course getting to play the races. I was at a dinner party one night and was listening as the wine was starting to take my friends to philosophical places. The conversation changed many times, and after six bottles of wine it settled on if you could be anyone in the world, who would you be? – There were some interesting answers, and some that verged on the drunken side of slurred speech. Finally, I was asked. I didn’t really want to play, and asked if I could just sit back and enjoy their choices. “Now you have to speak, Ed. We want to know if you could do anything or be anybody else, what would be your choice.” – I sat back and smiled, and took a long draw off my sweet aromatic cigar. “For me that’s easy. I wouldn’t be anyone else in the world but me. I’m the luckiest guy I know.”