Nick was an old man. He must have looked around 210 yrs-old, but he was almost 90… Nick ” The Nose” came from New York. He made Jimmy Durante look like he had a nose job… Nick was from “The Apple”, as he called it, and loved going to Saratoga. For the weeks that it was open, he told me he won more money and drank more beer than humanly possible.
The “Nose” was only called that by three guys. The rest of the world knew him as Nicky. I only got to call him “Nose” after I gave him a winner at Turfway Park that paid $18… After that, I was in the club.
He had two gents that came every day. One would smoke like a chimney, and the other pulled his oxygen cart. Go figure….. Nick held court and didn’t say about 20 words a day. When he did, it was usually profanity or the wittiest stuff known to man. He was a good fella in every sense of the word.
In “The Apple”, he ran a bar. It was in the city, and it was a large bar. They had food, drinks, and the biggest book in the city at one time. The Nose was the guy bookies contacted to call-off a bet, or make a big bet themselves. God have mercy if you thought you pulled one over on the Nose… He would cuss you out, and for the rest of your life you begged to get back on his good side. He said he never did anything like you see in the movies, but he did know plenty that did. Nick just ran the bar, and the book made him popular with the powers that be.
He told me about a horse at Saratoga. They used to go up and stay three weeks, and bet the lights out. He said Saratoga was so good, that it would carry him through football season and beyond. The Nose wouldn’t talk crap. He would see that as for suckers, or those who wanted to be a face. I only got to know this as I was part of his track pals. He liked to see me on TV, and thought that was the coolest thing in the world. Kite Flyer was 8-1… This was long before all of the fancy drug tests, but horses could test positive if caught with a bad sample. Paul owed Nick a hunk of money as he said. This little tip was between Nick and Paul, and if he was going to be caught and lose his purse money, it didn’t matter. Nick had some of those associates that were none too happy with his debt. In 1958, $30,000 was like ten million he said….
The rider was from New Jersey, and not really well known. He was good at speed, and never made the top ten riders. So, I guess you can say that three people in the world knew, and nobody would break the code as the Nose knew many folks that could fix that problem.
It was rainy, and hot…. He told me he was soaked from sweat and sideways rain…. The 6th race came, and Kite Flyer opened at 8-1, and the first flash had him dropping to 3-1…. Nick was so pissed, and wanted to kick the ass of the big mouth who let this out… Well, he made his way back up to 10-1, and that was incredible. He couldn’t believe the odds, and it was post time…
The jock broke him so sharp he almost fell off. The buzzer in his sleeve was shocking the rider…. He broke 6 on top, and around the far turn he opened by 10….. He won by daylight, and his odds finished off at 9-1 with the final drop and click of the board. Nick made a hunk, and the debt was forgotten. The jock was given enough money that he made a down payment on a house. Everyone was happy, and the day was great. Nick never gave a final tab, but it was plenty… A hunk, as he called it….
At his age, he got around good. His wife was gone, and kids and grandkids lived in Florida. Nick put all of his kids through college, and lived a great life until 1974. He had to go to jail for 5 years, and never talked about what happened. He said, that was the end of being a bookie, and he moved to Ohio where he became a bartender.
The “Nose” never talked crap, and was a character out of any movie. He was a good guy, and every Christmas, he gave me $50. He is gone from the area, and had to move in with one of his kids…I have never heard from Nick since he left…He came from a time and place where men were men, and being a New York bookie was a good job…. He always walked with smooth gait, and greeted many with a handshake and a nod of his large head. I think back about Nick, and the things he told me in time. I think I would have enjoyed knowing him in his day. There was no second guessing, and real men held sway. I miss the Nose, and he stays in my noggin when I see older men gathered at a table at the track. When I watch Saratoga, I think of him. I wonder what it must have been to be there on that rainy hot day…..What a feeling it must have been to be on the inside looking out. The Nose had it good, and no matter where and when, he would always be a winner……