The Passing of Summer…

by Ed Meyer

posted on September 8, 2010 in General Discussion, News | No Comments >>

Every spring brings hopes of things to come. It was Derby time a few years ago that I met a gent who caught my attention. He was engaging, funny, and best of all, a “Happy Handicapper.” It was in our office at River Downs that my cohort and friend John Engelhardt, introduced me to a family friend, Mr. Bob Summers…..

Bob was a big man. Large enough to make you think that he was once upon a time a football player. He was a member of the Hall of Fame team of St. Joseph’s Collegiate Institute. He went on to graduate from St. Bonaventure in 1966. That was the same same year that I was born…. Even though there were years between us, I told my friend that I really enjoyed when Bob made his visit to our neck of the woods.

I could tell you about the eloquent words written in the Buffalo News. But, I choose to tell you some things I learned about a man who happened to shake my hand, and graced our Internet Show as our guest. He was a solid well-rounded newsman by all accounts. Just like all of the greats, he made his way up through the ranks, and was finally rewarded with a position that was his calling.  His column, the “Happy Handicapper” showed an image of a man who watched the races through a pair of binoculars. It was this task that allowed him to be “Everyman in the Sport of Kings” according to his editor, Margaret Sullivan.

Bob was funny. He didn’t try and take over any part of the conversation, but when he spoke, the other chattering stopped. From my encounters, I could tell he had a quick wit, and a photographic memory for racing. He told me of his many trips with John’s older brother, Bob Engelhardt. I never had the chance to meet the man, but from the many wonderful things my friend has told me, I think I would have enjoyed his company. He was a regular in Summers’ article as the “Exacta Kid.”  I am sure this would have been a read to keep, as the Engelhardt family has been more fun than the law allows.

Bob told me of one of their trips. They would start in Pennsylvania, and head to Commodore Park (The Commode). They hit the opening daily-double at Thistledown, and hustled down to catch the closing double at River Downs.  The ride that took them along was the “Betmobile.” I just read an article a week ago speaking of a great idea with the same name. But, it was Bob and the “Exacta Kid” that christened the jalopy. This was not the end, but only a few stopovers on the way to the Kentucky Derby in Louisville, Kentucky.

Mr. Summers was a solid capper. He held his own thoughts, and wasn’t swayed by the odds or your homemade selections. That is where the fun is, and Bob Summers knew it all too well. His last trip down allowed me the opportunity to ask him if he would be our special guest for Belmont weekend; a race that he said he saw a slew of times, and this time he was going to watch from home. His comments were solid, and mixed with humor that he slid in just at the right time. I enjoyed every moment of our interview, and called to thank him afterwards. “No sweat,” he said.  And he asked me for my final pick in the race. We both agreed. “Lookin at Lucky was the one to beat.” He said I’ll catch you on my next trip down to the River……

That trip won’t be made. But, my brief encounter with a real handicapper will stay with me. It was written in his paper that he promised to buy pizza for the crew in his department. The happy occasion was his first cashing of a Social Security check…… A few hours later, he passed away at 66 years young at Seneca Niagara Casino…

I can’t say that I knew the man for thirty years. But, my introduction to Mr. Summers allowed me to get to know a well-rounded newsman, who shared the same love that has been a part of my life for so many years. So, Bob… Thanks again for sharing your time with me, and I hope that you and the “Exacta Kid” are watching Ruffian and Seabiscuit do battle with War Admiral down the lane……

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