I used to cut my teeth watching a local TV program about horse racing. There were two of the greatest guys on the tube that could educate without talking over your head. They would poke fun at each other and allow you to see the fun side of racing. It was time well spent, and never did I think that I would ever get to know these two men who loved racing.
The gents that I speak of would be your own John Engelhardt, and the ultra-talented late Kevin Goemmer. John could bounce and play off of anything as the “Stretch Run” would bring all of the action right into your home. Now, remember this is long before the explosion of simulcast wagering, and being able to watch a hundred channels to catch the action. John has a passion for the game, and his wagering is sparingly placed. He will be quick to let you know how costly it is to have three sons in college. So, we’ll give him a pass on wagering for now. But trust you me, there is no better handicapper on the small Ohio circuits than John Engelhardt. Little did I know, I would have the opportunity to attend day-camp with John some years later…
Kevin Goemmer was “The Voice” of every race fan. He called races at Lebanon, River Downs, Latonia, Turfway Park, and the Chicago circuits. When I first met Kevin I was sure he was a real goof… He could be nasty, and had his own vision. It wasn’t until years later that I changed my opinion. I had the wrong impression about the man. Kevin was a manager for CBT Video, and he stopped in to see me before I was going to do some on-air selections. He closed the door and said, “Hey there Hollywood, who do you like?” Before I got to speak some gambling lingo he stopped me cold and uttered the best words I have ever heard. “Ed, they don’t care what you look like or want to see you on a calendar spread. They are listening to you for the inside scoop. Just relax, and do what you do best.” I felt like the elephant was off my chest, and I did relax and got down to business. Long ago Kevin could make the hair stand-up on your arm when he called the races. His signature calls included “Showing their heels to the field,” or “their not going to catch him today, because he is ALL ALONE…” He had nicknames for many, and some I have met in my professional travels. If you ever meet the talented Joe Kristufek just shake his hand and call him Joey Da K. He had met with Kevin years earlier in Chicago, and it wasn’t long before he had a new name. His ability and focus made him a real force in the sport. His voice would have been ranked at the top, and his temper would have had him in the Hall of Fame. Kevin was a great guy. Only after that short intro did I reverse my action and get to know one of the most talented players in the sport. KG passed away in car crash as he was out doing business that evening. His race calls will always be remembered, but the silence of not hearing his jovial one-of-a-kind voice will resonate in my heart every time I head out to the track.
So, there are the players. I speak of these gents because I have been reading about the importance of educating the public. Oh I agree, but it has been going on long before the call-to-action has been sounded. For myself, and many like me, it was a part of every Sunday at 12:00 P.M. It came on TV, and had racing fans in the Cincinnati area salivating to make first post. Actually, one of the first public handicappers who gave out selections was River Downs’ own Leo Underhill. John had told me many stories of “Undie,” and he was a true racetrack character in every sense of the word. But that time spent watching John and Kevin gave my Dad and I the fever to get to the track. Over eight years I learned a great deal about racing. I always kinda’ knew John from a distance, but it was one day at Turfway Park that we kicked things up a notch. I was doing on-air selections while John was acting as a track photographer with Pat Lang. I really liked this horse, and his name was Gethsemane. I was flying along and doing pretty well until I came to my top selection. I glanced down at the program and called the horse “Gets The Money.” Now I didn’t receive any complaints, but I ran into John working on his camera. He was talking and greeted me as a friend when he asked me the $1 million dollar question. He said, “you must have missed some days in Sunday school.” He never looked up with laughter, but instead educated me again by telling me about the Garden of Gethsemane at the foot of the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem. Well, another lesson was shared. It was about two years later that John called me and asked if I wanted to interview for the ‘Director of Marketing’ job at River Downs. I would have the opportunity to work closely with John, and the six-years we spent at RD was like going away to day camp. Never did two guys have so much fun at work, and there wasn’t a day that I didn’t learn something. Right after I interview for the job he told me I already got the position. He said it was worth the price of admission as I sat before the G.M. and sold myself. This was the beginning of the best job I have had in racing.
I agree, educating the public is needed more than ever. I had the opportunity to work closely with John on his “Regular Guy” show. He gave out handicapping pointers and made the sport fun. We would sweat and talk back-and-forth about cheap claimers and riders that nobody ever heard about. The show was recognized by many in the industry, and John had on some the whose-who in racing. I was his steady partner that would pop-in on big days or if a guest could not make it to the track that day. So yes, education is important. If you need a sample just tune in on Thursday evening and give a listen to John as he is the host of the ‘Winning Ponies Internet Show’. He is still keeping the game interesting, and he allows the listener to be a part of the action. I would like to say that school is back in session, but John Engelhardt has been educating and keeping the fans informed for years.