Groundhog Day

Gamblers can be superstitious. They need their lucky shirt, or that 60-year-old buckeye they carry in their pocket. I have watched players from all walks listen to TV talking heads about the upcoming race, and tip sheets have been printed as long as paper has been around. Yep, we always look for the edge. Here are a few examples of who the public has followed for advice straight from the wagering gods.

Punxsutawney Phil may be one of the best known prognosticators.  Since 1886, the weather forecasting groundhog has been holding court. He comes out of his burrow at Gobbler’s Knob, and in front of thousands of watchers. He looks for his shadow. If he sees it, there will be six more weeks of winter. If not, then an early spring is predicted. But even this groundhog has his “magic mojo”. Each year, he sips from the “elixir of life” to give him seven more years of life. Today, he did not see his shadow. It translates that an early spring is on the way, and the Kentucky Derby is only 91 days away.

Demetrios Georgios Synodinos may be remembered as one of the early pioneers of prognostication. If the name escapes, you may remember him as Jimmy “The Greek” Snyder. A longtime bookmaker and sports commentator amused the viewers for years as he would provide color to any wagering event. Players would read his column, and watch him on TV. For many gamblers, “Greek” was the Steubenville, Ohio answer to the road to riches. I loved his magical methods, as he would give out the Ravens on radio, and the 49′s on TV. Either way, he was going to be a winner. When he was at the track and having a losing day. He would venture up to the windows and make a bet on every horse in the race. He was certain to end his day a winner, and would exclaim in his robust voice; “that’s me!”  His life was filled with excitement and controversy, but will always be remembered as one of the early greats. One of his producers went to the “Greek’s” favorite racetrack. In the “Greek” fashion, he made a wager on every horse in the race. He kept the ticket, and on the day they laid Jimmy “the Greek” Snyder to rest, he tucked the winning ticket into his coat pocket. Just as “Greek” would have liked, he went out a winner.

It was my first Derby, and I was doing my weekend radio show. I had practiced the style of the late-great Jim McKay’s way of painting the colorful first Saturday in May, and in my own sappy lingo. I tried my best to bring to life the beauty of the morning roses. Things were well at Churchill Downs, and I was high above in the press-box. For a guy who once came from the parking lot, this was about as close to horse-player heaven as possible. No crowds, a lavish spread of food, and two betting windows with no waiting.  For me, I was the happiest guy in the world. That was until I looked to my left, and seated on the end was ESPN’s own “Hammerin’ Hank Goldberg.” I am not one given to being star-struck, but I have been listening to his football and racing prognostications for years. Well, after two beers and a few winners. I made my way over to meet “the man.” I introduced myself, and he reluctantly shook my hand. Every horse-player at the track has used this same opening question. ” Who do you like in the Derby?”  Well, I was greeted with a cold glance down his nose, and he exclaimed that the Europeans would rule the day.” He immediately turned away, and just sat there. I felt like a grade school kid who had been told to sit down. After about three more brews, and a great day on the under card. The Derby was about ready to run. My producer was sitting next to me, and we cheered like crazy when we nailed the winner in a big way. Many in the press-box area were doing the same. The entire area was filled with scribes from around the globe who basked in the glory of the greatest two minutes in sports. That was true, except for one person. After high-fives, and wide grinning smiles. I glanced over toward “Hamerin’ Hank.” He was glaring at me like I had stolen his car. He locked eyes with me, and displeasure was written all over his face. I looked over and thought to say something pleasant, when words came rushing out of my mouth, “hey Hank, how did the Euros do today?” He immediately gathered his coat and walked out of the press box. I usually keep a lock on my tongue, but it just seemed appropriate to jab back at the “Hammer” on this beautiful Derby day. But, just like many gamblers, when “The Hammer” appears every Sunday to talk football. I still turn up the sound, and listen closely. Gamblers have a short memory, and we always look to gain that edge.

I sure hope “Old Phil” is correct as the nation creeps closer to the first Saturday in May. Be sure to enjoy the races today, and if you have a four leaf clover, a lucky coin, or a favorite seat. Go ahead and grab anything that starts your day with good mojo. As always, may your winners be many, and your photos be few!

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