Every Sunday for one hour, my life stopped. No football, no phone calls, no talking. Those who have gambling blood and HBO, would be locked to their couch watching an imaginary world that mirrored our own. I could have been doing something else with my time for all of those years, but how much fun would that have been?
The world mourns the passing of actor James Gandolfini. His work was pure talent and will be remembered for bringing to life crime boss Tony Soprano in The Sopranos. Some episodes ate and breathed gambling, but one episode in particular hits home with fans that love the sport of kings.
“Pie-O-My” was the 44th episode in the HBO original series. Ralph Cifaretto’s horse wins a couple of races and makes some money. Ralphie takes note of how well the horse is doing, and dukes some cash over for Tony’s winning strategies. Tony falls in love with the horse, and the story takes off from there… Racing has softened the hardest of hearts, and has brought many a tear to the eyes of gamblers. Who could feel the excitement of Thoroughbred racing as they watched “Pie” romp to victory at Aqueduct Race Course? After seeing the episode, I was at the “Big A” with friends from Turfway. The decorations in the clubhouse were exactly the same, and there were plenty of “Pie-O-My” references throughout the day.
If you have ever owned a racehorse, or had the desire, I would bet you could feel Tony’s sweat as he informed his wife (Carmella) about his ownership. It took me back to when I owned a few claiming runners, and what fun it was when my wife saw the monthly bills. For every owner, either real or TV, the story is pretty much the same when the bills come due. As Ralphie continued to give Tony a “taste” of the prize earnings, you could sense his love for the equine sport as “Pie-O-My” continued winning. It took me back to long ago when I first went to the paddock, and fell in love just watching the horses saddle.
There were some hokey parts that made real racing fans cringe like when the jockey (Aaron Gryder) won the race, and came back to the barn still dressed in the owner’s silks. And the cherry on the sundae was when they were toasting champagne. But that’s the TV version. When my horse won, the rider would come back and talk quickly, as he jogged back to the jockey’s room for the next race. No champagne toasts nor time to celebrate with the rider. We cashed our winning tickets and brought some beer to the barn as our horse cooled out. That was the real life version.
As the world mourns the loss of a talented actor, I will have fond memories of how he brought to life the beauty of racing. Tony Soprano could be a tough-customer when needed. The end of the episode shows tough-guy Tony with his sick horse in her stall. It brought to life the hidden side of racing as he comfortingly strokes her neck, telling her that everything will be all right. The beauty of racing can soften the hardest of hearts and toughest of characters. Thank you Mr. Gandolfini for showing how beautiful the sport of kings can be.