I cannot take credit for the moniker of the “Happy Horseplayer.” I was sitting in my office when John Engelhardt introduced me to a one-of-a-kind person. The kind of man who enters a room and garners respect without saying a word. When I awoke on this Easter Sunday, I had Mr. Bob Summers on my mind.
Bob wrote a column for the Buffalo News called the “Happy Horseplayer.” He would make journeys to and from tracks in an old car which had the perfect name. The “Bet-Mobile.” Bob’s booming voice was not one of intimidation, but rather one of authority and kindness. Upon meeting him I became captivated by his stories. They were from a time when gamblers got excited about going to the races, and a bad day at the races would be better than a sharp stick in the eye. ( I bet you thought it was going to be about a good day at work). But that is wasn’t fair, as I felt from our conversations that he wouldn’t have been doing anything else in the world.
On this day of resurrection and season of transformation. I awoke with a fresh outlook and the the hope of a new day. The sun is shining, and the smell of a fresh start is abound. We all have plenty to be grateful. If you are reading this, that itself is proof of the gift of life.
Each year around the Belmont, I would expect to see this gentle giant. A lumbering man who left the room a happier place than when he arrived, and all of this was completed with an effortless joy. His stories would make you laugh from the soul. There was not a bad character in any of his tales from the road, but rather an introspective look into the lives of the everyday man. Bob was always welcomed by John, and I became that younger brother who felt good to be a part of the team.
When I was informed he had passed away, I didn’t have a feeling of sadness. I felt a sense of gratitude for meeting a rare man in the travels of life. We can go forever and not meet such a person, and then some of us are blessed to have run into one of the good guys. It is about this time of year that I think about racing fans who relished the season of opportunity. It is less about making money and winning the big race, and more about finding inspiration and love.
As we wind down the final days of Keeneland, and round the turn for the stretch run into history. I have a feeling of peace and gratitude. For the many wonderful people in my life, and those who have shared the road. For the ones who have touched me, and the many who have filled my heart with my love of the Thoroughbred. At the time of this writing we are only days away from Kentucky Derby 140. No matter the outcome, and with no regard to our winning bankroll. This is a time of reflection. A time to celebrate the sport, the Thoroughbred, and remember the passion who have come before.