If you read any of my blogs you’ll hear about colorful characters, industry doings, and what needs to be fixed in the sport. All are true, and they all hold water. But life is more important than any of the problems that face racing. Sometimes the best days are ones where nothing incredible happens, but something magical does.
I like to get to the track a couple of hours in advance. I read my Daily Racing Form, and get my stuff ready. A good time to get your head in the game, and a sense of calm takes over and you feel prepared. Today, I didn’t make it up to my office for the usual routine. There was something infinitely more important to take care of.
As I walked in, you could’ve set your watch by my strides. I guess if you love where you’re at time doesn’t matter. I grabbed the handle of the door and noticed an older gent standing there. He had on shorts and a Reds ball cap with his program in hand. All looked normal and nothing out of place. That was until he looked at me and said, “Hey buddy, can you tell me where the track is located?” I smiled and said “Sure,” as it was about 15 feet away over the railing. “Come on, I’ll show you what you’re looking for.”
I took him to the railing and said, “Here she is; isn’t this nice?” He smiled back and said, “yeah it sure is.” “I waited for the new track to be built, and my son and I were going to come out for my birthday.” He was alone and I assumed he would be meeting him for lunch at the races. But, I couldn’t have missed more in a thousand years.
He extended his hand and said, “Nice to meet you fella, my name is Harry. I used to come to River Downs long before my son was born, and we both wanted to see the new track together. We made “track treks” each year to see the big races.” I smiled and asked, “How long have you guys been making the trips together?” He looked away like he could see something a thousand yards off in the distance. Harry said his son had passed away earlier in year. His son Tommy lived in Chicago with his wife Sarah, and their two daughters. He had pancreatic cancer, and it took him away quickly. I asked him if he would like to grab a chair and we could talk about the races. He said, “I don’t want to keep you from anything.” “Nope, everything is fine. I don’t have a place to be.”
We sat in the sun as he told me about their Derby trip three years ago, and how they won $500 ! – Tommy loved to play speed and the track was favoring the front runners. – He mentioned all of the marquee tracks they had planned to see.”He was 35-years-old. He had a great job as a software developer, and I don’t know what the hell he made, but he made good money.” – I could feel his pain with every word, and there are times to talk and others to sit back and listen. He went on about bad beats, big winners, and the trips where they would drive all night to make post time the next day. Harry was a proud father in every sense of the word, and missed talking man-to-man. Talking about the races is good for the horseplayer’s soul, and we carried on for about 30 minutes.
“Harry, would you like to take a little walk around?” “Yeah, that sounds great. But I don’t want to keep you from anything.” “Naaaah. Nothing that can’t wait.” We walked down to the paddock and traded stories about the game we love. Harry was a bus driver for over 35 years, and he saw many things in his travels. He told me his route went to the track on Saturdays, and he had a two-hour layover waiting for the next load of riders. “That was like gold, Ed. Hell, I couldn’t go as I was working, but I got to play the daily double and leave a bet.” I smiled and asked him if he had time for a tour. He grabbed the back of my shoulder and said, ” That bag must be getting heavy.” “Naaaah, I have plenty of butt to carry it.” We took the elevator up to the “Crows Nest” where the press box and other offices were located. He stepped out into the sun and said his son would have loved to have seen this view.
I pressed in my key code and we walked into the “Crows Nest.” “This is where the stewards work, and you know these guys decide if your horse stays up or goes down during an inquiry. Here is the photo finish booth where a stand of cameras point directly at the finish line. This is how you find out who wins that tight photo.” The look on his face was one of bright eyed wonder as the average fan doesn’t get to see behind the curtain. We walked into my booth and said this is where I live. Well, at least for a few hours a day. He looked around at the best view in the house, and had a stare in his eyes that was searching for something. I didn’t ask, but I had a pretty good idea that what he was looking for wouldn’t be found on this day. “Ed, this is great. It must be pretty scary doing this.” “Harry, there is stream of sweat that goes down my ass once every 20 minutes!” We laughed as he continued to look at the rolling hills of Kentucky off in the distance. We talked horses for a few minutes and he asked me if I liked anything today. “Hell yes, everything that Perry Outzs rides!” He said, “OK. I’m going to bet $5 to win on all of his mounts.” I walked him back to the elevator, and rode back down to the race book with him. He thanked me, and told me how much he enjoyed the tour. “Man, I didn’t know where they did all of that stuff, and it was sure was interesting.” “Harry, hope to see you soon. I know you’re going to have a good day, and all you have to do is tap on the glass and I’ll come out and let you in.” ” Thanks, Ed. I’ll stop up later in the summer. I’d like to see you again.” We shook hands, and he smiled a grin that was part happy but mostly filled with pain. “Oh, I almost forgot. I have a little something for your first trip.” It was my Belterra Park hat that had never been worn. I figured my memory of our visit would last longer than any hat. He loved it, and took off his Reds cap and put it right on. He smiled a big grin, and shook my hand again. He said he’d be back this way in about a month. He said he wanted to come up to the “Crows House” and say hello.” “Sure thing, Harry. We would love to see you. Hey, don’t forget about betting Perry Outzs today!” “He laughed and said; $5 to win on all of them.” There were eight races on the card today, and Perry Outzs won four of them. I sure hope Harry remembered to bet. But more importantly, I wondered if he would stop up to the “Crows House” to see me. There we’re no tales of colorful characters who make the game fun, or the big one that got away. Just two guys sharing an hour on a Sunday at the track.