The Start of a New Week

The past seven days have surprised, enlightened, and made me happy. There is something magical about this time of year. I’ve read about the runners who are heading to Louisville and there is a new wind a blowing. We have family, friends, and those who fit in between. Today I heard a voice from the past. Oh, I talk to him quite a bit, but this was the first time in a long time I’ve heard from him. The Derby for racing fans is like Christmas, your birthday, and your first kiss. I don’t know if it’s the race, the action, or the interactions with people you’ll never forget.


This time last week the world had bought all the stock in American Pharoah. Dortmund was thought of as the 1A from the Bob Baffert powerhouse. The Arkansas Derby victory by AP all but cancelled the first Saturday in May. There was no need to run the Derby, as we already know who was going to win. Just give him the garland of roses, and we’ll start talking Triple Crown. But one week later the winds of Derby-Doubt are swirling. AP was all but crowned after the Arkansas Derby win, but has he been tested enough? Does he have enough road work bumping with the tough guys? His races are super impressive, and you’ll be hard pressed to find a chink in his armor. But hold the presses. Dortmund is undefeated in six starts, and has faced some bumps and bruises. Add in the most important factor for this gambler. When Team Baffert has a double-trouble combo, the bigger price or overlooked runner takes it to the winner’s circle. This week, Dortmund is the talk of the town. I noticed last week not many capper’s liked Mubtaahij, and even a top-shelf handicapper was talking about what a waste it was to make the flight. No Lasix, he has run and won at the longest distances of the field, and the trainer Mike De Kock doesn’t send many to the states, but when he does. They run lights out. This next week should give us plenty to think about.


People go to work everyday. You see them get in their cars, and count the minutes until the day is done. That is only part of the work world. How about the folks who love what they do ? I know it’s rare, but it really does happen. Some do extremely well and live a lavish lifestyle. I guess that’s all good, and I’d sure like to give it try. Sometimes the reward is loving where your going, and enjoying what you’ll do when you get there. I have a good friend who has worked in racing. There isn’t a day he hated the drive, or wanted to call in sick. Everyone at the track knows him, and he loves to get out and about. After the races he would drive a golf cart to the backside where he has created the best friendships in the world. You can count on him to get the word out for special projects; he’ll take your photo with the new runner in your barn, or just enjoy a cold beer and talk. Yeah, it’s fair to say he loves racing. We have spoke at least once a week since closing day last October, and sometimes even more. His voice was always filled with interest in what you’re doing.” How is your son? Are you getting to the gym? How is your handicapping?” At the end of the season, many of us are laid-off until racing returns. That is a tough day for the ones who love this part of their life, but one that is understood. As soon as they pull from the parking lot, they start counting the minutes until they return. The grass is growing, the flowers sprouting, and racing is days away. I waited until the work day was over, and I dialed my old pal. The voice that answered made my heart smile. He never really left, but this extra pep in his step was easy to recognize. I haven’t seen too many days where he was down, but there are times where it really stood out how happy he was. Today was one for the books. He is doing what he loves, and truth be told he doesn’t do it for the money. “People who shine from within, don’t need a spotlight.” Good luck, John Engelhardt. I’ll see you next week.


Working at the track has been a joy. I’m not going to be rich, or buy my own island. But the rewards of getting to know the people have been a pleasure. I’m not trying to nominate myself for being Mr. Sunshine, and there are many times I’m a pretty low key guy. Over the years you’ve read about some of the best people. They may not make Forbes, but some of them could. But the one-and_only is a tough act to follow. Robert “Spivey” Cliff tops the list. Papa Wallenda once said; “Life is on the wire, the rest is just waiting.” Spivey lived his life as a gambler like this. He didn’t put on silly hats and act the fool for the Kentucky Derby. He viewed it as a rare occasion where gamblers had an edge betting against the unprepared public. The odds could take a huge wager, and not even wiggle a digit. Spivey would come strolling in quickly. He wasn’t running, but his walk was one of purpose. You would know it was the man as he dressed to the nines. You wouldn’t see him in shorts or sweatpants. That was not his way. Looking good, being there early, and holding court with the biggest players at the track. His words held sway with their wagers. These were men of the business world, men of success, men who would not be going broke anytime. Spivey would put together tickets for the big carryovers, giant guaranteed pools, and anytime there was an edge. He would only leave the plush private room to have a cup of coffee. He could have had anything on the menu at the wave of a finger, but I think he cleared his head for a few minutes and came back stronger. Old time players knew him from the bookie days, and others got to be close enough just in passing. He didn’t go around talking the talk, and handled gambling like a business. It was, it was his calling in life. He kept to himself, and when he would come to me for something at the track. It was how many, and where do you want them? He had a lingo all to his own. Frank Sinatra and the Rat Pack would have sat back and listened. I’ve seen the pretenders, the contenders, and the throngs of wanna-be’s. The Spive was not in this league. – He’s been gone for more than I’d like to remember. I think back to the days when millionaire players would be jumping and rooting like $2 show players. Spivey brought energy to the room. He didn’t have to do anything to garner the attention, it just attracted to him like a moth to the light. One time I was mad at something at work, and it had nothing to do with him. He watched me from a distance, and when I quieted down a bit he came up and whispered sage like words I’ll never forget. “Save your breath kid, you’ll last ten years longer.” – That was Spivey. Playing it easy, and knowing the secrets that most will never know.