All I Ever Wanted to Be Was A Horseplayer

 

 

 

There was something magical about going with my Dad to the local bar/bookie. The room was filled with smoke, and men stood in a back room sipping draft beer, and reading the Daily Racing Form. I would occasionally see another local kid or two, and we would just hang around and wait. This probably sounds like a punishment, but after a while. It became part a fun part of our relationship. My Dad would tell Mom he was going to the store, and ask if I wanted to come along. Nine outta’ ten times we would end up in the smoky back room, and he would make a small bet we would listen to on the radio as the race of the day. There was nothing sweeter to my ears than to hear the “call to the post” on WNOP / 840 am. They announced the last race live with the incomparable Kevin Goemmer, and earlier payoffs and would be broadcast by a young man named John Engelhardt. Leo “Uncle Undie” Underhill would be the voice of introduction, and sometimes be the payoff / result man. The sound of the races was theatre of the mind.  We gathered around a small white oval radio won in a pie eating contest at Americana Amusement Park. The sounds of live racing brought to life by the voice of Kevin Goemmer gave me chills with each and every stride. These were the days, and life couldn’t be any sweeter. It reminds me of my life story with a “Goodfellas” soundtrack playing in the background.  “As far back as I could remember, all I ever wanted to be was a horse player.”

Eventually I was allowed to make a place bet here and there, and would root like the dickens as horses were  running down the lane. As I grew older, my Dad spoke to our local bookmaker and he put me on a $20 per week allowance, my Dad would settle up on Saturday morning. I was 16, and all I had to do was have decent grades and stay out of trouble. That was pretty easy, and there was nothing like picking up the phone and making a $2 win and place bet on the Keeneland race of the day broadcast on WLAP/Lexington. I used to read the newspaper in the school library that had full racing coverage. One day when a teacher asked me who I liked, I knew things were changing. Sometimes I would see him walking around at the track making small time $2 wagers. I knew more than he did, and when I told him to bet Carborundum at Keeneland. He treated me even better, as he paid $22 that day.

College turned into some of the best days of my life. Not for the school or seeking a degree, that stuff was pretty easy. I had to make the decision of setting my class schedule so I could dodge my last class and drive 80 miles to Keeneland. I met some good friends. One was a licensed pilot who started school after 12 years in the Air Force. He loved the ponies, and used to beg me to fly to Oaklawn Park in his small plane. I never had the guts as he would have more beers than all of us put together. Another gent became one of my best friends, and we would eventually own horses together. He and I would make the treks Keeneland, Churchill, Lebanon Harness, Beulah Park, and Scioto Downs. When going to the track was out of the question, I would drive up at lunch, grab a Lexington newspaper and make a few wagers by phone. If you kept track of time, you could run out to your car at 20 after and 10 til the hour and hear the taped stretch call. I can’t tell you how many times I walked out of the classroom to my car. One day, a young lady who got to know me from other classes asked me; “did your horse win?” She and I went out a few times, and I’ll let you guess where our dates took us.

In college I had three part-time jobs. They perfectly fitted into the racing seasons, as I began working in the track parking lot, and eventually rose through the ranks to run parking. After graduating, I couldn’t find a teaching job. Not to worry, my part time jobs became full-time occupations that allowed me to rise through the ranks, and better my lot with each rung of the ladder. Funny thing about gambling.  If you love what you’re doing, you become pretty competitive. I guess this ran over into my working life and I was given one-of-a-kind opportunities that allowed me to go from parking to admissions manager to Race Book manager to Player Development manager to on-air handicapper and radio host. Life couldn’t have been any better if I had a million dollars. A few life events had me on the sidelines for awhile as a single father. Racing looked to be a distant memory I would always carry in my heart. That was until one day I was attending a handicapping contest. I was asked by a manager to send him my resume as there was an opening for a new position at the track. I didn’t want the job as it looked like it wouldn’t work, but who knows where it would take me? I don’t regret anything racing related. I look back on my years as a horse player, parking manager, racing employee, on-air handicapper, radio host, blogger, and currently I have been give the job opportunity of my life. I’m the morning line odds maker and track announcer at Belterra Park. It used to be River Downs before the casino/racino explosion led to a sale. I never had it on my list of things to do, but it was something that always intrigued me. Being around the races again, and calling races isn’t like busting rocks. I consider it one of the best things that has happened to me along the way, and funny thing how life goes in circles. The man who called me for the job was that same young man years ago I used to listen to on WNOP radio working with the late-great Kevin Goemmer. John Engelhardt reached out and asked if I wanted to give it a try.

My Mom once told me I’m a lucky man. Not because I’m a billionaire, but for having the opportunity to do what I love. Not only would I enjoy it as I live my life, but this would be a double pleasure as I could look back some day and recall the wonderful people and experiences I’ve had. Mom was right. As I get a little older and look back it makes me smile. The people who have become my friends, the incredible job opportunities, and of course getting to play the races. I was at a dinner party one night and was listening as the wine was starting to take my friends to philosophical places. The conversation changed many times, and after six bottles of wine it settled on if you could be anyone in the world, who would you be? – There were some interesting answers, and some that verged on the drunken side of slurred speech. Finally, I was asked. I didn’t really want to play, and asked if I could just sit back and enjoy their choices. “Now you have to speak, Ed. We want to know if you could do anything or be anybody else, what would be your choice.” – I sat back and smiled, and took a long draw off my sweet aromatic cigar. “For me that’s easy. I wouldn’t be anyone else in the world but me. I’m the luckiest guy I know.”

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