Remembering Good Times

Where did you get your start ? – You know, where did you cut your teeth as a horse player ? – For many there wasn’t a visit to the Spa, or where the surf meets the turf. It was the small tracks. The little ovals that had a charm or lack there of all to themselves. You may have found your way to the Breeders’ Cup dining in the chalet, but it was the small time track that perked your interest. – I have to admit I’m not jealous of the lucky players who made it to the races their first time in the box seats. Hell, it has given me something to shoot for all of these years.

I was born a small town guy who grew up with a bar on every corner, and more churches than playgrounds. My first adventures were at tracks called Latonia, River Downs, and Beulah. Small time ovals that were cold in the winter and hot as Hades in the summer. The riders and trainers were on the way up, or climbing back down the ladder on the way out. – Claimers were the blunt of betting opportunities, and once a week you would see a nice allowance event usually on Saturday as Kentucky didn’t conduct Sunday racing back then.

The action was hot as we just didn’t know any different. Oh, we knew about the Derby, Triple Crown, and races you would read about in the Daily Racing Form. There were no computers, and I had to read the newspaper in the school library to get the scoop on the races with the official “Racing Edition” section of the paper. – That was the best way to spend study hall. – We live in the times of full-card simulcasting, and ADW’s galore. You would be hard pressed not to find a place to wager with casinos, racinos, and OTB outlets. But looking back, I wouldn’t trade my path to racing for anything.

Kentucky Derby day is an official holiday in the state of Kentucky, and for the majority of our youth most would have sworn it really was. If you wanted to bet you had to know a bookie or make the drive and battle the masses at Churchill Downs. That wasn’t going to happen, so I was introduced to betting with a bookie at a young age. My Dad put me on a $20 a week limit, and I could call and make bets. Mainly it was River Downs, Churchill, or Keeneland. They all had races on the radio, and I would read them in the paper and make a $2 win and place bet on my best hunch. – I was about 12 when I would travel with my Dad to a local VFW on Derby day. Our 70 year-old bookies were there, and they would take bets in the basement and write you a betting slip. We would listen to WLAP for the race call from Paul Rogers, and cash only after the prices were given. There was no television coverage except for the Derby, and boy what a treat that was for new players. – Once ESPN started taking the early stakes races and televised the action, life just couldn’t get any better. Little did we know we were born in the best of times.

How many of you can tell me your first big score ? – Your first score with a bookie ? – Your first big payoff ? – For me that stuff is child’s play as racing was my first love. – My first daily double was at Latonia. It was the day before the “Blizzard of 1978,” and the fields were small as outfits were hunkering down for the winter blast. I was at the races with my Dad, and Carl Falconer rode both halves of the daily double to pay a whopping $12. The race card was cancelled after the 3rd race as weather was moving in quickly. – My first bookie score was $2 win and place on Lt. Bert at Oaklawn Park. He paid $20 win and my Dad had the newspaper folded open to the results on the kitchen table as I ate breakfast before school. – My first big score on one horse ? That would be Teleprompter at Arlington Park under Tony Ives. River Downs had the simulcast of the Arlington Million, and I had $4 to win and place on “Prompter” who beat Greinton trained by Charlie Whittingham. I like to go back and watch one of my first big paydays from time to time.



Latonia became Turfway Park, River Downs became Belterra Park, and Beulah became Darby Downs and back to Beulah again. – I’ve worked at all in one capacity or another in my years in racing, and I wouldn’t trade it for all the roses in Louisville. – I’ve had the opportunity to see Keeneland and work there, Dueling Grounds (the only European turf course in the nation) turn over a new leaf and bloom into Kentucky Downs, and the best is yet to come. – The friendships, the stories, and the people could fill ten books. My Mom told me “when you’re lucky enough to do (work) something you love, you get to enjoy it twice. The first when you are doing it, and the second when you are sitting in that rocking chair thinking back to the incredible journey called your life.” – She was right. Mom usually is with matters of the heart.

Beulah was located in Grove City, Ohio.  It was located in a small time farming area, and every year we would make a trek. If we did good at the races, we would stop and hit Lebanon Harness on the way home for a 20 race day. Times were simple, and life was good. – I was reading a story about Beulah Park, and saw a video about what remains. I guess you can liken it to watching one of your favorite paintings deteriorate right before your eyes. As I watched, I could remember going with my Dad and his then girlfriend, and eventually taking my own wife and watching my horse run. I played in handicapping contests, and had a few good days. I made plenty of “Men’s Days” hitting Beulah and Lebanon, and loved every second with my friends over the years. So as you watch this video, know there was much more at one time. The town was practically employed there, and many Thoroughbred racing fans cut their teeth on this little oval known as the “Saratoga of the South.”