The Shark Ain’t Coming Round’ Anymore

by Ed Meyer

posted on June 1, 2018 in General Discussion, Horse Racing, | No Comments >>

His lawn chair that must have been 100 years old, and with notebook in hand, the old man watched the races with laser precision. I’ve been seeing him for over 25 years working at the tracks. Sometimes he would make a trip to Keeneland and set up his shop. We walk past people every day and assume we know a little something about them by a short glance as we hurry through life. – Sometimes there’s a little more to the book than the tattered cover.

I had finished a day of calling the races on Monday and was heading out to my car. I usually stop and shoot the breeze with an old face from time-to-time. The old face is both of ours as I’ve been working at the races for most of my life. – The gent was simply called “The Anvil” as he had a pointed goatee just like his wrestling idol Jim “The Anvil” Neidhart. A steel-worker by trade and horseplayer by love. He always wore his overalls and work boots. His giant arms could have had him in the WWF at the time. – He’s retired now but still wears his overalls and boots like he just came from the job. – “Hey, Anvil. What’s happening?” – “Hey, Ed. Did you hear the “Shark” died this week?” – It didn’t ring a bell at first but hit me like a hammer on the drive home. I just hadn’t heard his name in a while.

Shark was from New York. He was an orphan raised on the tough side of the tracks. – He hated school and did horrible. Except for math. That was his shining glory. The Nuns gave him plenty of pats on the head during his youth. – He went into the service and met his bride upon return. – Little things you pick up along the many years working in the parking lot and eventually inside the track. You get to know some one-of-a-kind people that you don’t read about in a book or find every day.

The Shark was a bookmaker in the 1960’s and 70’s. He was a big man who stayed off the streets and back alleys we’ve all heard about. His fortune was making the numbers dance. His ability to do calculations in his head was simply magic. Something you would’ve seen in a movie. – He raised his kids in the suburbs and his wife passed away early. Shark stayed and raised the four kids with the help of his sister. He never remarried and had his work and the kids. He didn’t need anything else. – His end of the operation was balancing and making the numbers add up. Needless to say, he was pretty good at his trade.

I met him when he gave me $5 bill to park. – ” Hold my spot every day and you’ll get the same.” – He never had to repeat that again as his word was gold. – He would walk in with a lawn chair. He kept to himself and treated the races like a business. It wasn’t for fun; it was for making money. I would find him and the chair on the 3rd floor or in a faraway corner in the clubhouse. Close enough to watch the races and close enough to bet. – I always noticed he had a small black notebook and would make a bet or two every night.

Back in New York his kids all went to college and eventually went their own ways. His sister passed to the other side and he was getting older. He used to come to Kentucky and Ohio during the spring and summer and down to Florida winter. – Over the years you get used to seeing the same faces in the same places until you don’t anymore. – This is where loner characters like “The Anvil” had met him in passing. Loners at the track used to be a common practice, but now you see people come in groups and treat it like a party. – Not the Shark. It was all business. – Over the years the clerks would tell me he made a bet or two and they were large. – I’m talking $500 to place and show and he cashed more than he tossed away. I guess that was his many years of keeping focus and being a man of the numbers.

As he grew older I would see him in an old lawn chair with a bigger notebook. – We would trade brief words of “how ya’ doing, or are ya’ picking any winners?” – Quiet man. He was still there for business. But now it was all he really had. – Anvil said he went to the doc complaining of back pain on a Monday and was gone on Friday. – ” The Shark ain’t coming round anymore, Ed.” – Anvil went about his business of watching and complaining but was a little quieter on this day. – I walked away and thought about the many $5 bills over the years and how I would see him quietly sitting in his chair. I guess he was happy. He raised his kids and took care of his sister and she took care of him. – I can still see him this past Derby day walking in early to set up his camp for the day. His words were few and I only knew brief stories of his life from the many years and from chats with his friends. – Yeah, the Shark ain’t coming round here no more. I’ll miss seeing the chair and the old man watching the races.