The Making of a Horseplayer

by Ed Meyer

posted on April 13, 2021 in Blogroll, General Discussion, Horse Racing, Kentucky Derby, | Comments Off on The Making of a Horseplayer

The first Saturday in May is a holy day for horseplayers. Nothing like it until the Breeders’ Cup comes along much later. Now we have multiple days to celebrate the equine. – I grew up in a small town. A mix between Mayberry and every town most of us grew up in. In my little town, there was an equal amount of churches and bars. I guess one offsets the other. I would awake early and hit the road with my dad for a day of action. Could there be a better day in all of the universe?

My neighbors, relatives, and many folks would turn their nose up at gambling; all contacted the old man to get down a bet on the Derby. After all, everyone’s a fan of this one day. – He would collect the small bets and take them up and get them down at a local VFW where men would take the bets. – Most of them probably saw the first race in 1875, but these old bookies could still perform magic.

I was about 11 years old and would tag along with dad. There was a radio that would have the dulcet tones of Paul Rogers calling the race with the excitement of being there. You could even smell the popcorn and mint juleps being sold in the stands. Nothing better.

They would interview celebrities and handicappers while you counted the minutes till the next race. – Eventually, that radio was retired to the basement where the bets were taken and a color TV would show three races prior to the Derby in real-time. Things could not get any better.

Dad used to let me make a bet or two, and as I got older he would limit my day to $20. My graduation to the upper level was a journey of learning along the way. – I liked to play closers as my dad loved pure speed. All-day long there were the cigar boxes filled with Derby runners for $5 per selection, bets are taken on carbon copy betting slips, and a steak dinner at the end of the day. – If you wanted to bet the Derby you had to make the trek to Louisville, fight the crowd, and pay big money for seats. That 110-mile drive may have been on the moon as far a young handicapper was concerned. Going down to the races was for the well-heeled and folks who wore seersucker suits.

This went on for years until high school. I would look forward to going, and as the years passed my level of play would graduate even higher. – Tracks were starting to make deals with Churchill for the race and eventually the entire card. – When the simulcast explosion happened you could bet every track from around the nation and beyond. Television got in on the game and offered incredible coverage for the entire day. – What a time to be a horseplayer.

I look back on my youth and trips with dad. I’ve been to Vegas more than you could count and played in every tournament around. But, I’d still like to have another crisp sunny first Saturday in May just one more time the old way. – My grandpa would sit close to the TV demanding total silence during the race. Watching my dad yell at the screen and when he won he would exclaim his battle cry of ” I love this game.” Yeah, the good old days were some of the best of times. If we won we’d hop in dad’s truck and make the drive to Lebanon harness racing for bottom-level claimers to cap off the day. I’ve seen the game change over the years. But one more time going back to that musty VFW would be a dream come true. Enjoy your trek to the Derby. There are only a handful of days until we hear “My Old Kentucky Home,” and the beauty and pageantry of the sport that will once again shine brightly.