Betting Buddies

by Ed Meyer

posted on November 16, 2019 in Blogroll, General Discussion, Horse Racing, | No Comments >>

The best part of being a handicapper were the friendships made along the way. – Feel free to quote me if you wish. Not that “Papa” Hemingway would be jealous or Bukowski angry. – It was the friendships that made the cold nights watching cheap Thoroughbreds seem like the Kentucky Derby.

I was too young to hang with dad inside the track. – My mother, brother, and I sat in an old rusty station wagon. Mom would pack a dinner on the “go” and we would do homework, play ball with other race track kids, and occasionally watch a race. Mom was a version of Mr. Rogers, umpire, teacher, and chef. She always made sure we had what we needed as my dad would play a few races. – The process began.

Things change. Yes, they surely do. – I can remember driving out to watch the final four races on the race card with my dad and grandpa. – I was about 11-yrs-old and relished every second. Especially if my dad had a winner and $2 was sent my way to make a place bet. – There was nothing better. I was in the game and one of the boys.  Making that drive in the “Bet Mobile” was pure magic.

Grandpa passed on, as dad and I made trips to Beulah Park, Keeneland, Louisville Downs, Scioto, Latonia, and the gem of my heart River Downs. – We rooted with the blazing sun on our back and hunkered down in the dank cold basement of Latonia. – The best part of the evening was we were together. – We would talk about the big night ahead on the drive out, and the excuses of how the big one got away heading home. – These times were golden for a handicapper.

I started working at the track as a parking lot worker and dad would make the drive alone. He would ask when I got off and I would run in to meet my gambling partner. $2 bets, cold beer, and friendship. – What more does a man need?

As the years passed, I made my way inside to work as his trips began to diminish. – I was busy and life was in full swing. – I walked around the large track now named Turfway remembering every night, bet, and evening spent with my best friend. – My job was taking me up the ladder, but I would still take walks around the building living in the past. – When you do what you love. You get double happiness. Once while you’re doing it and the other looking back with a smile on your face.

Betting on the computer emptied the track and turned it into a ghost town. – No more father/son trips as my dad love’s to sit at home and make wagers on his account. – He makes the yearly trek and mainly plays slot machines and keno. Oh, how the game has changed.

Latonia was built in 1959 long before my birth. – My dad was a young man when he first headed out to watch the Trotters and Thoroughbreds depending on the time of year. He and my grandpa were betting buddies. – I made friends along the way. At first, they were my dad’s and eventually my own. – I made lifelong friends who were my groomsmen when I got married, and to this day we talk horses. – In 1986, Jerry Carroll purchased the old gal and transformed her into a shiny new facility. The name changed and the crowds packed. The OTB betting explosion happened and we could wager on every signal being shown. – These were the salad days of gambling. It seemed as if the sky was the limit.

I left the track and worked at River Downs, Keeneland, and Belterra Park over the years.  Since I have returned back to Turfway for the final meet. I work in the racing office and as a placing judge. – At the end of the meet, they will tear it down. Churchill Downs purchased the track and will replace it with a state-of-the-art facility. – The old facility is showing its age and will be replaced. – From the original Latonia in 1883 to the new Latonia in 1959. Then onward to Turfway Park in 1986. This building has played a great role in my life. It was a place to cultivate my love of the sport, work my way into the industry, and meet lifelong friends. As I look back, it won’t be the winning days I’ll remember. It will be the people. My betting buddies.

I’m sure I’ll take some walks around the building this meet in between races. – Memories around every corner and ghosts from the past bringing a smile to my heart. – These days I find myself making fewer trips to Keeneland, and the Kentucky Derby is watched from my big screen at home. I guess that’s part of the plan. – I look forward to the shiny new Turfway, and I’m sure Churchill Downs will summon the ghost of Matt Winn to keep Kentucky racing growing for the future.