Saturday, October 16, 2021

The Loss

They all lose eventually. Teams, race horses, boxers, individual competitors of all sorts. You can probably count on two hands the number that have gone into the night undefeated. They are few and far between.

And of course it happened when I was on vacation. Matt Amodio's run as Jeopardy champion ended Monday, October 11. And I didn't know until I was sitting in my wife's cousin's living room on Tuesday, October 12 and the show came on at 7:30 in Centerville, Massachusetts. Matt was not amongst those introduced as that night's contestants. He was history.

Vacation started on Saturday October 9th as we checked into the Hyannis Harbor Hotel in Hyannis,  Massachusetts. We've been staying there for the last several years on our annual trip to the Cape to sightsee, shop, and see my wife's cousin and her family.

It seems the latest trend in bed making for some hotels is to arrange as many pillows as they can on the bed for decoration and function. In this case there were eight! pillows stacked in an wedge arrangement that let you see every pillow.

And every time I see this I think there are probably three school-age brothers in Uruguay who go to bed at night sharing a soccer ball as a pillow. My sense of entitlement kicks in, but doesn't last long. Not when I figure that the number of pillows relates to the room rate. Sort of like the $$$ signs posted on the Web for restaurant reviews and how much an average meal might cost.

Thankfully, I had the foresight to program the recording of Jeopardy back home, knowing that we enter a bit of self-imposed blackout from news when we vacation. So when the lights went up on Tuesday's Jeopardy and the contestants were introduced and Matt Amodio was not among them, I knew there had been an upset. 

Warner Wolfe used to cry, "Let's go to the video tape," as part of his sportscast. So I knew I'd be going to my DVR recording on Monday's coup when we got back home.

Matt Amodio
Matt, as champion gets to kick off the selection, and naturally went to a $1,000 clue. Matt's strategy, and that of one of his predecessor champion James Holzauer, is to try and build a nest egg and then make as big a bet as you can if you get the Daily Double option, hoping to build an even bigger nest egg.

The strategy of going for the highest denomination has the effect of building a war chest if you answer correctly, but also of taking the high dollar amounts off the board from the other contestants if you flub the answer. There is one less high dollar choice left for the others to try and build a nest egg for their pursuit of the Daily Double. It's a smart, aggressive, competitive way to play.

Matt gets off to a bit of stuttering start, but quickly regained momentum and had his usual comfortable lead after the first round; $9,800. to Jessica's $2,400 to Jonathan's $400. All the makings of another Amodio steam rolling job were there.

Jessica Stephens

Definitely a reversal of fortune by the end of the second round. Matt keeps winning the buzzer battle, but starts missing the answers, four in quick succession. He's looking a bit tense, and perhaps distracted. He's in new waters.

Jonathan gets both Daily Doubles, back-to-back, but only answers the second one correctly, and only after making very conservative bets of $2,000 and $3,000 bets. At the end of the Double Round, when the dust settles and the buzzers are put down, Matt is in third place with only $10,600 to Jessica's $14,400 to Jonathan's $14,600. 

Matt is hardly in his usual can't lose position. He doesn't have more than two times the amount of money of either of the other contestants. If this were a horse race, it would be three of them across the track inside the sixteenth pole (less than 110 yards to go). It's anybody's race.

Final Jeopardy category: Countries of the World.

Nazi Germany annexed the nation and divided it into regions of the Alps and the Danube; the Allies later divided it into 4 sectors.

Having watched the Joseph Cotten, Orson Welles movie The Third Man several times, I was certain the answer was Austria. Matt bet smartly with $5,000, which would make him the winner if the others failed to answer correctly, and he nailed the answer. But Matt's answer of Poland was an absolute dud. You start to feel Matt's going to lose.

With a correct answer and Jonathan faltering, Jessica will win with the right bet and the right answer. With the right bet and the right answer Jonathan will win no matter what Jessica does. It's going to be a photo finish.

Jessica bets all but a dollar. Double her money will not exceed double Jonathan's money. She does her best with a $14,399 bet and a correct answer, Austria, giving her $28,799. 

Jonathan basically needs to bet it all and get the answer right to finish ahead of Jessica. He answers Austria. He bets it all, and therefore finishes with $29,200 and becomes the New Jeopardy Champion.

So, after 38 consecutive wins, second to Ken Jennings, and with $1,518,601 won, third behind Ken Jennings and James Holzhauer, Matt's reign is over.

If Ken, James and Matt were thoroughbreds they would be worth a lot at stud and we'd we seeing their offspring compete within four years. But it works quite a bit differently for us humans. But with Jeopardy's continued popularity there is the chance that a contestant's offspring can qualify for the show and perhaps have as big a winning streak as dads Ken, James and Matt.

And how about Jonathan? Is he a one-hit wonder? Apparently not. He's come through four more times, therefore capping off a perfect week.

Streak champions like Ken, James and Matt don't come around often. But when they do, the rest of the world starts to pay attention, not just the Jeopardy fans. It becomes almost like Joe DiMaggio's hitting streak. Non-baseball fans start asking, "Did he hit one today?" vs. did the Yankees win?

Jonathan Fisher
Go Jonathan, catch them if you can.

Thursday, October 7, 2021

The Saloonkeeper

If you follow the tribute obits in the NYT you already know they cover a wide variety of people and their current or former occupations. If you're insecure, you might read them and feel you never accomplished anything. Of course that's not true. For one, you're still alive to read them.  

Between yesterday and today the occupations of the deceased have ranged from a global-minded chief of Merrill Lynch, 82; a baseball lifer who won the 1948 title with Cleveland, 100; A salsa musician, 81; an announcer on The Letterman Show, 78; a Carnegie Hall backstage comforter, 71; and an inventive microwave guru, 86. But not one saloonkeeper, although a legendary one has passed away.

Jimmy Neary, 91, owner of Neary's Pub on East 57th Street near First Avenue, has passed away. Jimmy was well known and hosted celebrities, and non-celebrities of all stripes at his bar and restaurant. He was the subject of newspaper stories and documentaries. He was basically the Irish Toots Shor, although I haven't read anyone compare him to Toots.

It was one such story a few years ago that I read about Jimmy that told us he was from Tubbercurry, Co. Sligo. Ireland. My wife's father, Patrick Brennan, was from Tubbercurry as well. Although it was unlikely that Patrick knew Jimmy, being born in 1904 and having passed away in 1980, my wife and I took in a meal at Neary's after a Carnegie Hall concert, hoping to at least share a story about a common background.

Unfortunately, Jimmy wasn't there at the time, having taken in a late afternoon nap back at the apartment. Even by the time we left, Jimmy still hadn't come back to the restaurant. Having never gone back, we never did get to meet him.

I will never forget when I was making the funeral arrangements at F.X. McKeon funeral home in the Bronx for Patrick the care I took to have a death notice printed in the Daily News that recounted that he was from Tubbercurry, Co. Sligo, Ireland. Tubbercurry is not easy to spell.

I must have gotten things right in the death notice, because one afternoon when it was just my wife and I at the funeral home, an elderly couple came by to pay their respects. Neither my wife or I knew them. They were complete strangers, but they were originally from Ireland and read about Patrick's passing and that he was from Sligo.

They said some nice things and asked about my wife's mother. We explained she was still back at the apartment and would be there in the evening.  When they asked what part of Ireland Helen came from, they were visibly distressed to hear my wife tell them that she was from Liverpool, England. She was English.

The thought of an English/Irish marital union unnerved them. They politely withdrew and went down the hall to view another deceased they didn't know, but one I'm sure they were hoping had a more total Irish background.

I learned of Jimmy Neary's passing through a Tweet by the NYT reporter Corey Kilgannon (@coreykilgannon) who posted a link to the obit by the Irish Central (@irishcentral). It's a great obit and carries with it a video of Jimmy waltzing gracefully with his daughter Una to the Tennessee Walt at the restaurant. Una's day job is being a compliance officer and partner at Goldman Sachs and waitressing at the restaurant in the evenings.

My father-in-law always told us that Tubbercurry was full of Brennans, and that his bunch came from Station Road. My wife an I on a 1977 drive through Tubbercurry noticed several stores whose proprietors were named Brennan. We were a bit pressed for time, so we didn't try and stir up the lineage. Typical New Yorkers in a rush, I guess.

For the Irish, life on Earth is just a prelude to a good wake, and I'm sure one for Jimmy is on its way. And even though the tribute section of the Times has passed on writing an obit, Jimmy's children have filled us all in with three columns of an agate type death notice that doesn't come cheap.

Today and tomorrow there is a wake at Frank Campbell's, with a mass at 10 A.M. of Christian burial at St. Patrick's on Saturday.

With Jimmy's passing, there is one less saloonkeeper in New York City. There can't be many more left.


The NYT caught up to Jimmy's passing with a tribute obit published on October 12. Jimmy had passed away on October 1 at his home in Manhattan.

It's a great obit in that in the lede the writer Alex Vadukul avoids calling Neary's a "watering-hole" but rather a "canteen for the city's power brokers."

Tuesday, October 5, 2021

The New Generation

I must have been tired when I first read the A-Hed piece in today's Wall Street Journal about the complaints the older mobsters have regarding the younger generation coming up. "Everything is on the phones with them." I just plain didn't see the immediate humor in the older Godfathers complaining about the Godsons and their constant use of wireless technology rather than taking a walk outside and whispering in someone's ear.

Anyone who has reached a certain age knows that there are full-sized humans who do things differently than they ever did. Just today, I happened to be in the city on the subway and was surrounded by people who had their heads down and were peering into their phones. Some were even talking into them. Facebook must have been back up.

It wasn't until the NYT reporter Corey Kilgannon (@coreykilgannon) retweeted an out take someone made from the story and commented that the younger mobsters reliance on wireless technology to deliver threatening messages has deviated greatly from plopping a dead fish wrapped in newspaper on the bar as their way of saying that future breaths were going to be taken underwater, but for a short time only.

Think of it. Where would a millennial mobster get a dead fish these days anyway? Online from Fresh Direct? Would it get delivered on time?  

The A-Hed piece even reveals that younger mobsters just plain don't kill others the way dad and Uncle Nutso did. "They certainly don't kill people like they used to," said Michael Gaeta, a former FBI agent who investigated organized crime for 12 years. "It attracts too much heat."

Too much heat and probably too many funerals to attend. And all those flowers. Who wants to show id to get all that Claritin these days to stem the tide of sneezing in the funeral homes?

Let's analyze a text from a young mobster to an union official that has become part of a court record.

"Hey [sic] this is the 2nd text, there isnt [sic] going to be a 3rd."

We can't tell if the phone's software created the ordinal numbers, or they were typed in on purpose, but their use is admirable. And no misspellings. The comma is missing after Hey, but commas are harder to understand than the tax code. And they ducked the apostrophe in isn't, choosing not to go to another panel of special characters, but no one knows how to use an apostrophe these days anyway. 

Aside from the younger generation's use of technology that wasn't widely available even 20 years ago, there is the matter of the organization of organized crime. They need consultants. 

The old guys who somehow were not eliminated in sweeping outplacement policy purges, just plain don't go off into a polyester tracksuit haven in Florida anymore and leave the youngsters in charge. There is no smooth transition of power. No succession plan.

One of the immediate contrasts between John Lindsay when he be came mayor of NYC after the three-term Mayor Robert Wagner was his immediate use of hiring consultants from the Rand Corporation to reorganize the massive city agencies that stretched across the five boroughs.

Whether anyone thinks things were improved is a matter for another story, but it sounds like Organized Crime needs some outside advice on how to run things.

It is not likely to happen, because what set of consultants wants a report with their name on it telling the five New York families how to run things? The columnist Jimmy Breslin would have done it for free, but he passed away.

Jimmy of course wrote the bestseller about the Boys from Brooklyn in The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight. It now sounds like aimed weaponry isn't their problem. They're the Gang That Can't Think Straight.

Friday, September 24, 2021

Commonplace Book Chapter 9

Raymond Chandler
This is the 9th and final installment from my collection of commonplace book entries. I started collecting the out takes from different media around 2002. Obituaries were always a source, as were utterances from my still favorite journalist, the now deceased Russell Baker, who will not be making any new pronouncements, but that doesn't mean I won't find something that's new to me. And if I do, it will get a blog posting for sure.

The blog postings have proved a far better medium for collecting these out takes. I can add photos, and can share thoughts with whomever is part of my small but select readership. Maybe even get comments, proving someone read what I wrote. The Blogspot platform collects some basic statistics, and I rarely get double digits reads beyond 20. 

When I tried to further expand who might read my racing postings through Twitter they suspended my Twitter account for a few days for Tweeting the same thing. Can you imagine? I get censored, but the bad actors can continue with fake news. Oh well, I don't make any money off of this.

I once had a an email from Walter Zinsser who commended me for just writing for the sake of writing. If you don't remember Mr. Zinsser, I add a link to the posting I wrote about him and his family business making the best stain cover product there is. Also shellac. I still have cans in the garage workshop. Mr. Zinsser was also a longtime journalist who passed away not all that long ago. I loved the comment.

The blog postings are now my way of riffing on things I read that hold a place in my mind. The only end to them will be will I'm unable to post them.


Pete Gray, who became a major league outfielder despite the loss of his right arm in a childhood accident, appearing with the St. Louid Browns for a single season during World War ii, died Sunday at a nursing home in Sheatown, Pa.  He was 87.

Gray had 51 hits in 234 at-bats for the Browns, including six doubles and two triples.  He drove in 13 runs, scored 26 runs and stole 5 bases.  A high point came at Yankee Stadium, when he was cheered by a crowd of 36,000 as he took his spot in the outfield.

Gray was once asked how good he might have been if he had not lost an arm.

“Who knows?” he said. “Maybe I wouldn’t have done so well.  I probably wouldn’t have been as determined.”

--NYT Obituary, by Richard Goldstein, July 2, 2002


When asked how she came to write mysteries, P.D. James has a ready answer.  As a child she wondered about Humpty Dumpty: “Did he fall or was he pushed?”

--NYT, Mel Gussow, January 10, 2004


David Brinkley, the wry reporter and commentator whose NBC broadcasts with Chet Huntley from 1956 to 1970 helped to define and popularize television news in America, died on Wednesday night at his home in Houston.  He was 82.

Over the years, Mr. Brinkley’s commentaries remained consistently tart.  He often railed at what he saw as the incompetence of big government.  He came to think that Congress had dangerously isolated itself from the rest of the country.

John J. O’Connor, reviewing this phase of his career for The Times, called Mr. Brinkley “one of the more articulate and persuasive practitioners” of television news reporting.

“The only way to do news on television is not to be terrified of it,” Mr. Brinkley said.  “Most of the news isn’t very important.   In fact, very little of it is.”

—NYT, Obituary, by Richard Severo, June 13, 2003.


“I’m old enough to know better, but too old to care.”



Every street in New York ends in a river.

–Opening line to William Wyler’s 1937 movie, Dead End.


Everyone with hometown memories carries around a double vision of the place of origin: the way it used to be when it seemed endless and eternal, and the smaller, transitory way it seems later.  Despite logical evidence, that eternal home often looms as a place more glowing and alive way back then than it is now.

–Stephen Holden, NYT, lead to a review on a film retrospective, Where Manhattan Meets the Water, February 27, 2004.


Born with the gift of laughter and the sense that the world was mad1, and that was his only patrimony. 

–Rafael Sabatini, Scaramouche [1921], ch. I

Inscribed over a door in the Hall of Graduate studies, Yale University.


“The people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon.”

–President George Bush, through a bullhorn, September 14, 2001, at the WTC site.


We have not forgotten the victims of September 11th, the last phone calls, the cold murder of children, the searches in the rubble.  With those attacks, the terrorists and their supporters declared war on the United States.  And war is what they got.

–President George Bush, April 30, 2004, address to the nation, announcing the end of major combat operations in Iraq.


Mrs. Grayle and I held our glasses.  Mrs. Grayle crossed her legs, a little carelessly.

She nodded her golden gleaming head.  “Yes.  You know there was something rather funny about that holdup.  They gave me back one of my rings, rather a nice one, too.”

“He told me that.”

“Then again I hardly ever wore the jade.  After all, it’s a museum piece, probably not many like it in the world, a very rare type pf jade.  Yet they snapped at it.  I wouldn’t expect them to think it had any value much, would you?”

“They’d know you wouldn’t wear it otherwise.  Who knew about its value?”

She thought.  It was nice to watch her thinking.  She still had her legs crossed, and still carelessly.

“All sorts of people, I suppose.”

“But they didn’t know you would be wearing it that night?  Who knew that?”

She shrugged her pale blue shoulders.  I tried to keep my eyes where they belonged.

–Farewell, My Lovely, Raymond Chandler


Thursday, September 23, 2021

Who Will Knock Matt Amodio Out?

He's still steamrolling his way through Jeopardy victories—"Matt Amodio, the Ph.D. student from New Haven Connecticut." (Read Yale.)

Even falling behind, hitting zero dollars after a flubbed all-in Daily Double bet, even once in a negative amount, Matt prevails just by knocking off the answers before his opponents can even shake the buzzer. There is no Vegas wagering on Matt since the shows are pre-taped and the results are known to others, but the Jeopardy game within the game can be played by the viewer in tying to figure out who will do the deed and send Matt back to the lecture hall.

Will it be a guy in a suit and a tie, a woman, white, of color, Asian? What will be their profession? Librarian, computer nerd, lawyer, teacher, writer, student, physician, administrative assistant? And how old will they be? Not many people even seem to be even 50 on the show. I guess the only trivia those over that age know is where did Ralph Kramden and his wife Alice live? Name the street.

The closest anyone has gotten lately has been a woman who charts thoroughbred races for Arlington Park. And that job is going to disappear since Arlington is closing.

Matt was also on the ropes earlier in the week when his opponent on the extreme right bet the right amount to exceed Matt's total if Matt answered wrong in Final Jeopardy. They of course had to answer right, and Matt had to answer wrong for the champion to be defeated.

They didn't answer right, but neither did Matt, making it moot since the middle contestant answered correctly, but with no money to threaten.

It was a doozie of a clue: 

The Dip used to kill characters in this 1988 film consisted of acetone, benzene & turpentine, ingredients of paint thinner.

Who thinks of this stuff? I'd love to know more about the people who create these clues. Are they part of a permanent staff? Freelance work is solicited? I didn't know the answer: "Who Framed Roger Rabbit"

Google tells us: As of 2012 Jeopardy employs nine writers and five researchers to create and assemble the categories and clues. Billy Wisse and Michele Loud, both longtime staff members, are the editorial producer and editorial supervisor respectively. The president's speech writing staff probably numbers fewer.

And last night, Matt was in the usual position he's in when Final Jeopardy rolls around. He had more than twice anyone else's total, so unless he was reckless, he would win.

The clue was another doozie, and interestingly enough, the middle and right contestant answered the same.

96 miles in total during its 3-decade existence, the most well-known part of this was about the same length as an Olympic Marathon.

Appian Way was offered twice, and of course was wrong. Matt nailed it with a $3,000 wager: The Berlin Wall. Mayim Bialik offered the fact that the length of the wall separating East and West Berlin was about 27 miles, just a little over the Olympic Marathon distance of 26.1 miles.

Game, set, match. See you tomorrow Matt, as he ends Wednesday in 3rd place with the most consecutive wins, 26, and holding a money total of $929, 401. Matt's headed for a $1 million, and then will likely start getting news coverage throughout the day from all the media outlets.

But who will be the one who defeats Matt and what will they look like? Will we feel it before the match? And how long will they last?

Monday, September 20, 2021

Billions 2021

The interrupted half of the current season of Billions has finally hit Showtime. The show's production schedule was thrown into hibernation due to the pandemic, but with vaccinations keeping the infection rate at bay, the show is back with all the characters and their Machiavellian maneuvers, principally of course the two chief protagonists, Chuck Rhoades Jr. and Bobby "Axe" Axelrod. The are each other's bête-noire, as are Axe and Mike Prince.

If it's true that Axe's character has its origins in the real life hedge fund impresario Steven A. Cohen, (SAC) then the Mets are in trouble because SAC has bought the Mets and is about to see a lot of money go into a team that's not going to be in the playoffs. We witness a pissed off Bobby nearly every episode. Imagine the wrath that's headed the Mets' way.

We're two episodes into the second half of what would have been last year's season, and the plot lines have returned to trying to make life for the enemy unbearable, and certainly less profitable.

Mike Prince, and Bobby Axe head two warring head funds that are determined to invoke destruction on each other just as Sam Malone Cheers' crowd was out to get Gary's Olde Town Tavern when they squared off playing softball.

Of course when Prince and Axe go at it, whole industries and their sectors are subject to going out of business just because these two guys carry an enmity toward each other.  Instead of bats and balls these two principals use the financial markets to inflict pain. The short play on Game Stop stock looks like  playing Candyland to these two.

Chuck Jr. is now clean shaven, dispensing the devilish look the goatee and mustache gave him. He of course is no less devilish.

Bobby Axelrod has acquired the right to run a bank, a cherished financial plum that will only serve to extend his venal influence over the markets. Chuck has been blind sided by this and is determined to thwart Axe's bank charter.

Chuck and his No. 2, Kate Sacker, take a trip to Wilmington, Delaware to meet the Delaware AG to get him to waylay Bobby's plans, since the bank is from a Delaware Charter.

Apparently the Delaware AG also doesn't work from the state capitol either—which any child of the 50s will tell you is Dover—because Chuck as we know, the Attorney General for New York State, works out of New York City, never setting foot in boring Albany, which of course hardly has the New York skyline other than the Empire Plaza, Governor Rockefeller's edifice complex built in the 70s.

And the Acela train that he and Sacker obviously took stops at Wilmington, not Dover. Sacker complains how quiet Chuck has been in the taxi ride from Penn Station as they returned from their day trip back to the NYC office, the only office we ever see Chuck in.

The Delaware AG was not helpful—yet. Chuck's dad needs a kidney transplant and is not eligible fast enough to get one before he croaks. His days are truly numbered. Chuck wants his lawyer Ira to write the eulogy Chuck will have to give.

As they banter about his we learn that Ira has beaten Chuck soundly in what surely is squash, since Ira's "Philadelphias" upended Chuck. 

It has to be squash because all male Ivy-leaguers play squash. And it turns out the Philadelphia is a winning shot perfected by members of the Philadelphia Squash Club. very Main Line.

Eventually the Delaware AG sees Chuck's wisdom in appointing a trustee to monitor Axe's bank dealings. And Chuck short lists his father's name (one name on the list) and achieves the sought after meddlesome oversight that he wants to inflict on Axe.

Chuck figures his father will be alive just long enough to disrupt Axe BIG time. something that might even keep him alive longer because he too hates Axe. Of course, the chess game is hardly over, because Axe achieves what Chuck has been unable to accomplish, set Chuck Sr. up with a kidney.

It's like Mickey Mantle's liver transplant all over again. The hard-charging Mick needs a liver, and one appears very quickly. Mick roars to the top of the list. The Mick doesn't survive too much longer, but he got one.

So the second episode of the new season ends with Chuck Sr. being wheeled in—as well as his donor that Axe has found—to get the kidney. The recovery will of course keep Sr. from acting as trustee, so of course Jr. is back to square one.

Teamwork. Chuck plots an alliance with Mike Prince to disrupt Axe's bank. And that's where we leave it, for now.

Along the way to this bold move by Axe, we have Prince gaining access to a freighter and its course in the North Atlantic that thwarts the expected delivery of frozen pizzas on their way from Italy that are going to arrive in the States and make Axe's buddies a fortune, because the pizzas, when defrosted and heated, are so good you can't tell they came from the grocer's freezer. The IPO is all set.

Rats. The pizza launch is in jeopardy. The timing will be thrown off and the window for success will close. But not with Wags on duty to guard Axe's flank. He gets the go-ahead to order a massive array of ovens to be set up in the states to produce the pies. Who needs a floundering freighter when you've got Wags?

The pies arrive in the supermarkets on time, and Wags just happens to be savoring a slice when Prince's No.2 goes shopping. Take that, you saboteur. Pies in the Whole Foods freezer. Courtesy of Axe.

Nico Tanner, the Jackson Pollock-like abstract painter who flings paint at the canvas rather than drips it from above, has been ganged up on by Wendy and Axe who believe his creative muse has sold out to uptown hot-to-trot very wealthy divorcees from the First Wives Club who will be his patron as long as they can seduce him. He's far too willing. He's gone commercial.

Tanner shows Axe and Wendy and destroys most of his work. Axe keeps one piece that he claims represents true emotion. We are not likely to see Tanner anymore as Wendy's love interest. The artistic temperament has spoken.

The title of the show almost makes it out of date. Trillions are new billions. A billion is a thousand millions, and a trillion is a thousand billions.

Just ask Congress. They might know.

Sunday, September 19, 2021

The Reality of the Result

Yibir Winning Jockey Club Derby Invitational

There is that period of time, just before the reality of the result is revealed, when fanciful thoughts take hold. Perhaps it's when the last bet is made before the cards are turned over; maybe it's before the results of the Mega-Lottery have been broadcast; maybe it's before the machines are locked, the gates spring open, and the race is being run. There is no result until they cross the finish line. No winners yet. No losers either. 

And today again holds that period of time to fantasize. Saturday at Belmont, at what is a great day for racing. The track will be fast, the turf will be firm and the weather will be clear. Six of the 11 races are carded for the turf.  

I don't know how many Saturdays I've gone to Belmont, but lately it's not a lot. But the feeling stays the same. I'm going somewhere that's not work, not school, not even retirement in my living room and kitchen. It's an outing. And The Assembled will be there.

Each bet will be a fantasy that the wager will turn into a profit. But he biggest fantasy of the day is rooting for Step Dancer in the 10th race, a $1,000,000 Jockey Club Invitational for three-year-olds.

It is not a graded race, only a Black Type race, but it is for $1,000,000 and has attracted several European runners, notably Bolshoi Ballet, Tokyo Gold, Yibir and Soldier Rising. The trainer Aiden O'Brien is represented by Bolshoi Ballet and Charlie Appleby by Yibir. It is a field of seven of top notch turfers who have raced and won on both sides of the ocean.

And in amongst all the rock stars is Step Dancer, the colt co-owned by Bobby G's friend Richie Pressman. On paper, Step Dancer deserves the 20-1 morning line. The only graded race was as a two-year-old, the Pilgrim, where he finished fourth. He has won three races and over $200,000 but is in amongst the sharks.

Yet, Step Dancer will likely love the 1½ mile jaunt around Belmont, and will likely unleash a wicked kick. Who knows, there are only seven entrants, so traffic trouble shouldn't be an issue.

The jockey is the increasingly capable Dylan Davis, who has ridden Step Dancer to all his victories .Lifetime, the horse is 7/ 3 1 2, so only out of the money once. The trainer is the more than capable octogenarian Barclay Tagg, who sports a trainer stat of 33% for winning with a horse who has won their last race, as Step Dancer has, the restricted New York State Stallion Cab Calloway Stakes last out at Saratoga as the favorite. A strong kick brought the colt home.

The distance will be a new one for Step Dancer, but the breeding is War Dancer by War Front, from an English Channel mare Just Be Steppin'. So the name is well derived.

The 20-1 morning line is deserved since Step Dancer's races have not been against the quality of the competition signed on today. But Step Dancer's Byers figures are comparable to the other entrants, so his inclusion in the race is not a pie-in-the-sky whim. In fact, I don't know what criteria is used to see a horse get an invite to an Invitational, but Step Dancer must have done something right.

It is easy to see the fantasy. Cashing a bet on Step Dancer. Perhaps being in the right spot at he right time and getting Richie's attention and being in the winner's circle photo. Or, at least getting an invite to the paddock for the saddling. The colt is co-owned, and there was a passel of people in the photo when he won the Cab Calloway Stakes. But that was at Saratoga, and the same people might not make it to Belmont. Who knows? 

Belmont is not Saratoga. Aside from the physical size of the track, it lacks intimacy. Everything is far away. It also lacks money for infrastructure improvements and modifications. Although, there is evidence of some things on the way.

The parking lot has been paved. It no longer looks like something used for target practice for Navy missiles. There is evidence of some kind of construction going on the second floor Clubhouse. Huge boxes have been delivered.

The place is always clean. The floors are clean and free of litter. There were several annoyances however. The water fountain outside the men's room on the third floor is not fully installed; the bulbs, or LEDs were out on the main tote for the 9 horse, rendering odds of 4 (4-1) looking like 1 since the horizontal and diagonal lines weren't registering.

And most annoying was the near inaudibility of the tack announcer. This was not due to John Imbriale's fill-in, Chris Griffin from Parx, it was just a lousy sound system. You could barely hear anything. It was like being at Keeneland in those days when they had no track announcer. Imagine that one. Very retro.

All members of The Assembled are in good health, double and even triple vaccinated. Jose B. found us, despite thinking the third floor was the second floor. We had moved to the third floor and were calling him to tell him, but he was already there by mistake. Jose's mistakes usually pay off.

He was in good form holding a few bright neon markers, and was playing races at Churchill and even north of the border at Woodbine in Toronto. He had been there since 11:00, uncharacteristically early  for Jose, but I suspect was finding action on some simulcast feed.

From our vantage point in the third floor seats we chose, we could hear the broadcasters in their green "tree house" better than the track announcer.

Several betting machines were balky, and finicky about being fed valid vouchers. You had to seek alternate machines.

The Belmont Café on the first floor was the only outlet for food and drink. This doesn't bother me since when I'm at the races I'm not there to eat. But one of the Assembled, Bobby G., needs food, and humped around until he found the Café. Then all was well.

But, aside from missing creature comforts, the rest of the day went well enough, although a lack of picking winners was not due to anything NYRA was doing. Collectively, we each did okay, with Johnny D. hitting the last race on the card, the 11th, for a $4 win bet on Risk Profile that paid. $13.80.

The bet was made as the voucher was cashed after the 10th race and we were headed home. We didn't stay to view the 11th race. Dinner would be waiting at home. No reservations needed.

In the over 50 years of betting at the race track, the last card on the card is the race I've hit the most often. The payoff made me whole for the day.

Linda Rice had a training triple by winning the last race. Dylan Davis rode three winners, and Tom Morley, Maggie Wolfendale's trainer husband, had two winners, one of which was the upset win of Locally Owned in the marathon 1/5/8 mile race that saw Lone Rock handed a rare defeat. Maggie was jumping around like a kid at Christmas over that one.

Six of 11 races were on the turf, so how did Chad Brown fare? There is nothing worse than betting on one Chad Brown horse in a race and having the other Chad Brown horse win. But that is exactly what happened in the 3rd race when So Enchanting won, and Investment Income (my choice) wasn't a good return on investment.

Chad's prowess on the turf continued with being 1-2 in the 9th, the $700,000 Jockey Oaks Invitational for fillies that saw Chad's Shantisara finish ahead of my choice, Higher Truth, to create a Chad Brown exacta paying $39.20 for $2. Ouch.

But the reality of Step Dancer in the $1,000,000 feature was revealed. Before the race the story we heard from Bobby G. is that the racing secretary called Barclay Tagg and asked if he'd like to run Step Dancer in the race. There was no nominating, entry or starter fee, and it was a win-and-you're-in race for the Breeders' Cup Turf race in November at Delmar. Win-and-your-in is horse racing's version of hitting Lotto, because fees and travel expenses are taken care of. It's like winning a round on Wheel of Fortune.

The solicitation from the racing secretary explained my curiosity as to how Step Dancer even came to be invited to join a field dominated by Graded Stakes winners from Europe. Richie Pressman has come a long way in his 25+ years of owning a horse here and there, usually New York State Breds who are straining to break their maiden and then trying like hell to advance through the next condition. He's now in with the Goober Smoochers. 

(goober smoocher - (slang) a member of the elite, the rich and famous; a member of society who is well-known and always knows what's what and who's who and...)

One of my fantasies of getting in the paddock was achieved when word come to us that Richie was inviting us to join him for the saddling. We've been there before, and it's always a treat to mingle with the crowd that stirs the drink.

There was Maggie Wolfendale, now dressed for her ride on the horse she broadcasts from when the winner of a feature race is finished. Maggie catches up to the winning jockey and horse on the backstretch, as the outrider is leading them back to the winner's circle, and briefly interviews the jockey. It's a gimmick, but well executed.

And there was broadcaster Acacia Courtney with her iPad and broadcasting assistant ready to face the camera and report from the paddock. She is tall.

And the reality of the race? Step Dancer didn't win, and didn't even threaten. He was in a good position to swallow the field, but the chart caller had it right: he came up "empty," finishing 6th in a seven horse field, but only beaten by perhaps six lengths. Bolshoi Ballet, as the slight favorite, also came up "empty," finishing off the board in 4th.

Purse distribution in a million dollar race shakes out with rather generous consolation prizes. The 6th place finish was worth $30,000. And I've read that a race is as good as three workouts. Step Dancer has miles to go before retirement, and will be seen from again when the right race comes up and he qualifies to be in it. 

The period of time before the reality of the result is revealed will be renewed. Like hitting the last race on the card, it's never over till it's over.