Saturday, August 22, 2015

The Library at Keeneland

"Go west young man, go west." "Get thee to a nunnery." "Don't shoot until you see the whites of their eyes."

Famous pieces of advice. It would probably be impossible research to find out if anyone other than Marilyn Johnson, author of 'This Book is Overdue,' a love tome on libraries and librarians, ever uttered sage advice about going to a library. I do have it in one of these posts, left as a comment, the advice that was given by Ms. Johnson: "You don't have to leave the house to consult a librarian. Call your local library's reference desk." Not quite a sound bite you could put on a T-shirt, but sound advice nonetheless.

First off, I never even knew there was a library at Lexington, Kentucky, Keeneland Library  that was devoted to horse racing. I was pointed there by the Daily Racing Form when I made an inquiry about the racing career of Career Lady, a famous mare (at least to me) who started in and won more Starter Handicap races than most modern thoroughbreds have lifetime starts. She was the Kelso of the claiming ranks.

Career Lady had come to mind when I was reflecting back on Dr. Fager's career and the era when weight was assigned to stop a train: try and level the playing field when a thoroughbred was beating all comers by assigning increasing amounts of weight in order to bring everyone's ability to parity.

A staff  member at the Keeneland Library, Betsy Baxter, took my interest in Career Lady and finding some of her charts, to the races, so to speak. And did she ever run with it.

Over a two day back and forth with emails and further clues, I was first able to point Ms. Baxter to Career Lady's best year of racing, 1968, and zero in on some of her Starter Handicap races where she carried prodigious weight and won.

A Starter Handicap race, and they are still on the card today, as well as Starter Allowance races, shielded the entrant from being claimed by anyone. In the case of the handicap race, the weights are assigned by the racing secretary based on who passes the entry box. In the case of Starter Allowance race, the weights are assigned by a statement of conditions written into the eligibility language of the race. All Starter races still shield the horse from being claimed.

I can truly say, in the old days, these Starter races were great opportunities to bring the war horses together, the horses who had won multiple times, generally at low levels, and rate them, handicap them, just like they were a Stakes horse. Trainers loved the races because their entrants were shielded from the prospect of the claim. It also allowed them some latitude in finessing the racing secretary's weight assignments by perhaps trying their hardest the next time, when the weights might be more favorable following a loss, and the odds greater.

In that era, the only exotic bet was the Daily Double. In 1968, the exacta bet was not offered, and certainly not the triple. My friend who does remember Career Lady, reminded me that the mares would race in a Starter Handicap race on a Friday, and the males, or mixed, on a Saturday, usually the last race on the card.

You could get some wild spreads on top and bottom weights. Generally, it was wise not to ever consider betting on a horse who was in one of these type of races for the first time. First time meant they had never been assigned weight, and therefore giving weight, to opponents based on perceived ability. You didn't know their baseline against the competition.

Results varied. They were often some hefty prices paid on winners in this getaway race. If you were good at reading a trainer's mind and were in a psychic connection with the horse, you might hit one of these nice prices.

The first email coming back from Keeneland Library was Career Lady's overall record. A scanned copy came through, looking like it was from the American Racing Manual. OMG! as some would say now. Career Lady ran 27 times in 1968, and had been in five straight Starter Handicap races at Aqueduct by April 13, winning two and placing second in the other three. Two of these five races were restricted to fillies and mares, and the other three were open company. At that point, the highest weight she carried was 123 pounds. She must have slept with her saddle on.

(She started racing in 1965, and finished with an overall record of 80 starts; 20 firsts, 16 seconds, and 10 third place finishes. She made $92,555 overall, with $60,090 of it coming in 1968. She made considerably more in 1968 than I did. 1969 was her last year of racing, with 5 starts, no wins, one second, one third; $2,000 in earnings.)

If you're averaging April being the fourth month, into five starts, you'd have the wrong denominator. In those days, the first day of racing was generally right after the first week in March. March 8th, or thereabouts, comes to mind. There was no year round racing, and there was no inner, winterized surface. Aqueduct then had two turf courses, just like Belmont, and even held jump races.

A few more clues to Ms. Baxter and she was concentrating on the latter part of 1968, since I started going to the races for the first time on Belmont Day, June 8, 1968.

Pay dirt. Four charts from October and December of 1968. Three at Belmont, one at Aqueduct.

Ms. Baxter volunteered to mail the charts, since the paper would translate better than scanning. Yes you can. Wonderful! Highweights Career Lady ran with in the later part of the year? 136, 135, 134, 130.

In this packet of four charts, Career Lady has run four times, winning once, finishing second once, and then off the board the other two times. The worst of the off-the-board finishes was December 7, at Aqueduct, when she finished seventh in a race against males, carrying 130 pounds. The extreme lightweight in the race won, Mike V., carrying a barely perceptible 107 pounds with Carlos Barrera.

The winning race of this four race packet is the above chart where she carried 134 pounds against her own gender, fillies and mares, winning by one and a quarter lengths with Jorge Velasquez riding. A testament to good weight assignments by the racing secretary in trying to level the playing field with weights, is the evidence that four of the five starters were within that one and a quarter lengths, with the second place horse a nose apart from the third place horse, who was also a nose apart from the fourth place horse.

Career Lady came before far more famous fillies and mares. Ruffian, Winning Colors, Rachel Alexandra, Zenyatta. Even the half-sister to Dr. Fager, the great Ta Wee, (Beautiful Girl, in Sioux)who was no weight carrying slouch herself, toting 142 pounds in winning the Interborough Handicap and beating males.

In the 1960s era, an office working woman, particularly a young woman, would be referred to as a "Career Girl." The 1963 sensational, grisly murders of two young women, roommates, in their Manhattan apartment, was dubbed the 'Career Girl" murders. "Career girl" had connotations of husband-seeking women trying to get by in a man's world. 'Mad Men' would have portrayed the era.

So before those other famous fillies and mares, and before McSorley's Ale House was forced to allow women to be served their "drink 'em two-at-time ales," and before Ivy League schools admitted women, Career Lady made a name for herself.

The only Hall of Fame she is in is my personal one.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Richie Would be Proud

The Bomze family involvement with racing started with Henry Bomze, Ol' Man Bomze, whose business grew out of the wire room era of horse racing in the 20s and 30s. Don't know what a wire room is? At this point it's an old movie, but the 'The Sting' has a great recreation of a wire room. An episode of 'White Collar' used one to entrap a criminal in an updated look. They were the first simulcasting parlors, although illegal, and were operated under the dome of organized crime..

Wire? What's a wire? Something taped to an informant's chest? No, a telegraph wire. The first Web, the first Tweets. The precursor to the Racing Form was a Triangle publication called The Morning Telegraph, a massive broadsheet that was of course devoted to racing and its past performances. The paper was so wide you could wrap several days' worth of fish in it when you where done. It was 75 cents when I started going to the track nearly 50 years ago, when the daily papers hovered around 15 cents. It was an investment.

Walter Annenberg and Triangle Publications made a fortune with TV Guide, and The Morning Telgrapgh. Annenberg was tapped into America's interests: TV and horse racing. Henry Bomze tapped into the racing and sports side of things with a magazine called American Turf Monthly, featuring the non-existent Ray Talbot as the house reporter and handicapper. His two sons, Eddie and Richie developed Sports Reporter, Winning Points, and Racing Star Weekly.

These were publications with their own stable of writers. Howard Rowe was the mentor to my friend when he joined Richie and Racing Star Weekly and Sports Reporter soon after leaving college with a journalism degree.

Tom Ainslie was part of the crowd. That was the pseudonym used by Richard Carter, a man who won a George Polk award for a newspaper series about waterfront crime, and who wrote a biography of Jonas Salk that is still available online. And perhaps the most notable book be put together was Tom Ainslie's Guide to Thoroughbred Racing, an indispensable primer of learning about the sport and the intricacies of handicapping. I still have my edition, with dust jacket.

Into this stable my friend was admitted and excelled at following the "bush" tracks, the minor league circuit that is still prevalent in this country. I think anyone who might sign onto a Daily Racing Form website would be astounded at the number of tracks that are operating on a given day, and that you can get information on who's running and who's won.

If there wasn't a current Daily Racing Form, a descendant of The Morning Telegraph, now owned by a private group, I can't imagine that there would be much interest, as little as there now seems to be, on racing. There would certainly be no wagering, because the Racing Form is equal to a Stand & Poor's rating on horses. No information, no wagering. No industry.

Richard Bomze's interests were the publications, betting, and eventually owning horses himself. He was chairmen of the New York Breeders Fund, and owned several top New York Breds when that program was first launched.

My friend worked on two of the publications, Racing Star and Sports Reporter. Horses that my friend felt were ready to "pop" were listed at their home tracks. Going to college in Kentucky he developed an affinity for Miles, Ellis and Turfway Parks. From those venues horses shipped in from other Midwest tracks. Thus, you were exposed to a flow of horses across several state lines. You had to know more than just one track.

The publication wasn't a daily one, so you had to follow the highlighted horses and watch for their entry, generally at the rack named, but could really be almost anywhere on certain circuits.

The other input my friend provided was to pick college football games for the college portion of Sports Reporter. Pro and football games were analyzed. Richie wrote the pro narratives, and my friend could award one to five stars on college games. Five stars were reserved for the mortal locks. But my friend didn't believe any game was a mortal lock, so the highest he would go would be a four star rating.

Richie was to tease him that he was a chicken by not going completely out on a limb, so when the day began on Friday my friend was always teased by Richie, "Got any four star games, Dave?"

Richard Bomze owned several New York Breds, his most famous of course was Fourstardave, the first New York Bred to win a $1 million. Bomze bred horses, and owned several mares and stallions, notably Compliance, Dave's sire.

In 1997 one of Bomze's horses won the 1997 Yaddo Handicap at Saratoga by a nose, Junior Pitchunia, paying a win price somewhere in the $60 range. Richie had bred the horse, owning the mare Pitchoune to his sire Compliance. News of  this coup spread, and there were stories of money squirting out of people's hands. I think a copy of the winners' circle photo is in The Wishing Well Restaurant in Saratoga Springs.

Since Richie bred his own horses, he got to name them. Often, the names emanated from his family, or people on his staff. At one end there was a horse named Dumb Donna, to the most famous, Fourstardave, named after my friend Dave and the stars he awarded to his picks.

Fourdtardave as a horse was a gelding, so he continued with a successful career winning grass races. He won the Daryl's Joy handicap at Saratoga two years in a row in 1990 and 1991. In 1996 the race was renamed to honor Fourstardave and is now considered to have been run 31 times, which include the times it was the Daryl's Joy Handicap.

Richard Bomze passed away last year, but even after his retirement, he and his wife Diane would be seen making the award presentation after the Fourstardave handicap.

NYRA is on a campaign to memorialize its heroes. Yesterday was H. Allen Jerkens Day in honor of the legendary trainer who passed away this year. NYYA has inducted Jerkens, and a few others into its new Walk of Fame exhibit at Saratoga, and has plan for other inductees.

Yesterday, Leo O'Brien, a former steeplechase rider and Fourstardave's trainer, and Richard Migliore, a now retired frequent jockey of Dave's made the award presentation in the winner's circle.

For years now there was been a commemoratively named Fourstardave Way street outside of the restaurant Siro's, across the street from the track. I've taken many pictures of that.

NYRA even had a contest to name it's newly renovated Lower Carousel level sports bar area after one of five horses' names they put on a ballot. The fans overwhelmingly picked Fourstardave for the horse that was known as "The Sultan of Saratoga" and who won at least one race at the Spa from 1987 to 1994.

The Dave of the horse's namesake is still with us and is forever reminded by his brother and myself that we had to pull him out of bed to get him to attend the 1968 Belmont Stakes, our personal Maiden Special Weight appearance at the races, Morning Telegraph's in tow. (Only two of them. I don't think Dave made the investment.)

Dave occasionally makes a trip to the races these days, or passes a few bucks through myself and one of my Advance Deposit Accounts, but if you want the absolute ultimate in irony, consider this.

The person who is Dave and the namesake of the horse has NEVER been to Saratoga.

Friday, August 14, 2015

The Greatest

The news yesterday and this morning was that someone who was 102 at their passing did not have their NYT obituary written by Robert D. McFadden. This was somewhat of a surprise, especially since Johnny Nerud's obituary was written by the track and field guy Frank Litsky. Small matter, but Johnny Nerud was not himself a track star, but his horses definitely were, and Dr. Fager was the greatest of them all.

Aside from Mr. Nerud's story, there is of course the story of Dr. Fager. Melissa Hoppert, a NYT turf writer, this morning has tweeted the front page of the Sunday New York Times Sports Section, when it was Section 5 and there were eight columns. Horse racing was a big deal then, 1967, and there on the front page in a headline, story and pictures, are the results of TWO races run the day before.

Dr. Fager, so named because a neurosurgeon by that name operated on the trainer Johnny Nerud when he suffered a massive head injury in 1965 after being yanked off a stable pony by an unruly 2 year-old he was training. I was quite familiar with the story, but didn't know Nerud was thrown at Belmont in New York. [The obituary says Belmont, Queens, but Belmont is in Elmont, Nassau county] I always assumed it had something to do with Suffolk Downs, since a Boston surgeon was involved. Not the case apparently. The surgeon was great, and his namesake was great as well.

Anyone who was following racing of that era, the 60s, knows it was what Dave Liftin writes in the book 'Champions', Boom Times. Kelso, Fager and Damascus brought the crowds to the track. And not one of them won a Triple Crown.

As noted in the obituary, Dr. Fager was the only horse to win four titles in the same year. And it was the Handicap Horse of the Year that fully describes Dr. Fager's accomplishments on the track.

Handicap races are certainly not what they once were. And there are fewer of them. Someone recently Tweeted asking which of the races, Metropolitan Mile, Whitney, or some other race, were the best handicap races.

At this point, The Whitney is no longer a handicap conditioned race, and handicap races are generally when so named, hardly the handicap races there once were. When Fager and Damascus were the equine version of Ali and Frazier the constant handicapping talk amongst us was "up two pounds, down three...swing of five pounds...what do you think?"

I've pointed out to my friend instances in the past performance when someone is racing who just won a race, and in entering a handicap race is losing weight to a horse they beat. Weight is nearly meaningless these days. Enough of it can stop a train, but the racing secretaries are careful not to try and stop too many trains. There aren't really enough horses that meet each other at high competitive levels on a repeating basis to handicap any of them with more weight to carry.

I don't even think the Eclipse award is for the Best Handicap horse these days. It's best Older Horse, male and female. A huge difference.

Handicap races were not just confined to the big, $100,000 races of the day. There were Starter Handicap races that were a particular favorite race to bet on. They were generally the last race of a nine race card (the only Triple race on the card then), and featured good, hard knocking claiming horse who had multiple wins and could race under conditions that shielded them from being claimed. There are Starter Handicap races today, but none of them display the weight shits of another era.

I distinctly remember a mare, Career Lady, who consistently beat the boys in these Starter races. Well, the weight would go on, until I'm sure I remember she was once asked to carry 134 pounds against male rivals. She did. She lost. Weight can stop a train.

There are two charts hanging up in my home office, framed. There is a picture of Secretariat winning the Belmont  and Turcotte looking at the clock. There is a young man, Johnny Nerud, holding the bridle of Dr. Fager outside what looks like one of Belmont's barns.

Johnny Nerud is quoted in his obituary as saying no other horse could look Dr Fager in the eye without wilting. Of the two charts, one is Secretariat's Belmont, the first Triple Crown in 25 years was a major accomplishment. But the times, the splits of that race are phenomenal. He scorched the clock.

The other chart is the Great Doctor's last race, the 1968 seven furlong Vosburgh, which I watched on television at home. The Good Doctor was chased by Kissin' George, thoroughly looked in the eye for the first half, (4 furlongs), just a head back, in scorching times of 22 1/5 and 43 4/5. Fager carried 139 pounds, including Braulio Baeza (The Sphinx). Kissin' George had 127. The other highweights in the handicap race were Jim J. at 125 pounds and R. Thomas at 122. There was a field of seven.

Fager ran through the 6 furlong split in 1:07 4/5, and completed the race in 1:20 1/5, a new track record, and one that would stand until broken by Artax in 1:20 in 1999, carrying 114 pounds. No one carries 139 pounds these days unless you are a hurdle horse.

Dr. Fager sired some other good horses, Dr. Patches for one, but as is typical, the great horses don't automatically create great copies. Secretariat's grandson, Risen Star won the Belmont, but none of the offspring of either horse are household names.

I never met Johnny Nerud. I think I spotted him once at Aqueduct, but I don't have the access the press has in meeting and writing about the people behind racing and behind the horses.

I never made any real money on Dr. Fager. When he ran, his odds were about the shortest you could get.

But I did get to see him. And that's been good enough.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

86 on the Tuna Salad

It is not often you come across a half address number in New York City. Half address numbers are usually the product of a small, or auxiliary building sharing a plot with a full numbered building. This usually occurs on a piece of property generally bigger than you might find on Manhattan Island--New York City.

So when Margalit Fox wrote of Ann McGovern, a children's book author who passed away at 85 and who once lived at 75 1/2 Bedford Street in the West Village, I experienced sensory overload. One thing lead to another, and soon I was experiencing a memory dump.

The West Village is a warren of streets that were laid out with no grid system in mind. They are generally name streets, and not numbers. But where there are numbers, there is a point that West 10th Street crosses, intersects, with West 4rd Street. This defies all logic of numbered streets in New York City. I had to get used to delivering flowers down there and avoid becoming like the song 'Charlie on the MTA', to never return. I can still get turned around down there.

Ms. McGovern once worked for Little Golden Books, a children's book publisher. I remember these books from my own childhood, and from the well-stocked stationery store in the same building as the family flower shop. I also remember the books were 25 cents and that at some point they weren't selling well. The publisher had the idea to make the price 29 cents, believing that with a 9 in the cents column people would think a bargain was at hand. The books weren't 30 cents, they were 29 cents. They weren't 25 cents either, but the strategy worked, and sales increased. A marketing genius was crowned somewhere.

Ms. McGovern's address for a time was in a building that apparently is considered the narrowest townhouse in New York. Thus, the 1/2 designation is even more understandable.

But the 75, or 75 1/2 also puts the house across the street from the famous Chumley's, a landmark tavern that was also a speakeasy/gambling den during Prohibition and is currently having trouble being rebuilt after the collapse of a wall. It was favorite of writers and lefties who loved Union Square Park.

During Prohibition, the tavern was apparently accessed through its front door on an alley named Pamela Court. The alley either no longer exists, or is not publicly accessible, but once inside Chumley's it apparently was like Cheers: everyone knew your name.

Since gambling and drinking were not legal, Chumley's operated as an open secret, but one that was occasionally subjected to do-gooder raids. When the police who were on the take called to tell Chumley's management that a raid was on its way, Chumley's translated it as a warning to its patrons that they had to "86" the joint. That meant clear the premises, and head for the back door that was actually 86 Bedford Street. In other words, get out, unless you wanted to spend the rest of the evening in a paddy wagon and general booking.

An episode of 'Elementary' this season has Sherlock explaining the origin of "86" and Chumley's to detective Bell. TV can be educational.

During some formative years I ate a good number of meals at a luncheonette lunch counter. This type of eatery is nearly extinct these days, best replaced by a diner, if you even find that, generally in what the New York Times would lovingly describe as in the "outer boroughs". A whole other story there.

Anyone paying attention would often hear an order being called back to the short-order cook as "down." This meant toast the bread, as in put the slices in the toaster and push them down. There were other phrases that I can't remember right now. Usually involving eggs, which to this day I do not eat.

But sometimes it was a two-way walkie-talkie with the short-order cook and the waitress. "86 on the goulash" could come back to an order. "86" is not what you wanted to hear if you were the patron and wanted to actually eat the goulash, because the waitress has been just informed they're out of it. No more left. Out of it. Get it?

At the time, I never knew the origin of the phrase "86," I just associated it with a meal that they ran out of. I sometimes wondered if there was an "85" that meant something. There wasn't.

And last of all, when I think of a luncheonette, I think of Harry M. Stevens. No, not a president, or a Supreme Court justice, but the name of the man and the business that held a strangle-hold on ball parks, racetracks, Madison Square Garden and other public venue concession refreshment stands. If you wanted a hot dog, beer, or soda, you were buying it from a Harry M. Stevens employee.

This was not just any employee of the company. The joke went that they all went to Harry M. Stevens "charm school", where nearly all of them learned to be nasty, slow, and rude to the public. It was if all they had tacks and pepper in their clothing and they couldn't help but be irritable. Diaper rash. And expect a tip to boot.

There was one fellow at Aqueduct racetrack I will never forget. If someone did happen to tip a Stevens employee, they put the change in a cup alongside the register and announced out loud, to themselves, "Subway." It's as if the bell had been hit at the carnival. This meant that someone has given them a tip that is equal, or in excess of the then 15 cent subway fare. Subway.

This one grizzled, nasty, cranky specimen who to this day I could pick out of a book of mug shots, expected my change to be his tip and was holding it back just a bit and was aiming it toward the cup. I glared at him, and he snarled, "You want your change?" "Yeah, I got a piggy bank."

I therefore only paid for what I ordered. The attitude I got I took for free.


Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Latin Language Lessons

Mention Latin, as in the prior post, and suddenly the cosmically connected world delivers a Wall Street Journal A-Hed piece on a Vatican monsignor who has translated 'The Wimpy Kid' into Latin and secured someone to actually publish it. So, this is news, you might sneer? Yes. Sort of.

The story is for real, and the book, with a small first printing will really be available. The monsignor, Daniel Gallagher is a 45 year-old Pittsburgh native who excelled at Latin and wound up in the Vatican. He had the idea to have some fun translating a middle-school classic into classic Latin in an effort to give Latin some exposure.

Apparently, other children's books, notably some of the Dr. Seuss books have already been given the Latin treatment. Msgr. Gallagher is just hoping a contemporary book, translated into Latin, will give the basically extinct language some attention. It seems to have worked if you land on the front page of the Wall Street Journal.

And though I joked in the prior post that if you found someone who taught Latin these days you would probably be talking to a nonagenarian, I was certainly wrong. Latin does still have a place in some schools' curriculum, with students taking a four-year cycle of it, leading to being able to read the Moby Dicks of written Latin, works by Caesar, Cicero, and Virgil, among others.

Admirable, for sure. Any attempt to bring back use of classic language can only help raise the lowest common denominators we have fallen to. Take the latest Republican presidential debate. How much better sounding would Donald Trump's comments about Megyn Kelly, a panel moderator have been if he said them in Latin? Immeasurably better.

Take what is now the famous reference to blood, however you want to look at it, Megyn Kelly's blood. The Latin word is sanguinem, a pronunciation improvement if ever there was one.

Someone has recently made a documentary of the William F. Buckley Jr. and Gore Vidal debates on ABC that were broadcast during the 1968 Democratic convention.  The documentary, 'Best of Enemies' has to be a great piece of historical preservation to show what in effect gave us the first "talking heads."

I remember these two giving each other what really were tongue lashings with words you would find hard to pronounce, and therefore hard to look up. It was great.

I was used to seeing Buckley on his own show, and used to seeing Vidal on Carson, when he was in from living in Italy and giving the viewing audience his report card on how bad we were doing as Americans. The elocution of each of them was equal to Richard Burton reading the phone book. Near the end of Vidal's life he looked back and said it all was "such fun." It was.

Put ten Republican candidates on a single stage, and certainly someone won't disappoint with words that will live forever. Whenever the Buckley-Vidal encounters are reminisced about there is always a repeat of the famous retort of Bill's to Gore that goes: "Now listen you queer. Stop calling me a crypto-Nazi or I'll sock you in your goddamn face and you'll stay plastered." A movement to throw a punch is started, then abandoned. If one had been launched, we would have had the beginning of Jerry Springer shows to add to talking heads. Imagine.

What the hell is a "crypto" anything? They each knew it meant calling someone who is secretly involved with whatever movement follows the word crypto. Strong stuff.

Add to that what was the going euphemism for someone who is gay (which Vidal was) and call them a "queer," well, there's more than an edge to it. There's moral weakness. There's enmity.

Years and years later, Bill's son Christopher explained in a The New Republic (yes) piece that his father had broken his clavicle earlier that day while sailing, and was taped up rather securely under his shirt and suit. The upward attempt to throw a punch from a sitting position, like Johnny Bench throwing someone out at second from a crouch, quickly reminded his father of the pain, and he eased his body back into the chair. What some adhesive tape averted.

There have been a fair number of memorable verbal jabs thrown at debate-like encounters, and they will surely continue. Years ago, in some context I don't remember, Newsweek magazine referred to presidential candidate, the vice president Bush, as having a 'wimp factor.'

How do you write 'Wimpy Kid' in Latin? Inepto Puero. Inept boy, I suppose.

How would you call Vice President Bush a 'wimp' in Latin? Inepto homo, I suppose.

Oh man, what might have been.

You're A What?

Live moderately long enough and you're in your 60s. Keep going, and you're in your 70s. The concept is simple. Live long enough and the numbers get higher. They don't go back. Or do they?

Somewhere along the line in language there came to be designations, or names attached to people who got to be in their 70s: septuagenarians. Easy enough to understand. The beginning of the word denotes 7, sept in French. My guess is the -arian has something to do with being the person, or persons of.

There are octogenarians, people in their 80s, and nonagenarians, people in their 90s. There are centenarians, the few who enter the world of triple digits and are people over a 100.

People in their sixties? There is a word, now obsolete, and it should be: sexagenarians. No kidding. Considering that Viagra alone is a $1.8 billion drug for Pfizer, and is now being removed from Pharmacy Benefit Managers' formularies, there is no need to state the obvious. Sounds too much like bragging, anyway.

But nonagenarians? For people in their 90s? Sounds too much like non, not aging. rather than people who were alive during the Harding administration.

Latin of course comes into it, with a meaning, nonaginta, 90. Find someone who can teach Latin these days and you probably will find a nonagenarian.

Despite not being Irish, I do follow the NYT obituary pagers as if they were the sports pages. I have my favorite reporters, and notice trends, one of which is that as the deceased subject is up there in years, perhaps in their 90s or over 100, the byline tends to be written by Robert McFadden.

Anyone who knows anything about NYT reporters, knows McFadden is a legend, with water flowing ledes that nearly tell you the whole story in one paragraph. He's won a Pulitzer, and I suspect is retired, but perhaps not. You wouldn't know it if he is, anyway, because his byline keeps popping up. And what kind of story these days sees a McFadden byline? Obits.

I just had occasion to read more about the October 1972 New York City police sweep that served over 300 subpoenas on mob members and suspected corrupt police officers that was the result of a bug planted in a trailer in a junkyard. The detective who was instrumental in being undercover in that operation-- Gold Bug--just passed away.

There were two bylines about the raid, top story, upper right hand corner in the then eight column paper. Sylvan Fox, and Robert D. McFadden, who was the police, crime reporter then. 2015 back to at least 1972, and McFadden's name pops up. That's a lot of territory under someone's SEND button.

At this point in his career, Robert McFadden certainly seems to get the 90 and up crowd who passes away. This was noted in a prior posting, and has remained true. As the advance obit pool bobs up with newly deceased, those that have achieved 90 or over seem to have the distinction of having their sendoff with Mr. McFadden's byline.

He doesn't get all the 90 plus obits. Sam Roberts, new to the obituary page, has been spotted with what seems like a disproportionate share of nonagenarians. But I wonder if those are deadline obits, or advance ones. It would seem Mr. Roberts hasn't been associated with the obit section long enough to have nonagenarians pop up from the crypt.

Consider the recent lineup of deceased and their ages that have lately gotten the McFadden sendoff. There are some centenarians in here; the youngest is an octogenarian who didn't quite cross the next threshold.

In newest first chronological order:

  • Frances Kelsey, 101 Dies; Exposed Dangerous Drug
This is the woman in the FDA who but the brakes on distribution of the Thalidomide drug being approved in this country. It was proven to be a cause of severe birth defects. My own youngster memory of Thalidomide was that there was a woman in Arizona, I think who was pregnant, had taken the drug (samples were distributed) and now wanted an abortion because of the expected birth defects. We were not a country that allowed legal abortions at the time, and I think she went to Sweden to have one done. Very big news at the time.

Dr. Kelsey went back to the Woodrow Wilson administration.
  • Richard S. Schweiker, 89; Former Senator and Reagan Confidant
  • Dr. Forest Bird, Inventor of Medical Respirators and Ventilators, 94
Dr. Bird was also an aviator, who learned to fly from his WW I flying father. As a youngster, Dr. had met Orville Wright. Imagine, someone alive only a few weeks ago who could tell you about meeting one of the Wright brothers!
  • Nicholas Winton, 106, Rescuer of 669 Children from the Holocaust
Mr. Winton, A Briton, was born in 1909 when King Edward VII was king, the son of Queen Victoria.
That goes back more than just a bit.

  • Mario Biaggi, 97, Popular Bronx Congressman Who Went to Prison
John F. Hylan was New York City's mayor when Mr. Biaggi was born.

I recently had occasion to send someone a birthday card to congratulate them on becoming a nonagenarian. Will they get a McFadden byline in the Times? No idea. Even if they don't, they won't be less than 90, born when Calvin Coolidge was president.

Monday, August 10, 2015

One Less at the Paddock Rail

It might seem unusual to make the leap from the obit about an undercover cop to Saratoga. but not when you know anything about the two, and about Saratoga.

In Sunday's NYT Margalit Fox gives us the story of Douglas LeVien, a NYC undercover detective who was the plant in a junkyard trailer in Canarsie that along with film and audio tapes from a hidden bug, helped the authorities bring indictments against hundreds of members of organized crime in the five boroughs and surrounding counties, as well as 100 subpoenas against policemen suspected of being involved with the mob. All 5 mafia families were swept up in the subpoenas. There were nearly 100 convictions.

This was October 1972, and there was A LOT of news about the mob in the papers those days, usually rub-outs and pictures of men lying under sheets, with one famous 1979 photo of Carmine Galante with a cigar sticking out of his mouth, covered in blood, not a sheet. It really was a different era.

After Operation Gold Bug, there was Abscam, The Pizza Connection, and any other number of code-named operations that relied on undercover plants and audio and video tapes.

Ms. Fox serves to recreate this era while filling us in on Mr. LeVien's life. When the story broke about the massive arrests, it was big news. Top of the fold, upper right hand corner in then eight column Paper Of Record; two bylines.

One story, by Sylvan Fox (no relation to Margalit) provides the particulars of the arrest sweep, and mentions that the trailer in the junkyard served as a "summit headquarters" for organized crime and is where the bug was planted, and where at least one undercover officer imbedded himself with the mob. That officer, years and years later of course is known to be Douglas LeVien. He was Donnie Brasco, before Donnie Brasco.

At the health insurance company I once worked for we were infiltrated by a connected person who came to learn a good deal about an ambulance case that Medicare was getting ready to crack open. Apparently, the informant only learned so much, but not enough to prevent themselves from also being swept out with the subpoenas that were eventually issued.

The second bylined piece is by Robert D. McFadden, a reporter who it turns out is still with the paper contributing obituaries. This piece is almost broadcast booth commentary about how one family boss, Carmine Tramunti, greeted the morning from outside his $50,000 Whitestone house with a yawn, stretch and a scratch, only to be headed off by a team of detectives who cut him off with their car and presented him with the subpoena that no one in the mob wants to ever receive. Grand jury testimony.

It's fun to look back at the description of things from that era. In the 50s and early 60s I went to school in the Whitestone area. I knew the homes, and I could always guess which ones might have family from a family living inside. Those homes had the most stonework surrounding the property.

This type of home is still in the area, and I suspect still occupied by successor families of the family. It almost sounds funny to read that a $50,000 home in 1972 is being described in a news story to make the readers recognize that the occupants are living large. Today of course the same home would easily be over $1 million.

Ms. Fox doesn't have a closing quote from Mr. LeVien, but does recount a cute story about how dim-witted (but dangerous) the people of organized crime are. It is almost akin to the movie scene in 'Analyze This' where the Chazz Palminteri character, Primo Sidone, feels threatened, slams the phone down and wants to get to the bottom of what the word 'closure' means. He wants a dictionary.

The whole obituary got my attention, but the first line was the clincher. Mr. LeVien passed away on July 30 while vacationing at Saratoga. This can only mean one thing: Mr. LeVien was up there to be at the track.

It turns out this was true, and that Mr. LeVien had a heart attack after winning $3,000 at the track. Winning is fun, but not when it's fatal.

In 1972 I was at Belmont with my uncle Vernon when he felt nauseous and left arm pain. In those days the track was packed with patrons, and also Pinkertons. One of the Pinkerton's noticed my uncle was not doing well and got him (and me) downstairs to the track's infirmary. This was fully staffed with at least two nurses and one doctor. A small hospital. We left the track in an ambulance to Franklin General Hospital in nearby Floral Park. My uncle was conscious during the ride and gave me his $10 winning ticket on Sportique (not worth thousands). He didn't want it to become lost.

My uncle survived that heart attack, but did succumb to one in 1978, but not at the track. Dying stinks, but to go at some place that others will likely always associate with your passing is bad too.

Some people memorialize others who had a yen for racing. There are plenty of stories of ashes being scattered, and there is sometimes a race a family arranges to be named after a deceased racing fan relative. Usually, there is only one race named to commemorate the first anniversary.

I got the T-shirt from the first Harry Lazarus Memorial Race from my friend who knew Harry. I was at Belmont on July 18th this year and was surprised to see in the program that the 5th Race was named 'The Harry Lazurus 4th Annual Memorial Race'. I didn't get a T-shirt from that one. The family is keeping the tradition up though.

I don't know if Mr. LeVien's family will do anything at the track to publicly memorialize Douglas. Given his undercover past and who he helped convict, the family might understandably remain low key.

But at 68, it's too soon to leave the paddock rail.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

The Start of Fire

This might
be an interesting read for anyone with an outdoor propane grill that is ignited with an ignition button.

My father would have said, "It's so simple it can make you cry." The old-timer at work (before that was me at work) would have said, "Read the book." And there certainly is something to say about keeping the user manual around for an occasional look-see, especially when the ignition switch fails to click and light any of the burners.

How many of you readers knew the ignition button is powered by a AA battery? I certainly didn't, and it cost me $99.98, plus tax, for the service call, only to find out that the battery, being the original, needed replacement. The guy did do a bit of grill cleanup, so I guess I got something else out of it.

I can understand why, when I called the servicing place in the area, they didn't ask me if I had changed the battery recently. My ignorance about a battery was their $100 gain, and with knowledge that valuable, it's understandable to see why they weren't giving it away for free over the phone.

A common failure of outdoor propane grills is that eventually the ignition button fails to do squat, and you're left to manually light the grill with a flame stick. This is no big deal really, but certain members of my family are not good at handling the knobs and the stick at the same time, and always call on me to do the manual lighting honors.

I don't mind, since the resulting fire will lead to cooked food for me to eat, but having a fully functional grill is not bad either, so I placed the service call.

The last two grills we bought came assembled, which relieved me of the 36-hour task of putting one together. It also relieved me of knowing a good deal about the grill. Prior grills I assembled had no battery starter. There was something resembling a manually produced friction spark that was relied on to light the gas. There's a reason the Army trains soldiers to take their rifles apart and put them back together. (At least in the movies.) There's no better way to understand something mechanical than to assemble it from scratch.

So, here comes the service man down the path to the backyard carrying not very much. A piece of cardboard shaped like tent, and a small stainless steel tool box. No packaging of replacement parts is in sight. And none is needed.

The service man reached for the button and unscrewed the collar at the base.  (Easily, from the top of the grill) and pulled out a AA battery and spring. He asked me when I had last changed it. Since the battery had a very unfamiliar brand name lettering on it that made it look like it came from Russia, I answered the obvious. "Never. That's the original battery." Yeah, the one I never knew existed.

I produced my own AA Duracell from the pile I keep in the garage and the service man inserted it. Right now, this is like a union electrician putting a light bulb in a socket. The ignition button clicked repeatedly when pressed, and when the different burner knobs were tuned on with the gas on, each burner poofed into a nice blue flame. How do you want your burgers, again?

I won't go into the ancillary cleaning steps that were performed, since they were nothing we didn't already know something about. I did find out that there was a neglected pan that was collecting a considerable about of charred embers that should have been emptied at about the same time as the start of the 2016 presidential election campaigns. You should get the idea of how long ago this was.

So, lesson learned, but I hope shared with others. I really can't wait to go over my daughter's and save them $100. Maybe I'll get an extra burger. Medium rare. Thanks.

The Quiet Hour

I've been a little behind on watching the 'Poldark' series on PBS. I have two episodes now backed up on my DVR awaiting viewing. I've been a bit tardy in this because although I am of sound mind and body, my worry has been that for some reason I'll cease breathing if I keep getting exposed to views of the ocean splashing against the rocks of Cornwall, and I keep seeing a single rider wearing a tricorn hat on horseback cantering their way along the coast. It can be over relaxing. Viewer beware.

Despite the series being a great way to spend an hour if you can spend it by watching it in two half hour segments, I do thank Donald and Darlene Shiley and Conrad and Debbie Preybs, and viewers like you, for coughing up the funds to help bring us these PBS shows from across the pond. I guess I even thank Ralph Lauren for always being allowed to show us craftsmanship is not dead where he is concerned.  But, since I hardly watch anything without being able to DVR through the fluff, I don't have to suffer for what passes for PBS commercials each time I watch an episode. I know what they're going to say.

I just finished watching the episode that aired July 19th. To refresh where we are we need to remember Ross has gotten married to Demelza. He really does loves her, it's just his manly way of showing it. She has a baby Julia, and they are of course both ecstatic. Life changes. It always does.

Ross's Uncle Charles dies. This was preordained once you realized that the actor who plays the character, Warren Clarke, himself passed away himself sometime during the production of the series. An episode was dedicated to him.

Of course before Uncle Charles shuffles off the mortal coil he is attended to by the area doctor, Dr. Choake, who tries the then accepted remedy of bleeding the patient to get the illness out of him. Dr. Choake's name is pronounced "Choke" and it really makes you wonder how he has any patients. And any of them are breathing.

Copper is discovered in Ross's mine Wheel Leisure, as confusing a name as any to give a mine that is worked at with hammer and chisel, lit by candles, with no hint of mechanization anywhere. In fact, there are candles everywhere when you go indoors in this series. It is after all sometime after 1783, and you really wonder with medicine being what it was, and the prospect of living with no smoke detectors, how did anyone reach the 1800s? Yet, we know some did.

There are more scenes of horses, surf, cliffs, sky, and views of the horizon through Ross and Demelza's hair. But trouble is coming.

Verity, Francis's sister and Ross's cousin is heartbroken over her busted romance with a Royal Navy captain with a past. He is a bit over the moon about it too. Between Verity and Demelza going shopping, we are treated to women's hats that will soon be showing up retro-fashion on Duchess Kate Middleton's head next time she makes a balcony appearance at Buckingham Palace. There isn't a hat in this series on a female head that doesn't tilt. Must keep the water off.

The smelting companies are a cartel, and Ross in joining a group of businessmen--with no hint of background checks on any of them--that intend to break this cabal. You just know there is trouble in this.

Add to this Ross's cousin Francis, who is addicted to tavern playthings and cards, and who loses the family mine over the turn of some cards to a foppish dandy, and you have the basis for some building drama. I personally wonder if Francis is going to off himself over the troubles he's brought down on himself and those around him. More up-to-date viewers will know if I'm right, but please, no spoilers.

So, not quite up-to-date, but willing to get myself through this series, even if I do it my way with small doses. It's summer, and some the more adventurous series are over and the new ones haven't started yet.

So far, we don't even have a chase on horseback to keep me awake.

Gypsy Logic

Michael Wilson is a NYT crime reporter. He gets to write weekly in his 'Crime Scene' column about virtually anything related to crime in the Big Apple. This has led him to comment and report on boosted fruitcake, to far more darker tales of murder.

He does seem to be particularly drawn to crimes and stories about Gypsies, that element of people who con emotionally vulnerable people out of money. Sometimes A LOT of money.

A Gypsy in New York doesn't necessarily look like the stereotypical hook-nosed, wrinkled beast with a bandana circling their head and jingling with all sorts of beads and bracelets whenever they move. The Gypsies I used to see on 25th Street near where I worked looked like office ladies handing out fliers for a nail salon up the street. Only the salon up the street was a "parlor," where the Gadje would be relieved of their money.

Mr. Wilson has met legendary members of the New York City detective squads that have pursued the flim-flam artists with scholarly zeal. Most recently he reports of the appeal hearing going on for a convicted Gypsy, Sylvia Mitchell, who was convicted on numerous felony charges surrounding grand larceny and was sentenced to serve five to 15 years in 2013. One less Gypsy on the street.

But who doesn't have a lawyer? Where do they all come from? Who pays for these lawyers? Where does that money come from? All good questions perhaps, but not really part of the story. Ms. Mitchel's lawyers, lawyer, whomever, are arguing that a note from the deliberating, at the time deadlocked  jury to the judge who was on lunch break could have prevented the client from being convicted, if only it had been read the note before the second note--and not a the same time--from the jury that said they had reached a decision.

Mr. Wilson explains it beautifully, that a note landing on a judge's blotter during lunch hour is the same as a tree falling in the forest. The tree falls down, but does it make a sound if no one hears it? This gets very philosophical, and might even get close to being the thought problem of Schrodinger's Cat.

Basically, the defendant's team is arguing that the 2013 ruling might have been different if something else had happened.

Hell yeah. I think of this every time I'm at the racetrack and the result becomes official and it is confirmed that I didn't win any money, my tickets are just paper with no value attached other than an offset against earnings I'll never have if I need to prove to the IRS that I've bet as much as I've won. (A whole other story.)

Next time this happens, and I suspect it is going to happen soon since I'm headed to Saratoga in a few weeks, I'll call Ms. Mitchell's legal team. Perhaps they can appeal the official order of finish to the stewards and get it changed in my favor.

In this world, everything is worth a try.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

To Be Misquoted

If there is a lesson learned, it is don't talk to reporters while you are waiting on line at a racetrack to use the bathroom. Nothing good can come it. You may become the poster child they want to warn of the dangers of racing. And you may not want to be that poster child, because that's not what you mean.

It is hardly the first time someone has been used by a reporter to advance their own agenda. A Sports of Times Column by Juliet Macur certainly makes it very clear she doesn't like racing and will do anything to find others who do not as well. Even if they do like racing.

I've been reading newspapers a long time, particularly the Times, and many, many Sports of the Times pieces, going back to when they were written by Arthur Daley, Red Smith and Dave Anderson. I've never been to journalism school, and I don't really know how things are being taught, but I do know that in a prior period of time, "back in the day" as the millennials I guess would say, no one would write a piece in the Times and insert themselves personally, using I and other first person references.

Ms. Macur's Monday piece, In A Sport of Beautiful animals, Ugliness Is Unavoidable is a screed against racing, using the backdrop of American Pharoah's romp in Sunday's Haskell to be an indictment of racing.

The prior posting took Ms. Macur's writing to task. And now one of the poor, prime people quoted in the story, Tamara Hernandez, who had an unfortunate place on line waiting to use the ladies room at Monmouth on Sunday that was close enough to Ms. Macur who overheard conversation and chatted the ladies up, has suffered personal embarrassment.

I fell sorry for Ms. Hernandez, who like the other 60,000 plus people who came to Monmouth on Sunday didn't go there because they hated racing. But Ms. Macur obviously does. She needs another assignment. Maybe fashion.

Another reporter posted on Twitter a text box of Ms. Hernandez's reply to being quoted. Misquoted. The text, as transcribed below exactly as it appeared on Twitter, came from a AT&T site. I really don't know what that is, or how the other reporter came to get it.

Part of the text from Ms. Macur's Monday piece goes:

One group of spectators had a better perch: about two dozen women lined up at the giant windows of the grandstand’s fifth-floor restroom. And while waiting there, the women talked and talked about the horse who, in June, had become the first Triple Crown winner in 37 years.
“It’s crazy that he’s got to race again,” said Ashlee Petroski, who works with the Rowan University equestrian team. “Hasn’t he done what he was supposed to do? Oh, why don’t they let him be just a horse?”
Tamara Hernandez, 42, who works in construction, piped in: “I know. God forbid he gets hurt. He is just amazing and just perfect, and it would crush me to see him broken. But he’s here because people are greedy.”
I was once leaving work that had become the scene of something truly horrific. When I finally hit the street leaving the building, a cluster of reporters descended on me, with their id cards flapping on their chests, and asked me to comment. They looked so young I wondered why they weren't in school. Did I comment? No. Listen to what your mother told you.

Don't talk to strangers.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Life is the Leading Cause of Death

Not everyone was excited when American Pharoah won the Haskell yesterday in a fashion so easy that he might have been thought to be sleeping walking. Broadcaster Jerry Bailey said he looked like he was on water skis. He did make it look easy. And for him, it was.

I think Juliet Macur of the New York Times might need a rest from covering racing. She's written such a downer of piece today on all that can go wrong in racing that you might expect to be greeted by grief counselors next time you go through the turnstile.

'In a Sport of Beautiful Animals, Ugliness Is Unavoidable' graces the sports page as a 'Sports of the Times' piece. You have to read it all to absorb the dark tone. There's a cloud overhead and every time a horse takes a step the worst lurks behind.

Owner Ahmed Zayat and his entourage is basically accused of being callously greedy in continuing to run Pharoah after securing the Triple Crown. The horse could hurt himself, and be euthanized.

Huh? Well, yes, anything can happen while being in training for races, running races or romping around a paddock waiting to meet the next breeding prospect. In a forward to a collection of obituaries, Pete Hamill slyly reminds us that life is the leading cause of death. My own corollary to that is life is surviving being born.

Ms. Macur should stop going to the races if the thought of horses getting hurt or dying upsets her so. She acknowledges that the game has a good side and a bad side, but the Haskell and those who watched and were happy after the race, were only so thrilled because they don't see the "dark side" and surely were wearing blinders.

Imagine that. A happy crowd of 60,000 plus got home wearing blinders.

They made it look easy.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Days At The Races

Horse racing is not what is was. That's the mantra. That's not really the case. It is always what it was, it is just far fewer people pay attention. And that's a shame.

Thankfully, there are those that pay attention who also write well about it. Turf writer would be the category. They're as rare as hen's teeth, as my mother-in-law would have said about not finding too many of anything.

Take Teresa Genaro, who freelances all over the place, and whose byline you might see in The New York Times, The Saratogian, The Guardian, and some other outlets, usually online ones. She knows of what she writes, perhaps because she comes from Saratoga Springs, home of Saratoga Race Track, and the site of the premier meet of the year, now 40 days of racing that starts in near-mid July and doesn't brings itself down to close until Labor Day. The Summer Place to Be.

I don't really know much about Ms. Genaro's background growing up, but its the rascal in me that likes to think she and perhaps other young members of her family or friends snuck into the races through a hole in the fence and watched workouts, scampered around in places they wasn't supposed to be, and just generally couldn't get enough of Saratoga growing up. I might even be right. I do know that I envy her because she can spend the entire meet at Saratoga and probably go home to sleep.

Nevertheless, in today's online issue of The Guardian, (a British publication), and perhaps the print version, Ms. Genaro writes of an event I suspect she may not have even been born yet to see, or was watching cartoons on Saturday mornings rather than poring over the Morning Telegraph like myself and the small circle of like-minded finish line denizens I hung out with.

The Whitney Handicap, as it now called and conditioned, (it used to be stakes race, which assigns weights differently) is a premier race for 3 year-old and up, and is generally run with a majority of older horses who are usually seen as having an advantage over the younger 3 year-olds. Generally, only male, or gelded horse are entered.

Ms. Genaro's writing about the Whitney, even though it is not run this year at Saratoga until August 8th, has relevance. In 1973 (when Ms. Genaro was definitely not poring over the Morning Telegraph) it was the first race Secretariat, the first Triple Crown winner in 25 years, was entered in against some pretty good older horses, one of whom was named Onion. Onion, not Dick Vitale's "Onions", just Onion.

Tomorrow at Monmouth Park, another venue of summer racing on New Jersey's shore in the town of Oceanport, American Pharoah, the misspelled name and the first winner of the Triple Crown in 37 years will run in his first race since taking the Belmont on June 6th.

This is significant. Sixty thousand are expected to descend on Monmouth tomorrow, and the place will never be the same again. Anyone who knows anything about Monmouth Park knows it's a nice place to be, but it is really what I'd call a boutique track.

It is a mile oval, which heavily favors front-running speed, and should fit Pharoah's forward running style perfectly. Add to that the trainer, Bob Baffert, who has won the Haskell with horses seven of the last eleven runnings, and you have what should be another coronation.

But they have to run the race, and Ms. Genaro's piece is basically about what can happen in horse racing to the expected favorite. They can lose.

Secretariat came to Saratoga in 1973 expecting to annihilate the older horses horses in the Whitney, then rest a bit and continue to annihilate the three year-olds in the Travers, the pre-eminent race at Saratoga, often called the Midsummer Derby. The Travers gets the most attention in a meet that still generates attention nearly daily.

Secretariat lost the Whitney, and lost the confidence of the owner and trainer, who subsequently didn't run the horse in the Travers. He finished second in the Whitney to the simply named Onion, at the near lowest odds you can go: 1-10, ten cents to the dollar.

Ms. Genaro's piece generates a ton of memories. There's always something which reminds me of something else.

I was at Aqueduct when Secretariat broke his maiden as a two year-old in his second race. The older fellow who was our mentor, Les--Les Barrett, otherwise known as Mr. Pace--put his binoculars down as Secretariat won by six and told us, "They're expecting big things from that horse." I remember looking back at my past performances and just shrugged.

Secretariat was ridden that day by Ben Feliciano, who rode him in his first race, 11 days before when he finished fourth. Feliciano was never put on the horse again, as Ron Turcottte became the regular rider.

He went on to win the Two Year Championship and was The Horse of the Year, a rare accolade for a two year-old to win. When he ran in the Wood Memorial, the only premier race run at Aqueduct these days, Secretariat was coming off two wins at the track, and was undefeated except for his first race. He was considered the mortal lock, and was expected to do well in the Kentucky Derby. There was a great deal of anticipation on him.

The Wood proved to be an Achilles heal, as Secretariat finished third, behind Sham, and Secretariat's stablemate Angle Light. The win bet was salvaged, since Angle Light won, and the 30 cents to the dollar odds were paid off on the entry. There had to be some people who showed up at Church on Sunday after that.

Ms. Genaro's thoughtful piece is as much about Secretariat as it is about the trainer who trained Onion, H. Allen Jerkens who just passed away this year at 85. Anyone who has been involved in racing at at any level knows about Allen Jerkens.

He was known as the Giant Killer, a moniker he truly didn't like but earned because he entered and won with horses that beat prohibitive favorites. The Giants. Notable amongst these prior to Secretariat was his defeat of Kelso with Beau Purple. Beating mighty Kelso with Beau Purple not once, but three times was one of his early giant toppling efforts.

Another nickname for Jerkens was the Chief,  one he didn't mind. When NYRA unveiled its Walk of Fame inductees last year, Jerkens was one of the first ones in. I was at Saratoga last year when they had that ceremony and wasn't surprised to see that  H. Allen wasn't there, but was represented by his equally successful training son Jimmy. Racing is very generational, with offspring continuing in racing traditions. Allen hadn't been doing well, and didn't make the trip from Florida for what would be his last season.

Ms. Genaro clangs another bell when she describes Secretariat's entry in the Woodward, a race at Belmont in late September for 3 year-olds and up. Thus, Secretariat was running against older horses once again. But after the Whitney failure, Marlboro sponsored a race that would stay on the circuit for several years, the Marlboro Cup, an Invitational. Older horses, and Secretariat won that, beating his 4 year-old stablemate Riva Ridge, a horse who in the prior year won the Kentucky Derby and the Belmont, but met a muddy track in the Preakness, finishing fourth to Bee Bee Bee, a runner with a great mud pedigree. Penny Tweedy, the owner of Meadow stable said after that race that she never wanted to see her two horses run like that against each other. Right now, that would be like the Klitschko brothers fighting for the heavyweight title with Mom at ringside.

I remember discussing the Woodward with the assembled crew and we all took note of Prove Out, a good horse, older than Secretariat, who was trained by H. Allen Jerkens. Again. Collectively, and out loud, we all asked ourselves "Is this going to happen again? He's going to lose to a Jerkens horse again?" Yes. And we lost too.

Great trainers attract patron owners. Often very rich patron owners. The Phipps family had Eddie Neloy. Paul Mellon had Eliot Burch. Hobeau Farm had Jack Dreyfus, owner of Beau Purple and Prove Out.

Jack Dreyfus was the Dreyfus behind the Dreyfus Fund, perhaps the first mutual find that was pitched to the small investor. They advertised heavily with a male lion walking through Wall Street, then taking his place on a pedestal. He didn't roar like the MGM lion, but I guess he was supposed to be a metaphor for King of the Jungle. King of Wall Street.

Jack Dreyfus was a trustee of NYRA and its chairman for many years. He was also not adverse to rubbing elbows with the somewhat washed, like ourselves. I never knew the origin of his stable's' name that sounded like Hobo. Maybe it an inside joke. I distinctly remember our mentor Les who came back to our seats and told us he was talking to Jack Dreyfus, who was standing in the aisle, like many in what was usually a packed house, watching the prior race. I wouldn't have known Jack Dreyfus from anyone else. He was never part of his iconic ads.

So Sunday, American Pharoah takes his well deserved popularity to Monmouth Park. He should win, and not just because H. Allen doesn't have a horse in the race, but because all signs point to it. Workouts are phenomenal, Baffert owns the race, and best of all, the competition is weak and only 3 year-olds

The 60,000 plus people who will pack Monmouth may see the latest Triple Crown winner add another victory. But they have to run the race, and things happen. Man of War's only lost was to a horse named Upset at Saratoga. Tomorrow, there is a horse ridden by a highly capable Jersey jockey Joe Bravo, named Upstart.

Anything can happen.


The photo used above for those who can't pick it out, appeared on the cover of ThoroFan's 2013 Saddle Cloth guide that was a freebie when you climbed up the then newly installed, recreated Whitney judges' stand at the Oklahoma training track. Without looking at the quite cryptic credit I immediately knew it was H. Allen Jerkens. The credit on the cover simply says: "Hall of Famer...AJ" (2008) R. C. "Bob" Ewell.

The photo, or watercolor is almost like the one of Babe Ruth taken from the rear when he retired as a Yankee and was being honored. But horse racing is a little different than baseball. You can get into the Hall of Fame even as you're still actively involved in racing, usually riding or training.

2008. An old H. Allen riding into the sunset? Not a chance. There were still plenty more races that were run that year and beyond, where he met the other connections in the winner's circle. And sometimes I had the winning ticket