Monday, October 15, 2018

Bertie's Adventure At the Beach

Just because you vacation back at the same place you vacationed last year doesn't mean you're going to have the same experiences. It's not Ground Hog Day.

Take the visit to Chatham my wife and I made last Monday on the first full day of what has become a bit of an annual trip to see her cousin in Centerville, that otherwise takes in some favorite Cape Cod places where we spent several summers when the kids were growing up.

Chatham looked the same. Some places were closed because it was Monday. The Focus Gallery wasn't open and the place we had lunch in last year wasn't open this year for lunch. There were no seals on the sand bar at the beach. I brought my binoculars this time to see them closer, but all I got was a closer look at sand and water.

The Chatham lighthouse was of course still there. Lighthouse generally are, unless they're headed for the cliff and the drink below, and then they're saved by donations and engineers and moved back a bit. Highland Light in Truro is an example. So, no need to take more photos of what I probably hadn't downloaded from the camera from last year. But there was this fellow on a beach chair sitting at a table in front of a church with some books piled up. Children's books it seemed.

His vantage point was at the edge of the church's front lawn at the base of the sloping grass adjacent to the sidewalk, where his quiet greeting reached out to all passersby, directing their attention to the books on the table. It turns out  they were his books. He wrote them, and his daughter illustrated them. His name is John Hutchinson, as solid a New England name as you can come across.

I'd like to think his great, great—I don't know how many greats—grandfather grabbed a musket off the wall and took part in a close order drills for the Chatham Militia during the Revolutionary War. Maybe even fired the musket at a Red Coat in a skirmish, popping out of the beach plums and surprising a detail of the British high-stepping it through town, then running like hell to evade capture. Or, maybe his family were Tories. I don't know.

As we passed this amiable septuagenarian recovering from hip surgery, we politely told him we'd take a look on the way back to the car. And even though we were walking back on the other side of Main Street we crossed over and took a look at what he was about.

Two books wee on display, 'Bertie's Adventure At the Beach' and 'Bertie and the Lost Treasure of Skull Island.' Bertie is a mouse.

Of the two, 'Bertie's Adventure At the Beach' was the slimmer of the two volumes. But both books were glossy hardcovers, printed on vellum paper, and nicely color illustrated. Everything you'd expect a children's book to be.

A transaction without conversation would have been impossible, and good thing it was. John told me the story of Bertie is the story of what his mother would tell him as she showed him the beach when he was little, and all the things she pointed out, animals, water, sand and plants.

He mentioned a series of books he read that I wasn't familiar with. I told him of my reading probably every Hardy Boys book there was, with Joe and Frank Hardy and their pal Chet. I told him I was incredibly disappointed when I grew up and found out there was no Franklin W. Dixon, the author who I wanted to me meet when I got older. He said, "of course you found out..." "Yes, a pseudonym for a stable of authors who wrote the stories. There was no Franklin W. Dixon."

I told him of the Random House Landmark series of books that highlighted events and people in history. I distinctly remember one written by Elizabeth Janeway, a real person he knew of, and someone who was famous for producing young adult literature.

I mentioned to John that my daughter Susan was planning to write a children's book when her academic workload decreased a bit. I'm going to help. So far there's a working title and perhaps a first page. Not much. An orange tabby named Cosmo does something, but she and I haven't gotten very far. And then there would be the need for an illustrator. John mentioned it's probably not too hard to find an illustrator. "Go for it."

John mentioned "To Kill A Mockingbird," a book we agreed would never go out of print. He told me of his daughter Christine who was in elementary school when she read the book. One evening when John and his wife went to a parent/teacher night to learn of Christine's progress the teacher was puzzled. She didn't recall anyone in her class with that name.

Last name and description jarred the teacher's memory into telling them, "Oh, you mean Scout." It seems Christine was so smitten with 'To Kill A Mockingbird' that she just changed her name. And so it has remained. The illustration credits are for Scout Hutchinson.

I mentioned something similar when a friend of mine would refer to his son as an infant as Boo, for Boo Bradley.

John was all charm and inscribed the copy I bought ($20) of  'Bertie's Adventures At the Beach' to my youngest granddaughter in a script with such a flourish that I'm now convinced his family had something to do with the Declaration of Independence.

My email. name and address in his loose leaf binder netted me an e-mailed excerpt from his next Bertie book, a tale with Bertie and his cousin that takes them to Monomoy Beach. This is a wildlife refuge barrier beach that sits off the coast of Chatham. It is also the name of Monomoy Stables, the very proud owners of Monomoy Girl, a very talented 3-year-old thoroughbred filly that will likely be co-favored in their Breeders' Cup race coming up in November at Churchill Downs. Perhaps Bertie will make a wager.

'Bertie's Adventure At the Beach' is an adventure. The book is appropriately dedicated to John's mother, Harriet Jaqueth Fitz Hutchinson, further solidifying in my imagination that John's ancestors might have known some of the Pilgrims. Maybe were the Pilgrims.

As I was talking to John a mother with a babystroller and a baby, along with a young boy, approached on the sidewalk and got John's affable greeting. The young boy was excited, picked up a book and asked if he wrote it. "Yes, I wrote these."

The mother was headed in the direction we were when we first passed John at his table. She said what we said, "Maybe on the way back..."

I do hope she stopped.

Friday, October 5, 2018

Dave Anderson

The entire class has been pretty much called up. Nearly every sports writer I ever looked forward to reading when I picked up the paper has now departed. All stopped writing for the paper some time ago. Six have stopped breathing, the latest in today's announcement that Dave Anderson has passed away.

My roll call has been Red Smith, Arthur Daly, Dave Anderson, Ira Berkow, Joe Nichols, Steve Cady, Robert Lipsyte, Gerald Eskenazi, Steve Crist, Leonard Koppett and even George Vecsey, if only to get mad at.

Today's obituary for Dave is not on the front page, is not at the bottom of the front page with a teaser, but on the sports page, where he belongs. Forever.

The last time Dave wrote for the NYT on a regular basis was 2007. I have missed him every day since. Only occasionally did a column appear, but retirement is justly earned, especially for a journalist who wrote for The Journal-American. I remember JFK and I remember The Journal-American, The World-Telegram and Sun, The Daily Mirror, The Star Journal, The Long Island Press and The Herald Tribune. Dave's colleague Red Smith came to the NYT from The Herald Tribune. All gone. You don't write for a newspaper for 50 years and not see some changes.

A glance at the pages of today's sports section shows us all what we've been missing. A fair-minded man who had a way with words, and who was liked by all for his class and wit. Grace with a keyboard. We're missing those who earned the right to have their words appear in the 'Sports of the Times' column, first sports page, lower left,

Just read the reprinted column on Reggie Jackson when he was with the New York Yankees. Anyone who remembers the era of George, Reggie and Billy can appreciate the words, "Some people, notably George Steinbrenner, the only ship builder who enjoys storms..." is absolute poetry set to type.

The column is about Reggie Jackson and the burden of being called Mr. October and not producing enough firepower in the current series against the Kansas City Royals. Dave closes by calling George Steinbrenner Mr. Obnoxious. It is a gorgeous piece, worth reading not only for who wrote it but to also be reminded we always thought ballplayers were making too much money, when in the late 1970s, early 1980s, Reggie was making $600,000 a year. There wouldn't be fan alive then who didn't think someone was being overpaid. Not Dave. In Dave's opinion, Mr. October deserved to get a new contract for $1 million a year. There are some people who could put those numbers on their charge card these days.

Boxing, hockey and baseball were Dave's forte. Anyone who grew up in Brooklyn, despite coming from Troy, NY, had to experience a seasonal onslaught of opinionated people who followed baseball. I met Dave Anderson once, sometime in the latter part of the 1990s. Brooks Brothers, of all places, sent me a promo notice that Dave Anderson was going to be speaking there on a certain weeknight. RSVP. Of course I dd.

At the podium, Dave told the few in attendance on folding chairs set up in men's suits, that growing up in New York in the 50s you had to appreciate how baseball ruled the town. The Dodgers, the Giants, the Yankees; three teams in three boroughs. It was a golden age, Everyone was a fan of one team, and a naysayer against the others. Sports talk radio before talk radio.

Dave's passion for golf was revealed when he told of getting any golf assignment there was at the paper. He was headed for the upcoming Masters. He described the atmosphere at Augusta as being just a bit "too plantation" for him. He also described how during the practice sessions the pros would have their caddies stand out on the course and they would then try and direct a golf shot into their baseball mitt. Accuracy counts in a tournament.

Another of the takeaways (literally) from Dave's talk after I introduced myself was a copy of either a column he wrote, or the text of the Abbot and Costello routine "Who's on First?" To me, it is still one of the funniest routines I've ever heard. I heard them do it on their WPIX show when I was a kid. Dave told me it is in the Baseball of Fame, a place I still have yet to journey to. Time is fleeting. I better get there.

I didn't know Dave's autobiographical background, but now knowing his grandfather was the publisher of the Troy Times and his father was the advertising director, it was understandable that Dave was going to get a Social Security card and a press pass in his life.

I remember one of Dave's columns in the early 80s when he wrote about Gerry Cooney, a large white, heavyweight from Huntington, NY who was being groomed with over-matched opponents so he could soon challenge Larry Holmes for the title and be the next 'Great White Hope.'

Dave of course didn't call Gerry that, but there were enough people who did. Gerry's early fights didn't go the distance. His opponents were fairly quickly rendered unconscious and laying on the canvas before all the scheduled rounds were fought. Leatherbacks.

In fact, Gerry Cooney's accumulated ring experience was such a low number that Dave wrote that while in the elevator going up in the World Trade Center that the blinking lights for the floors quickly passed Gerry's total number of rounds fought. And you didn't need all of the Trade Center's 110 floors to pass Gerry's accumulated total. In fact, a rather short, undistinguished building's top floor could do just as well.

When I abandoned college twice and was just 19 looking for work, I went to see a high school guidance counselor, Mrs. Bittkower. It wasn't even the high school I graduated from, Suyvesant, but Seward Park, where it turned out later a colleague graduated from, who knew Mrs. Bittkower. He got his job from her as well.

If Mrs. Bittkower had sent me the a newspaper I probably would have stayed there, but she sent me to a health insurance company, where I worked for 36 years, then left to work seven years more doing the same thing for a consulting company. But writing was an avocation, and one day feeling thoroughly depressed about the concurrent strikes in baseball (no 1994 World Series) and hockey I composed a letter to Dave Anderson.

The letter was dated December 2, typed on a nice piece of paper—one page. I basically predicted attendance was going to lag in future years (it did, for a while) and that fathers were not going to be taking their kids to games, the generational continuity would be broken. I recounted some of the connection with my father that being taken to games had for me.

My phone ran on December 24 and it was Dave Anderson. He said he wanted to use the letter in his next column and was just fact checking a few things. He said it was one of the best things he's read about the strikes.

Christmas Day, a Sunday, my letter in its near entirety, along with my name and the town I lived in were part of his 'Sports of the Times' column titled 'It's Not Going to Be A Baseball Christmas.'

At the end of today's obituary Richard Goldstein does what good obituary writers do: they close with a quote from the departed, something that can reveal their life's philosophy.

The anecdote from Dave's life comes from Dave himself, when he describes how his newspaper account of a 1956 Montreal-New York Ranger game made it into the morning paper.

The story is not even called in, but typed by Dave. He tells of standing between the cars on the train headed back from Montreal that night, and tossing the copy onto a train platform at the New York border at Rouses Point as the trained slowed so it can be teletyped into the morning edition of The Journal-American.

On arriving at Grand Central Terminal Dave picks up a fresh copy of the paper and finds his bylined story. "It was exciting. Even now when I'm writing, I wake up on a Sunday morning and still get excited if I'm in the paper."

And for one Sunday in 1994, Christmas Day, I got the same feeling.


Thursday, October 4, 2018

It's Over

The competition for the World's Most Photographed Woman is now OVER.

It ended quickly this morning when the above photo appeared on the front page of the Wall Street Journal. The caption tells us she bopped onto the stage at the Conservative Party's annual conference in Birmingham, England to Abba's tune of  'Dancing Queen.'

The Prime Minister is not the Queen, but she was having fun with herself over the attention she got when she was videoed boogieing with some South African dancers recently.

I have no idea, but my guess she was lambasted for bustin' a move. I also guess the press in England is even more polarized than here.

The Prime Minister is on a bit of shaky ground and is hearing footsteps from Boris Johnson, her former foreign secretary, who is now seen as someone who will challenge her for the top spot.

Boris of course is an unmade bed who needs a haircut. No doubt he'd be colorful as well, just not in the same way. Whatever happens in British politics, just like Rick and Ilsa always had Paris, we'll always have Theresa defeating Chancellor Merkel for the crown of World's Most Photographed Woman.


Tuesday, October 2, 2018

A Bernie Gunther Novel

Move over Sherlock, contemporary and Edwardian. Move over Sam Spade, Philip Marlowe, Kurt Walander, DCI Banks. Inspector Lewis, Inspector Morse, Hercule Poirot, Mike Hammer and any other police procedural you can add to the heap, because with any luck we will soon be treated to a min-series, or a movie using Bernie Gunther, a Berlin gumshoe who survived the Battle of Verdun, saw uniformed police and later detective duty at Berlin's equivalent of Scotland Yard in 1939—the Alex—who solved crimes for Nazis, but was not himself a Nazi, who respected Jews and who didn't like the direction the Hitler winds were blowing. If Tom Hanks gets his project going, we will have the screenplay version of Commisar Gunther's exploits.

I had never heard of the Bernie Gunther series. It wasn't until the author Philip Kerr passed away in March of this year and I read about him on the obituary page that I decided to try one of the books. His kind of crime novels were right up my alley.

Bernie doesn't do crossword puzzles with lightening speed like Inspector Morse, but he does possess a knowledge of German opera, music and mythology. For a cop, he is an amalgam of street sense, common sense and scholarly sense. He is not without drink, smoke, and an occasional tryst with a female. He fits the mold of the cerebral detective passing through life as if it is an obligation he has to go through with to get to nowhere. But he is more than willing to put up with it, and put up with it with integrity.

Kerr was prolific. and his death at 62 from bladder cancer has put a full stop to any more tales about his favorite detective. Somewhat like Canon Doyle, Kerr tried to stop writing about Bernie, but his fans wanted more. He delivered.

To me the amazing thing about Kerr is that he was Scottish-born, but put Bernie in the thick of Germany as it moved from post WW I, to the Cold War post-WW II era, and the era of the Ivans, the Russian occupation of Germany,

Through the magic of the Internet I watched a Philip Kerr interview with Late Late Show host Craig Ferguson. Mr. Kerr explained how he would spend a great deal of time in Germany to absorb the details which made their way into his novels.

My guess is as fiction his Gunther works are novels. But I would really classify them as historical fiction since he inserts his character into the narrative encountering the real deal: The brothers Albert and Martin Bormann; Gerdy Troost, Hitler's decorator who took over after her architect husband Paul passed away; Grunther's boss, Reinhard Heydrich, who reported to Heinrich Himmler, both architects of the Final Solution.

The obituary mentioned 'The Berlin Trilogy' a book that has three novels between its covers. Each one is a bit of a short novel. They give you the flavor for what the Nazi-hating and honest cop is up against. Also, the atmosphere as Germany heads into war with Hitler at the helm.

There is a history lesson to be learned about pre-war Germany and how most people in Germany were not Nazis, and despised Nazis. Of course the Nazis loved themselves.

After WW I there was an absolute alphabet soup of political parties,German military forces, and civilian and military police. Gunther works out of Berlin, but Berliners are not liked at all by the rest of the German people. Hitler, an Austrian, doesn't like Berliners. He prefers Bavarians, and this is reflected in the people he has surround him. The country is a federation of states, much like the United States, with each state as different from the other as if they were separate countries.

Borders between countries were elastic, and Poland was viewed as an enemy. Hitler's rise to power was sown as early as the 1920s. Gunther, born sometime in the late 1880s, early 1890s considered the Weimer Republic the good old days. But they were not to last.

When I bought 'The Berlin Trilogy' I failed to realize I has purchased three books. The size of the paperback looked daunting to me. Only once I dove in did I realize I was getting three for the price of one. And I finished it quickly.

This gave me confidence to read 'Prussian Blue,' a singular novel that is as big as the three novels combined in 'The Berlin Trilogy.' In 'Prussian Blue' Gunther is plucked from his job in Berlin to look into how a member of Hitler's inner circle. Dr. Flex, was assassinated with a long range rifle  as he stood of the balcony of Berghof, Hitler's residence in Berchtesgaden.

Martin Bormann has reached out to Gunther's boss because he wants the best investigator there is to solve the case before the Alpine compound of buildings becomes host to the Leader's 50th birthday in April 1939.

Martin Bormann is Hitler's right-hand strongman, whose power is immeasurable and grows with each sunrise as war approaches with Poland. The book toggles back and forth between April 1939 and October 1956. There are way more April 1939 chapters than 1956 chapters, but the presence of the 1956 chapters are a sure clue Bernie makes it off Hitler's mountain. But what happens along the way?

Hitler is always referred to, but not really introduced to the narrative directly. We learn of the Leader's dislikes: cats, cigarette smoke, women drivers and Berliners. He likes nature, trees, birds, wildlife, fresh air, fresh fruits, tea (never British) and vegetables. Without knowing more about him, you might even like him.

Gunther fairly quickly gets to work, aided by the buzz of methamphetamines, drugs it seems that are widely used by the populace of Hitler's mountain. Hitler it seems likes to rise late in the day, but work through the night. Those around him have thus adopted an almost  24/7 wakefulness in order to accommodate all that the Leader wants to have done.

The Leader is not aware of the assassination, so Bormann puts Bernie on a strict deadline: results before the Leader gets to the mountain for his birthday bash. If not, Bernie understands his own expendability. Results come fast.

Bernie gets help from Gerdy Troost, Hitler's personal decorator/designer. This is a woman who believes deeply in Hitler and the "New Germany" but who can also see the outright shamefulness of Martin Boormann. She helps Bernie.

In real life there is a Gerdy Troost and she is every bit the Leader's chief designer, professionally critical of anything Albert Speer builds. Gerdy is described as being with a decent figure, but of a fairly plain face. Pictures of Gerdy support the description. Philip Kerr does his research as if transported back by a time machine.

Gerdy Troost passed away in 2003 and was 98. It is almost hard to believe that someone who so prominently occupies time with Bernie and Hilter could possibly live into a the 21st century.

But then again, that is the appeal of Philip Kerr. His characters did exist.

Monday, October 1, 2018

The Long Shot

All horseplayers have amnesia—except when it comes to the memory of the long shot they hit. When that happens, there is no detail too small to remember to bend the ear of listeners, years, decades, from the hit.

The definition of a long shot is subjective. But all horseplayers will agree a boxcar payoff is a long shot. And what is a boxcar payoff? A payoff so large that high numbers, and perhaps three or more numbers to the left of the decimal are needed to state the payout. If anyone has looked at numbers on a railroad's boxcar, they will see a string of numbers that identify the ownership. Hence, boxcar number.

I wasn't at Saturday's Belmont card. Despite the quality of the card I didn't even download the Form and bet from home. I might have gone—there was a baseball cap giveaway,and anything free at the track is worth showing up for— but there was a granddaughter's birthday party to attend. She's seven now, by the way.

I did manage to get the TV turned on in the kitchen with the sound low, while the large screen family room TV was in use by the other male guests who are not horseplayers—college football, Yankees, and even, if you can believe it, Ryder Cup results! Jesus, they would even watch golf!  I got to see the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic and the upset of Robert Bruce by Channel Maker, a horse I feel I might have had if I was applying myself to the card.

Eventually, the family room cleared because it was a nice day, and I had control of the remote myself. There are no buttons more pleasing to control than the buttons on the remote.

The much talked about Jockey Club Gold Cup was coming on and I had the place to myself. I already knew the field, and barely would have needed a Racing Form to form an opinion on possibilities. Nevertheless, the talking heads can be interesting to listen to, even if one of the mouthpieces is Andy Serling.

The racing tactics of Diversify, who was going off at 3-5 in an eight horse field, and Mendelssohn a three-year-old, were no secret. Mendelssohn was a Derby horse who fell out of the gate at Churchill, and who set off in front in the Travers, only to be caught and buried by Catholic Boy. The Jockey Club Gold Cup was at the same 1¼ mile distance as the Derby and the Travers, and was seen as a great race to be in before the Breeders' Cup Classic in early November at Churchill.

The other decent possibility in the field as Gronkowski, another three-year-old who was second to Justify in the Belmont. There is an observation I've come to after 50 years of watching horse racing that looking good in the Belmont, or even winning, usually doesn't mean anything in racing afterwards. Those horses usually go on to do nothing. And Gronkowski it turns so far is no different.

Mendelssohn is trained by Aidan O'Brien, the legendary Irish trainer. Mendelssohn is owned by connections that race on both sides of the Atlantic, and Mendelssohn flies back and forth across the pond after a race in the United States. His breeding rights should come with frequent flyer miles.

The talking heads talked. Diversify was seen almost as a slam dunk to win the thing. And at 3-5, the money was certainly saying the same thing.

But you have to understand that money on the board can come from only a fraction of the people making bets. It is almost the 20/80 rule—80% of the pool is made up by 20% of those betting. You don't have to follow the leaders. There are plenty of other choices that can be made.

The more hard-bitten the horse player the more they will tell you they "don't play favorites." At least not straight out. They might even quote the doggerel, "there isn't a man alive who can stay alive at 3-5." Of course these days, a 3-5 shot makes for a convenient "single" in the multi-leg wagers that are so popular. Multiple by 1 and you still have 1. The singles throw a blanket over the permutation count, helping to keep the overall cost of the wager within some boundaries.

Not having the Racing Form in front of me, I don't really have a clear picture of the reasonable possibilities of all the entrants. With two established front-runners like Diversify and Mendelssohn you can guarantee they both will be out there, and that when that happens, one, or both usually grinds themselves out, and something else comes out of the trailing pack and scores. In simpler terms, "they're going to bury each other."

I forget who joined Paul Lo Duca and Andy Serling on the talking head platform at Belmont, but through all the noise of people yakking it up in the kitchen and coming in and out, I could faintly hear what I thought was Lo Duca making a case for Discreet Lover, a horse trained by Uriah St. Lewis, who has been in races with this competition, but has done nothing to seal the deal.

Apparently Discreet Lover's last race was a cropper. But Paulie is making a case that the horse throws in a clunker and then runs well, throws in a clunker, then runs well.. They could certainly run well today since the sequence says so.

This is what a decent horseplayer who studies the Form does: sees a patterns, there or otherwise. An alternating performance cycle might not be as predictable as a Fibonacci progression, but it can be the magic that produces a long shot payoff and a story to tell the grandkids, or anyone else you can make listen to you.

And at 45-1 I was almost tempted to yank my phone out, call Xpressbets, and gets down for a deuce on Discreet Lover. It didn't happen. Horseplayers, aside from amnesia also suffer from inertia. I didn't feel sufficiently prepared to play the race. So I didn't. Even for a deuce.

As expected, the gates pop open and Mendelssohn and Diversify put on a front-running show. They go at each other hammer and tong. Diversify races out of the gate to catch Mendelssohn's great start, collars him just before the mile pole, opens up a 1½ length lead and causes the first quarter split to be  :22 2/5, a suicidal pace for a 1¼ mile race. Somebody better slow down.

They don't. Diversify continues the hard-charging front running tactics and records a :45 3/5 half, two lengths in front of Mendelssohn. That's not much slower than the first quarter, In horse racing, the intervals between quarters generally reflect slower times than the quarters before them. They all, in effect, start running a bit slower. Not here.

The three-quarter split? 1:09, with Diversify now two in front of Mendelssohn by a solid two lengths.  Is it now over? Are we watching Secretariat bury Sham? The mile split: 1:33 4/5, with Diversify now in front by only a length over Mendelssohn. Shrinking leads are never good.

Having run a mile into a 1¼ mile race there is now a ¼ mile left. That is 440 yards. That is at least further than they're hitting golf balls these days. In racing, it is a significant distance.

To no one's surprise, Mendelssohn is now is front at the stretch call by a head, with Diversify having slipped to third, about 2½ lengths back, with Thunder Snow now making a bid in second.

One thing charts do not show you is the running positions in between the stretch and the finish. And in this interval, a lot can happen. And on Saturday it did.

"In the shadow of the wire" Discreet Lover pulls ahead of Thunder Snow, who looked like the sure winner, and wins by a neck at 45-1! A neck is enough of a margin of victory that you can tell from the stands, or TV who the winner is. They always take photos, but Manny Franco on Discreet lover knew where the wire was and celebrated as soon as he was over it. He won.

At the track, unless you're with a group of friends, you are anonymous. People might talk to you, and you might talk to them, even hold lengthy conversations about a horse's possibilities, but you're never going to learn their name, shake hands, introduce yourself and be best buds afterward. It is always a fleeting encounter.

But when one of your number bets $100 across the board (that is $100 to win; $100 to place; $100 to show, a $300 bet) and their horse wins in deep stretch at 45-1, they're going to fly down the stairs to the winner's circle.

Huh? Long shot winners go to the winner's circle? Not usually, but when the holder of the $100 combo bet is Uriah St. Lewis who owns and trains Discreet Lover and this is your first Grade I victory, you tend to leave earth.

Even with baseball cap giveaway I can picture the "crowd" at Belmont. Bigger than usual, but not big by any standards. But one nice thing about the telecast, they've got A LOT of hand-held cameras covering the races and the interviews. There are backstretch shots from the turf courses and starting gate shots that I've never seen before.

So, when it was obvious Discreet Lover won, a woman connected to the owners (turns out to be a Godmother) came racing through the aisle of the box seats, and the trainer, his assistant trainer (son), wife and daughter were making their way to the winner's circle as if Bob Barker told them all "to come on down." Their joy was infectious. If you ever need to be reminded that there can be happy people on this earth you only have to replay the image they provided when their 45-1 shot wins a $750,000 Win And You're In Breeders Cup race and you hear from a barely contained Uriah St. Lewis that he had a $100 across the board on the horse. If you yourself don't have the long shot the next best thing is to watch those that do.

The payout math of such a bet is large when the horse pays $93, $25.40 and $10.20. For those who might be in need of help, this translates to a $6,130 profit. Certainly not bad. Add to that the 55% of the $750,000 purse and the fact that since the owner is the trainer there is no cut that has to go to anyone other than Manny Franco, you have a very pleasing afternoon.

Uriah admitted to the bet quite on his own, such was his glee. But there is even more good news for those bettors who might have followed Paul Lo Duca's thinking and played a winning exacta. The Disceet Lover/Thunder Snow exacta paid $598 for $2, just $2 under the $600 threshold that would require IRS reporting and window withholding. You win twice.

Anyone who knows Uriah St. Lewis knows he's black. He's from Trinidad. He's not big on the NYRA circuit, but does most of his business out of Parx. He bought Discreet Lover, a pedestrian Florida-bred for a bottom price of $10,000 at a Fasig-Tipton sale. The horse has now earned $1.3 million in purse money. His wife says not too many people give them horses to train, so they buy and race their own.

The result of the Jockey Club Gold Cup reminded me of my $50 win bet on Forego in the 1974 Metropolitan Mile. I never $50 on a horse before, and have never bet $50 on one since.

It was probably a good thing for me to lose my bet. I started as a $2 bettor, and I've only since ramped up all they way to $2 to $8 in 50 years. But in 1974 I was so in love with Forego that I made up my mind that I was going to bet $50 to win if the odds were above even money. And they were.

In that era, you had separate seller lines for different denominations. There were $2, $5, $10, $50 and $100 and up. Tickets were color coded to match the denominations. Two dollar seller lines were always the longest, but $5 and $10 also attracted a crowd. Not so much the highest denomination windows. I wanted to go there and get a cream-colored $50 ticket. Forego's odds were settling in at 6-5 and 7-5, so my $50 bet was a go. He went off right in the middle: $1.30-$1.

Forego was carrying the now unheard-of 134 pounds. My heart was in my throat, but when he took the lead I thought it was all over. Well, it was all over. All over for Forego.

Heliodoro Gustines, his now regular jockey, and who remained his jockey for quite a while after, took the big guy through a 1:09 for six furlongs. Now six furlongs is a ¼ mile from the finish of a mile race, but the weight was taking its toll. More races in that era were true handicap races, no watered down allowance conditions shifting two-four pounds here and there.

Arbees Boy ranged up alongside and took the lead, finishing the mile in a not-so-spectacular time of 1:34 2/5. He would pay something like $109 to win. A boxcar if ever there was a boxcar. 

Goodbye $50 ticket. When the prices for place and show were flashed I was even sicker. A smarter bet that was hedged and not all "on the nose" across the board, or even just win and place,  would have softened the blow. Because of the long shot, place and show bets were decent, with place above even money, the same payout I risked $50 to win on. Lesson learned on many fronts.

So, even though I didn't have any money on Discreet Lover, I have a feeling I'm going to remember where I was when he won the 2018 Jockey Club Gold Cup and what he paid.

Olivia was seven.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

You Had to Grow Up Then

Frankly, I do not remember the story. But it was Page 1 news on Wednesday, August 5, 1968, a full 50 years ago. I would have bought the paper that day because by then I was working full-time at a health insurance company.

Just a day after posting a blog about what the 60s were like, @saralyall retweets a young journalist's Tweet (@emmaesquared) about a somewhat implausible headline and sub-heading.

The NYT in the 60s was 10¢ and the then-standard eight columns wide.  They then, as now, tended to not trumpet salacious murders, and shied away from reporting things that might have seemed humorous takes on the foibles of mankind. So when a front page headline and sub-headline, despite being condensed into the width of  what was needed to get eight columns to a page goes:

                                 22 HELD IN MELEE 
                                IN WASHINGTON SQ,

                              Disorder Set Off By Arrest               
                              of Boy Who Climbed Tree
                                 to Get Pet Squirrel

a double take is a natural reaction. The story jumps to Page 28 where complete details are provided. Lots of quotes. No photos. Today there would be photos.

Washington Square Park is where it's always been, and it's always been a bit of a free-spirited place. Adjacent to NYU buildings, the park is always filed with the youth and the concerns of the day. If the air was bit blue from marijuana smoke in the 60s, there's no reason to think it is otherwise today.

In typical one-thing-leads-to-another fashion, at about 5 P.M., a 17-year-old boy, John Angel, climbs the tree to retrieve his pet squirrel that slipped the leash, gets arrested by the cops—who are not met with glee by the occupants of the park (This is era of calling cops "pig.")—leading a young woman to climb the tree in protest to the lad being "roughed up" as he's lead away in handcuffs, that leads to two other people to climb the tree in protest (protest was a VERY big thing in the 60s) that leads to coaxing two of these people down, but still leaving a stubborn one up there who gets poked by a 10-foot boat hook after the Emergency Services Unit is called and a net is flung out at the base of the tree, while a crowd of now 300 has gathered to watch the cops get this individual down, to then see the fellow jump into the net and be set upon by a scrum of cops—"it was solid blue" Miss Shirley Herman, a 26-year-old writer tells the reporter, pummeling away, to then have a squad of 10 or 12 cops charge the scene swinging their nightsticks to disperse the crowd—"instant riot" as Miss. Herman tells us.

This is did not go over well with the community of folks who were in the park at the time. Further hell broke out. For the want of a squirrel a city erupts.

It was not until 11 o'clock that evening that the park was reopened for the public. The squad of police that came in "swinging their nightsticks" was what was then called the T.P.F., the Tactical Police,  Force, a unit called in to deal with what were then protests and demonstrations, and with the Vietnam War not being very popular, there were plenty of demonstrations in that era.

To give you an idea of the T.P.F,'s way of dealing with things, you only have to listen to the quote of  Deputy Inspector James T. Sullivan in charge of the T.P.F. and the 100 men at the scene—"force is inherent in police action."

The reference to the "nightstick" is to a piece of police equipment that was eventually phased out and replaced by a baton with a handle carried in the belt. The handle was designed to create less impact when someone is struck with the baton.

Nightsticks were straight, made of hickory, an extremely hard wood, and were topped with a leather strap that allowed the patrolman to twirl as well as hold the nightstick. In earlier times, that were used to bang on the sidewalk to alert other cops to respond. A whack with a nightstick was attention getting.

Ironically, the squirrel story is adjacent to a story on the police use of "call boxes" those green boxes on light poles that were used as another signaling device. The boxes could also be accessed by the public to make calls for help. This was all before the 9-1-1 era, and certainly before cell phones. There are no longer call boxes

The adjacent story told of bombs being placed in the boxes, and that the police were advised to no longer use them because of a potential booby trap. The 60s were full of explosions as well.

Sometime in the early 70s I believe, the T.P.F. was disbanded. They were seen as too rough in their approach to situations.

In a way, the story reminds me of the fellow who recently started to climb the outside of Trump Tower using suction cups in the hope of reaching the presidential candidate Donald J. Trump to have a discussion.  It made for great TV coverage, especially when the police removed glass panels and left the bugger with nowhere to go but to approach the opening where the police were waiting for him. The swiftness he was then pulled in by a harnessed E.S.U. cop who looked like a linebacker was almost comical as well as dramatic. His reception on the floor, outside of the view of the cameras, in an Ivanka Trump shoe showroom I'm sure did not go well for him. The trip to Bellevue and psychiatric evaluation followed.

People with odd animals as pets is not a new story in New York. There is the urban legend of an alligator coming up through someone's toilet—a somewhat debunked story. But the following photo posted by @bklynbckstretch, Teresa Genaro, a racing journalist and teacher, is the real deal and clearly shows that even extremely odd animals don't seem to cause the ruckus you would expect. Consider her very recent photo of two guys in the subway whose pets came along with them.

I don't know if there was any police response to this display. Ms. Genaro reported that it wasn't pleasant to be near this and have the train get stuck in the tunnel and have to wait it out to exit the car. In all my years of living in New York, I've never heard or seen anything like a snake and an iguana on a train, seemingly kissing no less. It's a good thing they like each other, I guess. The scene could make for a good premise for a GEICO commercial..."as long as there are reptiles in the NYC subway..."

As the 60s progressed to the 70s, police responses to situations became more measured and less physically confrontational. A 1975 bank robbery that led to an 8 hour hostage situation filled with a series of rambling, wild, inconsistent demands ended when the suspect demanded that a shopping cart with food, cigarettes and beer be delivered. The suspect, Ray Olsen, eventually drank several beers and became groggy and started to fall asleep. The police moved in.

Not many people ask me anymore, "what were the 60s like?" But when they do, I don't go into all the assassinations, protests and demonstrations that were indeed regular, nor do I talk about how men then didn't type in the office. I just tell people, "things were hot, there was little air conditioning."

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Ya Gotta Love It

When you pass away at 91 there is a good chance there is going to something in your obituary that comes from another era. In this case something probably coming from as far back as the Kennedy Administration. And when the obituary is written by the redoubtable Robert McFadden, you can count on the nugget being pure gold.

John Wilcock, a person described as a key figure in the birth of the Underground Press in New York passed away at 91. Mr. Wilcock was British by birth, but gained fame as a journalist and travel author, principally in the 50s, 60s and 70s, perhaps the golden era in New York for Bohemian, Beat Generation lifestyles.

His influence was so subtle the New York Times once described him "an influential man nobody knows." My kind of guy. Pictured above, the guy looks like a pure scamp.

The instance of what to be is pure poetry and hilarity occurred in 1963 when John, a photographer, and a nude model (gender not disclosed) were arrested on a Sunday morning at Liberty and Broadway streets in Manhattan on charges of "disturbing the peace." (Time of day not disclosed.)

Anyone who remembers anything about the 60s in New York should remember that Liberty and Broadway, in the Financial District, on a Sunday morning, would be as dead as the proverbial doornail.

Streets in New York on a Sunday in that era were especially quiet since stores did not open. It wasn't that they opened late, no, they plain didn't open. There was no Sunday department store shopping unit the early 70s.

For reference, Liberty and Broadway is where the World Trade Center was built in the early 70s, and where the Freedom Tower and all the new construction has been built post-9/11. The place is busy every day of the week these days. Sure, the stock exchange is closed, but there are now residential buildings throughout the financial center. People live down there. The residential Battery Park City, built from the landfill created by excavating the Twin Towers, was built.

When the composition of the area started to change in the 70s, Beekman-Downtown hospital started to notice their ER actually got patients in on weekends. The place changed.

I used to take photos of the Meat Packing District when they used to pack meat down there, and not people. But they didn't pack meat on Sundays. Your footsteps echoed on the pavement. Pigeons outnumbered pedestrians. You get the idea. The place was deserted on Sundays, and especially on Sunday mornings.

Add to this, the 60s were not an era of acceptance of exotic/erotic behavior. Gays were locked in the closet, public nudity at beaches and elsewhere was aggressively pursued. Lenny Bruce was constantly being arrested for using vulgar words in his nightclub act and for making satire about the Catholic Church. New York had a prurient streak that would be not recognized by anyone today.

The court the charges were heard in is not disclosed. The judge who made the ruling when the case for "disturbing the peace" is not named. But the judge threw the case out of court with the simple wisdom that at the location, at that time of time, the only "peace" being disturbed was that of the arresting detective. Case dismissed!

I like to think whoever that judge was that they ascended the judicial hierarchy and may have even been short-listed for a Federal judgeship or Supreme Court nomination.

When logic prevails it should be rewarded.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Not So Fast, Buster

I've only ever seen a famous picture of it, and I couldn't remember what it was called when I witnessed it on the 'Belmont Live' telecast of the running of the Gallant Bob Stakes race Saturday at Parx.

Paul Lo Duca on the 'Belmont Live' telecast on the MSG network supplied the word I was searching for: savaging. This is when a horse leans over and tries to take a bite out of the horse running next to it. This happened as the two front-runners down the stretch, Firenze Fire and the runner-up Whereshetoldmetogo ('Where she told me to go' with no spaces), were dueling their way to the wire. Inside the sixteenth pole Whereshetoldmetogo reaches over to their left and tries to take a bite out of Firenze Fire and Irad Ortiz's Jr's right arm. Neither horse loses momentum, and Firenze Fire and Irad finish first by a neck—uninjured. An inquiry leaves the order of finish as it stood,

Barbara Livingston's photo of the race will now be deemed a classic. Barbara is the venerable Daily Racing Form photographer and has been taking incredible photos for decades. She usually patrols NYRA tracks with armloads of cameras, but because of the stakes loaded card at Parx on Saturday, she made an easy trip to the Bensalem track that is outside of Philadelphia.

I've been to Parx twice. Their winner's circle looks like a huge fire pit, enclosed by a very low brick wall that can easily be stepped over.  On Saturday, the added attraction in the Stonehenge circle was the sparkling Maggie Wolfendale, the NYRA paddock reporter who also made the trip to Bensalem for the stakes-loaded card. She stood there making her pre-race comments on the entrants to the 'Belmont Live' audience.

Parx is an accessible track, the old Philadelphia Park, a mile oval, with a turf course. It would be hard to get lost at Parx.

It adjoins a casino, so it sits as a centerpiece for gambling. My two visits coincided with my wife's knee replacement surgeries a few years ago at Rothman Institute just across the road. A stay of a few days was required, and I was there to probably be annoying. Once the surgery was successful and recuperation was going well, I got out of the way by crossing the street and pursuing a favorite pastime. Winning made the visits even more memorable, and now her knees feel fine.

Savaging does happen, but rarely. I was surprised that no one on MSG's broadcast related Whereshetoldmetogo with Mike Tyson famously biting Evander Holyfield's ear—twice—in a 1997 fight. Tyson was disqualified, and there's a piece of Evander Holyfield's ear now missing. The trainer Teddy Atlas even predicted during training that Tyson might bite Holyfield if he started to look bad. And he did start to look bad and was losing when Iron Mike turned into Biting Mike.

So, something was bothering Whereshetoldmetogo as he tried to get past Firenze Fire. Stretch duels are close quarter, nose-to-nose tug-of-wars, with each jockey trying to prod their horse past the other one. In Saturday's instance, Whereshetoldmetogo got directly involved and became a quadruped Moby Dick, even trying to swallow his rival jockey's arm.

The famous photo of savaging that I was thinking of is Bob Coglianese's 1980 of the Tremont Stakes at Belmont when Great Prospector tried to take a chunk out of Golden Derby. Golden Derby won the race. Bob was the NYRA photographer. His son Adam fills in that role now and once mentioned to the racing journalist Ray Paulick that he's sold more photos of 'The Savage' than he has of Secretariat. And he almost threw the photo out because he felt the rail got in the way of the photo. The photo won his father an Eclipse award. Barbara Livingston's photo is likely to be anointed as well.

And as if that 9th race at Parx wasn't enough, the 10th race added to the uniqueness of the day, The main event in a stakes-loaded card was the $1,000,000 Cotillion Stakes for three year old fillies, a field loaded with multiple stakes winners Monomoy Girl, the clear division leader, Midnight Bisou and Wonder Gadot.

Monomoy Girl was the heavy favorite throughout the betting, going off at 1-2, 50¢ to the dollar. When a horse like Monomoy Girl shows up with the record she has going into the race she is accorded near certainty in the betting, and becomes the "key" or "single" in vertical and horizontal (multi-leg) betting. She is assumed to be the first place finisher, and bets are made figuring along those lines. But, this is horse racing, and that's why they run the race.

The race unfolds fairly unremarkable, with Momomoy Girl looking like she's going to cruise to an effortless win. But Midnight Bisou ridden by Mike Smith is in the game and goes from the inside
of Monomoy Girl to the outside of her in the stretch and starts to pick up ground. What looked like a romp in the making has now turned into a heart-stopping close quarter finish, with Midnight Bisou hugging Monomoy Girl right side, trying to get past her.

The race announcer Keith Jones's call starts to reflect the frantic finish, But try as she might, Midnight Bisou cannot get past Monomoy Girl and Flornet Geroux. Monomoy Girl Girl finishes first by a neck with Keith Jones calling for her coronation.

Well, not so fast. Horse racing is not a presidential election, but the finish of the Cotillion takes starts to take on airs of the 2000 Bush-Gore election. George Bush won. Or did he?

A claim of foul is lodged against Florent Geroux by Mike Smith for stretch interference. To me it is positively amazing what you do not see in what they call the "pan" shot, or the view of the race you get as it flows past you left to right. You clearly do not see the depth dimension that exists as the race is run. The head-on shot is the tell-all view of the race. And it is now used to assess the claim of foul. Did Monomoy Girl l and its rider interfere with Midnight Bisou and prevent them him from passing them. Was there "herding," a subtle change of course that impeded the effort to pass?

Think of being a commuter who edges someone out of your way to establish position in getting to the escalator or staircase. The clubhouse turn. When I was commuting daily on the No. 7 subway train I usually had the door position in the car as the train pulled into Grand Central. I used to hold my fingers on the rubber of the doors and at the first instance of their separating I would start my move to get through the doors and try and be first on the platform to get a good brisk walk to the staircase before everyone else got there and clogged it up.

I pretended the doors were a starting gate and I was a horse and jockey and I was bursting from the gate. I always looked left toward the stairs to see how I did against the other riders. I was a good "gate" commuter. I was Johnny Ruane,

The interesting thing about the end of the Cotillion Stakes was that there was no steward's inquiry. A steward's inquiry always sends a signal to the crowd that a review of  the race will be made. Please hold all tickets. The race is not official. Jockey and trainer claims of foul that follow are on top of the steward's inquiry.

In this instance Mike Smith claimed foul against Florent Geroux for stretch interference. This was rich since Mike Smith benefited from a ruling of no foul when he rode Abel Tasman to victory in the Personal Ensign at Saratoga  and was thought to have interfered with Elate and Jose Ortiz, who claimed foul.

When there is a claim of foul or an inquiry there is a good deal of milling around. There are two horses and riders who are waiting to be moved in the winner's circle for the photo. There are two sets of connections, owners and trainers who are waiting to see if they're in the photo or not.

The 'Belmont Live' broadcast offered multiple repeats of the head-on where it is clear that Florent Geroux moved significant paths to his right, with the result being it made Midnight Biou's task of getting past even harder. Interference. A judgment call.

The trio of 'Belmont Live' announcers offered their opinions on the sequence. "Race riding there's nothing wrong with that." "Clearly moved over, but would Midnight Bisou have gotten past...would the order of finish have been any different if paths weren't moved into?"

And on it went. Until, the lights stopped blinking on the tote board (at Parx, the old bulb tote that I love). The numbers 2 and 7 go out, and are reposted as 7 and 2. Midnight Bisou, at $4.20 to $1.00 is declared the winner.

This changes things A LOT. An odds-on winning favorite has been moved to second place. Lots of "single" and "key" bets are washed away. This is not popular. Apparently, Mike Smith is roundly booed as he moves into the winner's circle. Someone tweeted that you have to remember Philly fans threw snowballs at Santa Claus at a football game. They are merciless.

A co-owner of both Midnight Bisou and Monomoy Girl, Sol Kumin, gets to stay in the winner's circle. He remarks that the Monomoy Girl partners will now probably see him as the enemy and spike his drink.

Anytime there is change of order there are disgruntled fans. I always remember the vocal NYRA crowds (when there were crowds) who would start yelling to no one in particular that the stewards had a bet on the horse...the track makes more money now (a complete fallacy). In Philly, a different crowd started vocalizing the same thing.

Anthony Stabile, one of the 'Belmont Live' broadcasters said while the stewards was reviewing the Cotillion that "herding" is some racing jurisdictions is okay. I remember seeing the replay of the 1968 Jersey Derby when Manny Ycaza, who just recently passed away, was DQd for herding three horses (the field was four horses) on the clubhouse turn as he rode the great Dr. Fager. The good Doctor was 3-10 that day, and was DQd and placed 4th, last, behind all the horses he fouled. Herding wasn't allowed then. If there were bridge jumpers with massive show wagers on Dr. Fager they made a big splash that day.

Manny Ycaza was an extremely aggressive Panamanian rider who was DQd often and suspended often. After the Jersey Derby he never rode Dr. Fager again. You never knew with Manny what kind of ride he was going to give. The result might stand. It might not.

In 1968 there wasn't even exacta wagering, so the movement of Dr, Fager to last only affected the win, place and show wagering. The only exotic wager of that era was the Daily Double, picking the winners of the first two races. Boy, what the computer allows now.

I have to say, without a newspaper other than the Daily Racing Form reporting racing these days, I don't get to know all I would like to know. It seems to me that jockeys are not suspended like they used to be for riding infractions. I remember they once were going to suspend Eddie Arcaro for life.

The phrase being called out onto the carpet comes from the old custom at England's Newmarket race course where an offending jockey had to stand on a square of carpet as he stood in front of the stewards to hear their ruling.

There were plenty of NYRA jockeys in the 60s and 70s who were "sent down" for anywhere from 5-15 days for rough riding, or interference. Angel Cordero spent many days "on the ground."

The advantage there is today is that there are plenty of camera angles that can show the infraction. I distinctly remember being at Aqueduct on a Saturday in the 70s when Cordero's Windjammer was taken down. The ruling was not popular, and wasn't supported by the technology available today. There was almost a riot with trash cans being thrown on the track. I kicked one quite vigorously myself several times, but didn't lift it up,

It's never just been Philly fans who get mad.

Friday, September 21, 2018

The Race is All But Won

The British Prime Minister, Theresa May, has just pulled way ahead of Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel in the race for the World's Most Photographed Woman.

As the above photo demonstrates, Ms. May is a saucy standout with a red top in a sea of males wearing dark suits. She knows how to make eye contact with the camera. and has now pulled at least 10 lengths ahead of Ms. Merkel, deep in the stretch, making victory look imminent.

The photo is from a Thursday meeting with European Union leaders at a summit in Salzburg, Austria on the terms for Britain's exit from the EU.

The outcome of the meeting was not good for Ms. May, as the EU leaders rejected her plan for Britain's exit from the EU, now commonly referred to as Brexit.

Ms. May has more nifty outfits than America's Lesley Stahl doing a '60 Minutes' segment. On the world stage, Ms. Stahl was never in the running.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Happy Birthday to You

Anyone who is familiar with Lynne Truss's book on punctuation will know the cover depicts a panda on a ladder monkeying around with the placement of a comma. Further, the cover also depicts the panda walking away holding a handgun, presumably after firing it.

The cover illustrates the importance of the placement of a comma. If it's after the word "eats," then the panda should be sought for firing a weapon in a restaurant after eating something, and walking away without paying the bill—leaves.

If there is no comma, well it's a different story. The panda is only guilty of being their natural vegetarian self by eating some shoots (presumably bamboo) and ambling off after being satisfied. No firearm involved, and no pursuit by the authorities. Or...

The panda eats shoots (presumably bamboo) AND leaves, the plural of the word "leaf." A two-course vegetarian intake. No indication if they stay in one place after doing this, and certainly no use of a firearm. The English language can be vague, with its meaning driven by punctuation.

Imagine a panda doing some serious time in an animal jail because someone used a comma when they didn't need one. That wouldn't be fair, would it? Commas count. Lynne Truss's point.

I suspect the panda on the cover of Lynne's book is not the famous Tian Tian who lives in the Smithsonian National Zoo in Washington, D.C. But it could be. They tend to lookalike.

Tian Tian just turned 21, thus making their consumption of alcohol legal. Now the joke can be a panda walks into a bar, orders a beer, drinks, eats(,) shoots and leaves.

And maybe drives away under the influence. Alert the authorities.


The dates on the stones let you measure the time
Of the lives that lived in between.
The bracketed years reveal to the current
The joys and the troubles they've seen.

On any given day a person is born
You can record the date of their birth.
And on any given day a person can die
And you can record that they've left this earth.

And the morning we made our dusty descent,
An accomplishment undiminished,
We learned of the others and their bracketed date,
And our own, that remained unfinished.

So it is incredible to believe the end can be met
At the hands of someone we knew.
He put an end to life, he put an end to himself,
But he didn't put an end to you.

Sixteen years. Still true.
No one ever dies
Who lives in hearts
Left behind.

These people left many things well begun.
And on 9/11 and 9/16, these people became memories.

Sunday, September 2, 2018

The Stuff Dreams Are Made Of

My chances for thoroughbred ownership are non-existent, being significantly beyond my financial reach to even own a piece of a tail. But that doesn't stop me from living vicariously through an acquaintance's ownership.

One of The Assembled, Bobby G., has a lifelong friend who has been in the ownership side of the game in racing as well as breeding. Richie (Hayward) Pressman has owned a horse or two for decades, generally New York State Breds who win perhaps two, maybe three races before being retired.

He's used a mare Danville to bred some of these horses. He has raced Sweet Moving D, Mighty Tuff, Mighty Reward, Animal Posse, Sir Frost, and others. He's won at Saratoga, perhaps the hardest place to win a race as an owner.

He's also the owner I have won the most money on. His horses are never favorites, and when they win they do so at a price. On Derby Day at Belmont in 2010 his Mighty Tuff freight-trained his way down the turf stretch to win by a neck at 33-1. No one ever bets enough on a winning horse, but the Benjamins and Grants in my pocket came in handy when I had to pay an ER co-pay later that month. Damn, I hated to give those bills up.

I've met Richie in the paddock at Belmont and at his box in Saratoga. But for the last few years his Saratoga attendance has not coincided with mine, so I wasn't there on Saturday when his latest horse, Cassies Dreamer, suddenly came alive in the stretch of the Grade I Spinaway Stakes to finish a very decent third, just missing second place by a neck and finishing a solid length in front of the fourth place horse.

The Spinaway is 7 furlong race for 2-year-old fillies for a purse of $350,000, with the added prize of being a Win-and-Your-In race for the winner to get expenses paid for being entered in their Breeders' Cup category, this year to be run at Churchill Downs in early November. Going from a one-turn 7 furlong race to a two-turn mile and a sixteenth affair is a natural progression for a developing horse, filly or colt.

With ownership of a Grade I stakes-placed filly, Richie is no longer plying the conditions of New York Breds. For now, he's a major player in the 2-year-old filly division.

There is no thoroughbred race that is not multiple stories. The Spinaway was Cassies  Dreamer's second race. This is not unusual for a juvenile stakes race at Saratoga. Colt and fillies have not run many races yet. The entrants in the Spinaway had all at least run a race, but most were only running their second race after breaking their maiden races first time out. Unlike the Kentucky Derby which is for three-year-olds and has a series of awarded point prep races required for entry, the Spinaway is guided by a nomination fee and then the usual fees required to pass the entry box, and then to start. I haven't seen the full conditions of the race, but I have little doubt it cost at least $10,000 in be in the starting gate.

The story behind Cassies Dreamer includes one of The Assembled who in effect is the de facto   stable manager. Bobby G. entreated Richie to get himself a more expensive horse, notably a filly he could keep and use for breeding. I once asked Bobby G., a retired surgeon, why didn't he go into ownership with Richie on his horses? Bob replied, "it's bad enough one of us has the disease,"

Richie's trainer Carl Domino was retiring. I don't know the full circumstances of how Richie came to approach Barclay Tagg to be his trainer, or how they both set their sights on Cassies Dreamer, who was running for its first time at Saratoga on August 3rd in a $50,000 maiden claimer.

It is unusual for a firster to be placed in a claimer. Generally, they descend from protected maiden special weight races if they have trouble competing against that class of horse. I didn't see The Form on August 3rd, but I can tell from the chart that Barclay Tagg, and Richie and Rusty Jones combined forces to claim the horse for $50,000. I do not know what led them to place a claim in for the horse.

Putting a first-time starter in a claiming race is either a calculated maneuver or an act of desperation to unload a horse that has already been given up on. It hasn't raced, and the owner says it is for sale. It is a car on the pre-owned lot that hasn't been driven. Talk about unknowns. What's behind the door, the lady or the tiger?

Cassies Dreamer's breeding is more than decent, being sired by Flatter, from a War Front mare Chilbolton. The stud fee for Flatter is $35,000. Whether the horse was a home bred or sold at auction, I do not know. Generally, yearlings are sold at auction, very often way above $50,000. The week we were at Saratoga there was a similar maiden claiming race where Robert LaPenta (Catholic Boy, winner of this year's Travers) and his partners put a $435,000 auction horse, Our Honor, into a $30,000 claiming race after two starts in maiden special weight races, finishing a decent third and second in its second race. The horse was claimed by Linda Rice. Our Honor did not hit the board.

So, for whatever reason Cassies Dreamer is placed in a maiden claimer for $50,000, along with four other horses that also have not yet started a race, and whatever attracted the Barclay Tagg,
et al interest, Cassies Dreamer was claimed from the trainer Anthony Quartarolo and went to Tagg's barn.

The claiming race was a dirt five and a half furlong race run over a sloppy/sealed track. Cassies Dreamer must have been heavily tipped by good workouts, or word-of-mouth, because it went off as the $1.35 favorite and won easily by two and a quarter lengths.

So what's next? Generally, after a maiden win a horse either enters a non-winners of one, or a non-winners of two lifetime. The progression to better races is usually in small doses.

Whatever Cassies Dreamer was showing to the experienced Barclay Tagg, it was enough for her to be entered as a main-track-only entrant in Thursday's P.G. Johnson Stakes, to be run at a mile and a sixteenth. If the race comes off the turf, Cassies Dream goes in the gate in a race that will be run at a mile and an eighth on the dirt track.

Enough rain didn't happen, so the P.G. Johnson race goes as carded, on the turf, and Cassies Dreamer is scratched. I don't know if the nominations for the Spinaway were already closed when the new ownership took over, but the horse was eligible to have the current owners pony up what surely must have been $10,000 or more to start in Saturday's Spinaway. There was either irrational exuberance at work, or some well-founded knowledge about ability, but whatever it was, Cassies Dreamer goes into the Spinaway and draws the dreaded one post for the 7 furlong race. Crap.

One posts are difficult, because you get sandwiched back there if you don't break well, or, you have to run faster than you want to clear the field that will be closing in on you as you run down the backstretch. To say Cassies Dreamer is lightly regard in the Spinaway is to vastly understate the public's lack of confidence in the horse. There are others, particularly a Bob Baffert/Mike Smith horse, Chasing Yesterday coming in from Delmar with an impressive maiden score in a seven horse field that gets bet down to $1.70 in the 11 horse Spinaway field. There is Ken McPeak's Restless Ruler, who goes as second favorite at $2.85.

Cassies Dreamer's odds start at 30-1 morning line, and goes up like a thermometer in the desert to a crest at 68-1. Only two other horses have higher odds. The high odds are understandable, because nothing looks more impossible that a claimed maiden claimer firster, winning at a shorter distance over a sloppy track, when today's track is fast (even if it is over the same track), taking on better connected horses who are coming out of maiden special weight wins, or next level races. If it wasn't for the vicarious connection, my few dollars would go elsewhere.

But, like I said, I have made more off Richie's horses than from any other ownership in all my 50 years of betting. So, the few dollars I sprinkled across the board were not going to change my lifestyle, even at 68-1, but they they sure were going to provide some excitement if his horse even came in the money.

Cassies Dreamer breaks badly, bouncing off the gate and trails the field. Last place is hers right to the first quarter pole. But Junior Alvarado gets her going, and she's picking up horses on the backstrctch, threading her way through the field. At the half she changes last place with Sippican Harbor and progresses to sixth place at the top of the stretch. She's now four lengths behind the leader, Noble Madeline. At this point, I lose track of where she is because all the horses and jockeys are covered in dirt, their colors becoming hard to distinguish.

A lot usually happens in a large field juvenile race with no outstanding horses between the stretch call and the finish line. And this Spinaway was no exception. Sippican Harbor emerges from the scrum and wins by a decisive two lengths under Joel Rosario at 16-1. Restless Ruler and Cassies Dreamer suddenly see or smell the finish and burst forward from the throng, with Restless Ruler finishing second, and Cassies Dreamer finishing a neck behind. Cassies Dreamer is third! In the money, stakes placed. Richie, you're no longer in New York Bred conditions.

The payoffs are generous since Baffert's Chasing Yesterday is out of the money. Jerry Bailey, astutely pointed out before the race that Chasing Yesterday's win was from the seven hole in a seven horse race, therefore outside of everyone, and by taking the lead did not have dirt thrown in her face. In today's Spinaway, breaking from the seven hole, she's going to have a different experience. Mike Smith in his post-race interview looked the part of a boy who played in a hole, confirmed the dirt-thrown-in-her-face-for-the-first-time story and said she'd do better next time.

My show bet that was part of a $14.20 payoff did not alter my financial statement, but it did alter any mood I was in, which wasn't bad to start with. The needle went to pure excitement.

Whether Richie and his entourage decides on a Breeders' Cup entry will remain to be seen. My limited understanding of the ability to enter any of the Breeders' Cup races is the sire has to be nominated. Since Flatter is a top sire these days,  my guess is his breeders have kept up with the nomination monies. As the cliche word goes these days, I'm sure his possible entry is in the "conversation." Third place in the Spinaway was worth $42,000, probably equaling a win purse in a New York Bred maiden race.

Sam Spade explains to the flatfoot Tom Polhaus in 'The Maltese Falcon' that the falcon is "the stuff dreams are of." So is a thoroughbred.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Gabby and the Good Doctor

No, this isn't the title to a children's book on needing to get your vaccinations. And no, Gabby Gaudet is not sick. Far from it. She is emerging as a fresh, informative face on the horse racing broadcasting teams who is capable of stifling the argumentative Andy Serling for whom the price—odds— on a horse is never right.

The NYRA racing show that now comes on daily on either FS1 or MSG+ is a treasure. You do have to have an interest in the sport, and with that interest you are likely one who gets a bet down more than now and then.

Gabby is from a Mid-Atlantic racing family, principally Maryland,  putting horses out on the tracks in that region. Her father was trainer, her mother is a trainer, her sister Lacy is a trainer, and as Gabby recounts in an interview in Thoroughbred Today with the editor Claudia L. Ruiz, her entire upbringing was around horses, and the family conversations about horses. 24/7, horses.

Being a regular viewer of the racing show, there is little in the interview that comes as fresh knowledge.  But there is one nugget that really threw me. When pressed to name her favorite horse Gabby mentioned Tepin, but then to me, quite surprisingly, Dr. Fager.

Dr. Fager last raced in 1968, and none of his breeding will show up in any horse today unless you produce a breeding chart that goes back 50 years. I don't know Gabby's age, but for sure American Pharoah is her first Triple Crown.

I don't know how much of Dr. Fager Gabby might have known about prior to the piece they did on the show about Richard Aller, a man who has made it his mission in life to convince the world of Dr. Fager's greatness, and how it peaked in 1968 when, as a four-year-old, the good Doctor won an unprecedented four Eclipse awards: Horse of the year, Handicap Horse, Sprinter and Turf Horse. No one has done that since.

1968 was my first year of going to the races, and Dr. Fager has remained a favorite ever since I saw the NYRA races he was in that year. I have made a few blog postings about his career.

It was more than refreshing to hear of someone who couldn't possibly have seen Dr. Fager talk of his greatness. It would be like me talking of Babe Ruth.

(As an aside, my father used to tell me he saw Babe Ruth almost throw guys out at first on a single, his arm was that good. Watching an ESPN game from the motel room last week in Saratoga I saw an Atlanta pitcher rope a single to right field, an opposite field single. I don't know any of the names, but the ball was hit so hard and fielded so cleanly by the right fielder that the pitcher was thrown out at first. The right fielder's throw, as most things are these days, was clocked at 103 miles an hour. There can't be many 9-3 putouts made on a batter who is out before he reaches first base.)

I don't think Gabby was on the show when the 9th race from Saratoga on Sunday, August 26th was telecast. She usually eaves the show in the final week.

Times on turf races can be faster than dirt races. Turf racing at the Belmont meet prior to going up to Saratoga produced some wicked times and fractions. The turf courses were concrete racing strips. And after the rains stopped at the Spa, the turf times started to get fast wicked fast.A :21 and change first quarter for a turf sprint race can be expected. What is not expected is a :204/5.

Such a first quarter was registered in that 9th race by Girls Know Best. This was followed by a flat :43. Five furlongs was a 543/5, These are smoking fractions. It would have been surprising to see a front-runner sustain this pace. And it turns out they didn't.

The winner Chateline was always close behind and passed Girls Know Best in the stretch and won going away by three lengths, with a final time of 1:004   This was only two ticks (two fifths) off the track record of Lady Shipman's 1:002 in 2015.

When then the :204 went up I immediately thought of Dr. Fager. He ran a :221, 434, 107in the 7 furlong 1968 Vosburgh Handicap, under 139 pounds, finishing in 1201, a track record that stood for decades, eventually beaten by Artax, who carried nowhere near 139 pounds.

Dr. Fager never had the opportunity to run turf sprints, since that type of race was not carded in his era. But just imagine if he had set out of the gate in a race on turf that was only going to last 5½ furlongs.

My guess is Gabby can imagine what the result might have been.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Saratoga 2018

There is something wonderful about doing well at the track. Aside from winning a few bucks, it reaffirms your faith that you can win a few bucks when you enter the gates. Just keep at it.

And so it was for two of The Assembled who made their annual pilgrimage to Mecca at the finish line. We won. Even fours days of attendance couldn't deliver a deficit. It only widened the plus side of the equation.

Saratoga continues its monetization of space.  If there's a place to stand or sit, there can be a price associated with it. The only free seating at the place after paying the general admission is from a seat at a conquered picnic table, a chair you brought yourself, or a seat in the bathroom. After that, the place has increasingly placed a price tag on nearly every way you can watch the race with your knees bent. And sometimes not.

The latest addition to this type of venue is something called The Stretch, an area of the grandstand that is so far away from the finish line that you're almost watching from Union Avenue. The sections have always been there, sparsely attended.

The landmark apartment house in New York City on Central Park West, home to many celebrities, past and present, got the name Dakota because when it was built there was nothing else around it. People started referring to it as the building in the Dakotas because it was so far away from the majority of the population in Manhattan at the time.

Saratoga already has an Oklahoma stable area and training track. It now has Dakota reserved seating.

But you know that you're going to be far away. The attraction is seating (once free) that offers a great view of the horses as the enter the stretch, on either turf course, and of course the main track. I've taken pictures from there, and it's a great vantage point. Not to see the result, but to see and hear the
horses and jockeys go by.

You can detect the banking of the man track, as well as the banking of the turf courses. The horses are tilting to their left as they go trough the turn. Promotional marketing for The Stretch tells us:

The Stretch, the all-new exclusive, private hospitality area features modern and upscale amenities not available anywhere else on track...

...with sweeping views of thoroughbreds rounding the final turn and entering the homestretch.

Not because of the blurb, but because I've long ago given in to knowing if I want a seat at Saratoga that's not something I brought myself, or not close to the toilet paper, I'm going to have to pay money.

So, I was willing to buy seating for The Stretch, knowing full well where it was located, and knowing full well what racing looked like from that vantage point, for the first of the four days we descend on Mecca.

The Stretch offers several price points and seating arrangements, and in my view is not worth any of them. Th cheapest seats, for $25, got us in the "sun seats" which became unbearable as soon as you sat down. The mesh seating on the chairs was comfortable, but not connected to any monitors. So, for $25 to roast in the sun and not be connected to any shared monitor, the experience was far less than desirable. Trying to sit elsewhere was rebuffed, despite the complete lack of a sold out area, by a wide margin.

The place looks nice, but is far overpriced if what you really want to do is just bet and watch racing, and maybe have a beverage of some kind.

The only bright spot was seeing some of the guys who were part of the show 'The Gamblers' that was on Esquire TV a few years ago. The show followed a coterie of hard-core horseplayers as they tried to move up in the standing of a handicapping contest. These guys were genuine.

I spotted the Rotondos in one of the tiered seatings. I recognized the son, Peter Jr. and then spotted his father and everyone else in their group that was part of the show a few years ago. I couldn't immediately remember the name of the show, so I asked the son what the name was. He was pleased to be recognized and said they had a lot of fun being part of the show.

They had to. One episode showed them subjecting themselves to a Voodoo lady who blew smoke up their rear ends (clothed). The smoke so directed was meant to create good luck. A new one on me, and I think them as well.

This monetization of Saratoga space is touched on by Teresa Genaro, (Twitter; @bklynbckstretch) a turf writer who is also a high school teacher when school is in session. A Saratoga native, Ms. Genaro is one of the few season-long writers who actually tells you something about the sport. Only the upstate papers, The Saratogian, The Times-Union or The Post-Star can be counted on to actually cover the sport live, and that's when Saratoga is open. The downstate papers no longer send a reporter to cover even The Travers. This year's edition was the first time in 149 years The New York Times did not send a reporter, instead relying on an AP summary to provide the basic information.

Thus, Ms Genaro provided a sketch of one of the winning partners, Robert LaPenta of Catholic Boy, the winner of Saturday's Travers Stakes.

We learn Mr. LaPenta's silks are the color of the college he graduated from, Iona, in New Rochelle, NY. Those colors have already been painted on the canoe in one of Saratoga's infield lakes that always show the colors of the winner of the Travers.

Mr. LaPenta has long been involved in thoroughbred ownership, going back to the days when he campaigned Jackson Bend and Da' Tara, the longshot winner of the 2008 Belmont, both trained by Nick Zito. Nick doesn't train for LaPenta anymore, and seems to have lost all his high-end clientele.

We learn from Ms. Genaro that LaPenta's yearbook described him as "More than Ready," a name he gave to the sire of Catholic Boy.

As for how The Mini-Assembled did so well I can only say the numbers were working and we started to knock over winners and exactas like bowling pins. Amnesia on how to win never seemed to break through. Freud would have been excited by that. I know we were.

The tone for winning was set when a Rusty Arnold firster was backed in the 4th race on Monday. The 'Closer Look' comments screamed turf breeding, dam and sire. The horse was selected the night before when doing the handicapping. Concrete Rose was ridden by Jose Lezcano and was 15-1 morning line.

A Wesley Ward firster was getting all the attention because of Wesley Ward and his high percentage with firsters. Factoring all that in I decided that the horse runs the race, and despite Arnold's comparatively low percentage with firsters, the breeding should trump the numbers.

When I went down to the rail to take photos the horse was on the board at 17-1. When I returned to my seat after witnessing the winning move (Concrete Rose is somewhere in the scrum of horses above, with a purple and white cap; not leading by any means) my friend told me he went from 17-1 down to 12-1 in one flash. As always, no one ever bet enough on a winning horse. But any money on a winning 12-1 shot is always nice.

We closed out our four-day set not with a bang, not with a whimper, but with a Wow, even though we had no money on the winner of the e West Point, the 10th race on Friday's card.

Understandably, money was on Chad Brown's turf specialist, Offering Plan. The odds were low, but he was played with a few exactas and even triples since this was the Aloho race, and I was ahead.

It was good field of New York breds that even included Kharafa, a war horse if ever there was a war horse. Kharafa hadn't won a race in two years, and was now nine years old. We joked amongst ourselves that they should retire him. He's won over $1.1 million, had 12 wins in 49 starts, and was always somewhere near the finish, but couldn't get it done anymore.

I remember another turf horse from a while ago, Fort Marcy, who competed into an advanced age,  always showing up for top tier races. But when it came time to make a move, Fort Marcy no longer had it. He seemed senile, if that's possible. The owner Paul Mellon and Eliot Burch the trainer retired him.

Kharafa was 6-1 morning line, but drifted, up to 17-1 due to apathy. The horse was low percentage, and the trainer, Timothy Hills was also low percentage, with eight wins on the year. There were no wins visible for Kharafa in a ten race past performance. There was no obvious appeal. But, if you looked closely to the Closer Look it was revealed Kharafa seemed to like this race, The West Point, finishing 3rd twice and a close second, in the 2013, 2016 and 2016 runnings..

Still, with the others in the race, his chances looked like 17-1. Dylan Davis was on him. Dylan is a rapidly improving jockey, son of the jockey Robbie Davis, that you can rely on. We bet him years ago at Saratoga when he was a bug boy and felt he was the only speed in a mile and an eighth race. "Take the lead Dylan." When he did, we just yelled, "don't fall off." He didn't.

War horses like Kharafa usually tend to be geldings. No change for breeding. But when they can stay on the circuit and win, they become betting and fan favorites. There was one years ago, Peat Moss, who could run massively long races with massive weight assignments.  One of Peat Moss's legs had been fractured and reset with a multitude of screws. The x-rays once accompanied a story about him.

The next day, when we told our waitress Annie at the breakfast place we go to, Poopie's in Glens Falls, that we were making fun of Kharafa before the race, and then he goes and wins, she told us, "see, you should have bet him rather than making fun of him." If only things were that simple.

We spent our last two days in The Fourstardave venue, easily the best value at the track for reserved seating and closeness to the action. A Dixieland combo with two dancers stopped by the NYC Mac 'n' Cheese Truck just outside our seats and provided some nice entertainment. I'm sure they made the rounds of the place, maybe even stopping by The Stretch.

So, will we be back?
Next question.