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.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

What Did He Just Say?

Anyone who knows anything about thoroughbred horse racing—at least East Coast horse racing—knows that the young trainer Chad Brown wins more turf/grass races than anyone these days. There used to he a French jockey Jean-Luc Samyn who won on turf so proficiently that the expression went, "Samyn on the green." Now it goes, "It's Chad's world, and we're just living in it."

Chad is the leading trainer at the current Saratoga meet. He's running away it, and will probably win by more lengths than what Secretariat won the Belmont Stakes by. But pretty much, Chad wins wherever he shows up.

There is no better example of Chad's winning ways than the results yesterday from Arlington Park, where they ran the Arlington Million, the first race to offer a million dollar purse, started in 1981. It is a Grade I race, on the turf, for three-year-olds and up. Winning a Grade I race always boosts a horse's breeding value.

I had an uncle who came from the Chicago area who back-in-day told me that jockey Willie Shoemaker and Bill Hartack used to win a day's races so often that they nearly split the card between them. The Ortiz brothers, Irad and Jose nearly do the same thing in New York.

In horse racing, the distribution of the purse money generally goes 60% to the winner, 20% for second, and various smaller percentages, sometimes giving something all the way down to even the last place finisher. Horses, trainers, jockeys and owners win races. Chad Brown nearly wins the entire purse.

Yesterday at Arlington Chad's horses ran 1-2-3 in the Beverly D, a Grade I $600,000 turf race for fillies and mares run at a mile and three-sixteenths. He did this for three different ownership groups. Chad's horses ran 1-2 in the feature, the Arlington Million, a race he has now won a record five times. There are times after the results are posted that you just want to scream at the 39-year-old guy from Mechanicville, NY, "Chad, let someone else win for a while, will you."

Anytime Chad is interviewed in the winner's circle he is always humble. He always reminds the interviewer of all the people on his team that work hard to make a horse ready for competition. And if you know anything about the backstretch, there are a good number of workers at various levels that work with the thoroughbreds, with the trainer having ultimate oversight of everything.

Chad also always mentions his mentor Bobby Frankel, the Hall of Fame trainer Chad worked under and from whom he learned a lot. Frankel has passed away, but he himself learned from Buddy Jacobson, a leading trainer on the NYRA circuit in the early 60s, a magician with claimers, who eventually murdered his ex-girl friend's boyfriend, was convicted, and died in prison.

Jacobson himself was the nephew of Hirsch Jacobs, a legendary Hall of Fame trainer who trained Stymie and was at his heyday in the 30s, 40s and 50s, often leading the nation in wins.. There is a good deal of training wisdom that has flowed down to Chad Brown.

Into this enters Nick Luck, the NBC racing sportscaster who is decidedly British. Sarah Lyall, an America reporter for the NYT who lived in England for so long she became keenly aware of the difference between the common language separated by an ocean, tells us in her book "The Anglo Files"..."Englishman, with their thrilling accents, rumbled hair and ability to make even pointless banalities sound like brilliant repartee" can make a woman weak at the knees. (She admits she married one.)

Nick Luck would have to fit this description. In June he hosted five days of racing from Ascot, England, dressed in the required top hat and morning coat, on the air for a solid four hours starting in the morning. And while he's not really spouting banalities, he is enunciating so many phrases with such a soupçon of insouciance that you would gladly follow him through fire.

Consider he closes the telecast on Saturday by telling us "...on a day that Chad left them all hanging..."

Did he just say that? A Britisher, 18 years! after the 2000 Presidential election that needed a Supreme Court ruling to decide who got Florida's electoral votes after so many chads were left hanging between Al Gore's name and George Bush's name on the paper ballots?

Its cleverness is only exceeded by the late sportswriter Dick Schaap telling a television audience in 1973 that Riva Ridge and Secretariat were the most famous stablemates since Mary and Joseph. (Boy, did Dick ever get in trouble for that one!)

I Tweeted Mr. Luck yesterday and asked: How long have you been waiting to say "Chad leaves them hanging." Does anyone else know what you said, 18 years after chads were hanging in the 2000 Presidential election? And you're not American."

Mr. Nick kindly replied: "Glad  you're with me."


I certainly don't know everything, but you might have to hold a seance and go back in time and ask long-buried horseplayers if they can call recall anything that matches this one.

Since we're talking about turf races, something happened last Wednesday at Saratoga that I have never heard of in all my 50 years of following racing. The starting gate for the 5th race was placed in the wrong spot, turning the scheduled one and an sixteenth  race into a mile and an eighth affair on the Mellon turf course.

I have heard of there being instances at non-NYRA tracks where they were not able to get the starting gate out of the way before the horses completed the circuit. Horses crashing into a starting gate is not something anyone wants to have happen. I know this happened at least once at Gulfstream and once at Finger Lakes I believe. The outriders were able to flag the horses and jockeys down before anyone got too close to closing in on the starting gate they were unable to move because of a stalled tractor. That was Oh Dear for the John Deere.

I remember once they started a race at a NYRA track with one horse left to load. Think of the surprised jockey who was trying to get to the gate only to have everyone take off on them. They don't shoot the starter's gun twice and bring the field back like in track. The race goes off and the horse left at the post is considered a non-starter. Accommodations are made for wagering, because every race these days is part of a multi-leg sequence, even Daily Doubles.

But putting the gate in the wrong position is a new one. Considering that turf races can have multiple starting points on the ovals for the same distance depending on where they set the rail, the fact that this hasn't happened before is a testament to the detail that is taken to ensure consistency.

The rail is the white fencing that is sometimes in place to help distribute the wear on the turf courses. If a rail is set at sat 18 feet from the inside circumference—generally the hedge—then it stands to reason that a starting point has to be determined to account for the desired distance. All races end at the finish line, but they start at various points. A different starting point for the same distance will be needed on a day when the rail may be set at 18 feet out from the hedge vs. a day the rail is set at say 27 out from the hedge. Saturday's Arlington Million had the rail set at an astounding 62 feet.

(The rails are portable, flexible, and are secured into the ground by the long spikes pictured above.)

The turf races at Belmont in the week prior to the Saturday of this year's Belmont Stakes—when  several top turf races were scheduled—were run on turf courses where the rail was set at 27 feet. This preserved the inner turf, so that on Belmont Saturday there were no rail settings. Races were run from the hedges as the inside, on fresh ground that hadn't been run on lately. They don't run tractors over the turf to groom it, like the dirt surfaces.

Les (Mr. Pace), our eminent mentor would often tell us before the races started that "the rail has been scrapped." This meant that they've done something to the track to enhance speed horses. It wasn't until 1985 when I ventured to the top of the stretch to take photos of the horses as they hit the turn, that I realized the track is banked. I would imagine if there was scrapping that perhaps the bank has been enhanced—like adding height to the pitcher's mound. 

We never knew how Les came across this information, but he held more information in his head than a hard drive. I remember seeing a chart on the main floor in our salad days, perhaps at Belmont, or maybe Aqueduct, that was a diagram of what the track superintendent and his crew have done to the track, If this lead you to believe there was "scrapping" then this might be where Les got his information. Or, unnamed sources.

I don't know if there is such a chart displayed these days. The NYRA online information board will tell you the expected track condition, and if the track has been sealed or harrowed. I have no idea if harrowing is scrapping the rail. Les has left us. We need a seance.

The misplacement of the starting gate was apparent to no one before the race was run. Not the jockeys, not the starting gate crew which works in the moments between races to position the starting gate, not the stewards, to probably even the most eagle-eyed fan in the stands. If there was an eagle-eyed fan, without a hotline to the men upstairs, whatever they were aware of stayed with them.

I must admit I've been late to factor in rail placements with my handicapping, and I've really never been able to draw a definitive reaction to their distances. Different placements change the shape of the turns, which may be a factor in the way a horse handles the turns.

When the fractional times started to come in for the race, 29.69, 53.50, 1:19.50 is was becoming apparent something was wrong. No level of horse on a NYRA track runs that slow through the quarter, half and 6 furlong splits. I've been going to the races so long I remember there were no fractional times for turf races; there were no telemeters set up to capture any splits for anything other than dirt races and finishes. It's a brave new world out there.

So consider that. the placement of the timing devices also has to be adjusted depending on where the race starts for turf races, and those placements will vary depending on where he rail is placed, or not placed. Frankly, I do not know exactly how they arrive at the fractional splits, and who might be responsible for placing them in the right spot for turf races.

With a race starting further back than desired, and the timing devices set up for a mile and a sixteenth race, the splits would naturally register more elapsed time. Unfortunately, by now the race has started, is in the books, but at the wrong desired distance.

The Daily Racing Form chart is the Congressional Record of all that goes on in a race. A person who can read a chart can recreate the race in their mind. There are numerical designations that tell the informed exactly where a horse was at every "call." and where they were in relation to those in front of them, and those behind them. There is also a running narrative that describes the movements and the ease or difficulties the horses have had running the race. Nettlesome events like getting bumped, hitting the starting gate at the break, stumbling at the start, are duly noted;  Claims of foul are noted.

Odds, breeding, ownership, jockey, trainer, condition of the track, time of day, rail placements if turf, eligibility conditions that were met to enter the race, purse distribution, how weights were assigned, mutuel pool summaries, mutuel payouts, who might have been entered but was scratched, and who might have been claimed and who their new owner is if the race was a claiming race and the horse was entered for a "tag," are all part of the information found on a chart. It is indispensable knowledge when handicapping.

Anything unusual that happened during the race ,like a claim of foul is noted in uppercase letters at the bottom of the narrative. There is plenty of uppercase letters for the fifth race at Saratoga on August 8,  2018:


To put it bluntly, when shit happens, the management tries to alert the bettor that something happened. I don't know if there was any announcement made after the race. The race was declared official, and no declaration of the race being declared a non-betting race, and therefore necessitating refunds, was made. It might have been considered too late to declare a race as such if too much time elapsed from the completion of the race and the realization that something had seriously gone wrong with the gate placement.

To declare a race a non-betting race after say even 10 minutes had elapsed from its completion might have set off a stampede for Scotch tape at Staples to try and put those torn up tickets back together. Not everyone bets online where transactions can just be reversed. My guess is something like this occurred to the powers that be. Destroyed tickets are never cashed, and revert to the state as abandoned property each March 31. Any time-delayed declaration of a race as a non-betting race might have been seen as a grab for even more money than is naturally taken off the top. Might not have been the finest hour.

Because of the preponderance of multi-race/leg betting there are provisions that are stated and put into effect when there are late scratches and late surface changes. These are all designed to protect the bettor from being confronted with new information after their bet was placed. For the most part, they work, and are understood.

One thing you can bet on, they're working on this one.

Friday, August 10, 2018

Stan Mikita

This is what's going to happen. The hockey players I saw so much of in the 60s and 70s are going to start to pass away. Stan Mikita, at 78, is one of the latest. It's like when people get into their 40s and 50s and their parents start to pass away.

The headline for Mikita captures his playing spirit in one word: Feisty. Hockey players of the 60s and 70s, (and prior) were not very big. When I was a Ranger season ticket holder for 11 years in the 60s and 70s two of the biggest players in the league were Gordie Howe and Phil Esposito. They were listed at being slightly over 200 pounds. There were many players who got inflated weights attributed to them. Take Rob Gilbert, the Ranger right wing: he was listed at 185 pounds, which was very generous.

In Richard Goldstein's obit attention is directed at Mikita's use of the curved stick, perhaps even being the first player to use one. Whether he really was the first player to bend the blade may or may not be the case. But between himself and his teammate  Bobby Hull they popularized the curved stick.

Hull and Mikita, and others heated the blade and stuck the blade in the jamb of doorways and bent the sticks, sometimes to really significant curves. The slap shots became rockets, Hull especially feasted on the goals they scored with the sticks.

The blades became known as banana blades. Eventually the league adopted a standard of curvature that couldn't be exceeded. A bench penalty can be called if an illegal stick is brought to the officials' attention.

I distinctly remember one Ranger home game against the Blackhawks where Dennis Hull, Bobby's brother, came down left wing and got off a direct slap shot at Eddie Giacomin, the Ranger goalie. Eddie made the save with his mask and went down like the proverbial ton of bricks. He lay on the ice so motionless that you wondered if he was alive. He was, and shook off the effects of the shot, and continued play. No standard for possible concussion then.

I have a large photo of Eddie Giacomin in goal for the Detroit Red Wings in his first game back at the Garden. The trade to the Red Wings was highly unpopular. Every time the Rangers touched the puck they were vigorously booed. Everytime the Red Wings scored they were cheered. The Red Wings won the game to everyone's satisfaction.

The Daily News had a great photo of Giacomin wiping away tears during the playing of the National Anthem. That's the photo I was able to buy from The Daily News. His emotions were as high as the rest of the us. When you study the photo you get a sense of how little protection the goaltenders of that era wore. Their pads looked no more substantial than those worn by the Burek brother Paulie who played in goal when we gathered for Sunday roller hockey games. The contrast between then and now is as dramatic as football players in leather helmets and how the NFL players are dressed today.

Somehow Mikita got the nickname Stash from he Chicago fans. I always thought perhaps he was Polish because of that, despite his Slavic features. Mikita it turns out was from a town in what is now Slovenia, but in 1940 was in Czechoslovakia. He was raised since he was eight by an aunt and uncle in Ontario because his parents wanted him to escape what was becoming Soviet domination.

He was a slick center, a playmaker in the hockey world. There was also what for me is a most memorable game when the Black Hawks played the Rangers in a New Year's Eve game at Madison Square Garden.

A New Year's eve game you might imagine is not well-attended. And it wasn't. My friend and I caged great tickets near the ice from a scalper who had to sell below market value. Two things happened in that game.

The first was that the Rangers 4th line player Glen Sather got a penalty for having a hole in his glove. Sather as a player was a 4th line pest, sent out to be disruptive. He's now in the high up in the executive ranks of the Rangers, something I've always found incongruent with his playing.

There was one game on television when the Rangers were playing Montreal. There was one of the many melees that were part of hockey then. Sather and Mark Tardiff exchanged unpleasantries and each were sent to the penalty box. Tardiff's temper was not quelled, and Sather was able to goad Tardiff with a gesture of some kind to jump out of the penalty box and come after Sather some more. It was right out of the movie 'Slap Shot.' Needless to say, Tardiff got more penalty minutes, perhaps a game misconduct. Sather of course pleaded the victim. Sather's nickname was "Scamp."

I'm pretty sure Mikita was on the ice when Sather gets called for having a hole in his glove. There were players who created a hole in the palm of the glove so that when they grabbed an opponent's jersey or stick the official could not see that they were exerting a grip—holding—that would be visible from looking at the glove and seeing fingers bent. A hole in the glove would be just the thing a player like Sather would have to ensure he could be a pest.

I had never heard of a penalty for a hole in the glove. I think I had to rely on the next day's paper for an explanation of the penalty. I don't remember, but Mikita might have alerted the officials to the illegal glove. Whatever, Sather got a two minute penalty.

But Mikita wasn't finished tormenting the Rangers that night. The game is winding down, and it's tied. Games then ended in ties; no five minute overtimes; no shootouts till someone wins, just plain old tie games.

Someone on the Blackhawks takes a shot on goal. It misses, hits the boards behind the net, and comes out in front of Giacomin, a bad hop in baseball.

Mikita is in the slot, because he never stops playing, shoots and scores The Blackhawks snatch the tie game away from the Rangers, and leave the building adding two points to their standings.

A close examination the next day reveals the boards were not assembled right, and the bad carom was created by something out of alignment. Mikita of course was not out of position to take advantage.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018


I've learned some of the Tweet/Internet abbreviations. I suspect some of them might even make the OED, if they haven't already

We probably all know LOL by now: Laughing out loud. I pretty much have mixed feelings when I write something and someone tells me they got a kick out of it by adding LOL. I appreciate that I've probably made them laugh, but I have trouble really believing that after reading something someone has laughed out loud. It is likely way overused. There are times I've read something and laughed out loud, but usually I just mentally acknowledge something is funny. I don't go LOL.

Sometimes, if I've really hit the funny bone they tell me LMAO, Laughing my ass off. I have trouble visualizing this one. I take it means I've really made them laugh out loud, so such that their ass fell off. About that I'm concerned, but happy to have provided the hilarity.

Why isn't it IFOMC? Or IFDL? I fell off my chair: I fell down laughing. I can visualize those. I have laughed at some things so hard that I've slid off the couch. I once told my boss a joke about rustics going out for the evening but couldn't get in the roadhouse for the night's entertainment because there was a "two-tooth minimum." She was standing, and did laugh so hard she started to crouch down and nearly hit the floor. It was memorable. I can still see it.

Now TMI has nothing to do with laughing. It means: Too much information. It is usually attached to something someone said or wrote that was of a close personal nature, possibly in the hygienic category, something you didn't really know, or better yet, need to know, but now do, because they can't "walk back" what you just heard. Oy vay.

The Wall Street Journal A-Hed pieces are gems. They are always on an offbeat topic, likely nothing you ever thought anyone would take the time to write about, but once reading them, you're glad you they did.

Take a recent one, July 25, 2018 that carried the heading and sub-heading:

Brushing Teeth in the Shower—Just Fine or totally Gross?
Fans say it saves time and conserves water; opponents say...'sickening'

If you get the feeling you're about to get TMI about some people, who are not anonymous, but fully named, and even photographed, you're right. The great thing about news stories online are the pictures that accompany the text. Great digital photographs, in color, that just aren't in the print edition because of space considerations.

Thus, the online edition of these A-Hed piece shows in glorious color two female college roommates who are on opposite sides of the shower-brushing-your-teeth divide. Pictured above are Cassie Special on the left and Annalise Hoffman on the right; shower/not shower brushers.

The girls are happy, smiling, showing off sparkling teeth. They could be in ads for dental products or HMOs. Since both sets of teeth seem clean despite the venue of brushing, what are the pros and cons of shower brushing about? You asked a great question: time, and water conservation. If you do anything to conserve water you're newsworthy, even if there are those who seriously doubt your efforts contribute to maintaining reservoir levels.

The A-Had piece contains several stories of those who do and don't brush their teeth in the shower. Frankly, I never heard of anyone brushing their teeth in the shower. When Annalise realized her roommate Cassie was a shower brusher she was freaked out.

Again, the great thing about the online story is the picture of the sealed holder Cassie keeps her toothbrush in in the shower. Since the girls are five in their dorm suite, keeping things separate and labeled is important.

Mouth rinsing in the shower is discussed. The jury is still out on whether anyone actually saves water when they brush in the shower. Saving time is a possibility, and it reminds me of the lyrics to the Broadway musical "Pajama Game" where one of the cast members, who is a time and motion expert, sings of saving time by going to bed dressed and sleeping in their clothes. "My suit gets mussed, but think of the time I save." He further presents his case for time saving by telling the audience he shaves in bed as well..."the lather drips and the bed gets wet...but think of the time I save."

The musical is from the 1950s, so I have no doubt that brushing your teeth in the shower is anything new. Reporting on it might be. But that's where the fun is.

The A-Hed piece is full of TMI. But it is a fun read, but closes with even more TMI than you might imagine.

Dustin Guillotte, a 30-year-old hotel worker from New Iberia, LA shared his brushing habits by telling the reporter Patrick Thomas that he started brushing his teeth in the shower eight years ago when he was working at Chili's to save time and not be late for work. It worked so well he became a permanent convert.

When Dustin's boyfriend noticed the tooth brush in the shower he couldn't believe it. But Mr. Guillotte made a convert of the unnamed boyfriend, and since they married, there are now two toothbrushes hanging in the shower.

TMI. There is no end to what people will tell you.

Monday, August 6, 2018

It Was 1941

As with so many things, one thing lead to another.

I read of someone who was a Rear Admiral, and it was further noted the rank is equivalent to a two-star general, a Major General. I know there are four levels of flag rank for the Army, Air Force and Marines, ending with a full, four-star general, but if a Rear Admiral were a two star, what happened to one-star? A Rear Admiral is the first level of Naval flag rank.

This only attracted my attention because one of my father's older brothers, George, was a career naval officer and retired as a Rear Admiral. I do remember when he was buried in Arlington in 1968 he got a 19-gun salute. I said to myself, yikes, two more volleys and was the president.

The whole Rear Admiral query sent me to the website developed by his son's wife. George Jr. was also a career naval officer, and retired as a Commander. Janice assembled an array of information of dates and photos that I still sometimes reference.

It turns out that prior to 1981, a Rear Admiral was considered equal to a Major General. After 1981 two levels were instituted, lower and upper Rear Admiral—one and two stars. A Vice Admiral would be three stars, and equal to a Vice General.

If finding this out ended there, there is no posting. But along the way I came across the NYT society page of November 7, 1941 (Friday) where it was described that my uncle and his bride to be were the guests at a New York party hosted by Dr. Harrison I. Cook.

That would be his first wife, Mildred Martens, the daughter of the Martens family that started Mount Airy Lodge, a once thriving resort in the Poconos. As told by my father, the Martens were Hungarian refugees who started the resort from a small motel.

The column in the Times starts with the headline: Mildred Martens Is Feted at Dinner; sub-headed, She and Fiance Lieut. George De Metropolis Are Guests of Dr. Harrison I. Cook; Bride-Elect is Hostess

Their party is the lead to a summary of several parties that were held the night before, on November 6,  1941. There is no photo, but the guest list is given. My grandparents, George's parents were there, his older brother Angelo and his wife, Mr. and Mrs. Martens, numerous other people who I don't know, some of whom are other naval officers and I assume the ones who held the archway of swords in the photo I remember of George and Mildred leaving the Hellenic Greek Orthodox Cathedral on 74th Street, off Second Avenue on Sunday, November 9.

My uncle's youngest brother Jimmy is not listed as a guest, nor is my father, Ted, who wasn't married at the time. There is one guest described as Dr. Thomas Gavaris. Now Gavaris is my grandmother's maiden name, and she had a brother Tom, but he wasn't a physician. He owned a luncheonette/candy store in Perth Amboy that I remember visiting, Tom's Sweet Shoppe, a name that I'm sure today would not be used.

My great-uncle Tom's name precedes the name Dr. and Mrs. Reginald O.B. Queenan. Perhaps he got a social standing promotion through a typo.

There are 25 other names listed aside from the recognized names. Covering an event like that must have been be a bit of a reporter's nightmare with all those names and initials to get right.

My oldest cousin Connie tells me of being a flower girl at the wedding. Her father, Angelo, was the oldest of the four brothers. My uncle George (also my Godfather) was born in 1909. His wife Mildred was born in 1902, therefore older. I sometimes find it hard to think of anyone born over a hundred years ago as once having been young. But I'm sure my 1940s birthday creates the same feeling in others these days.

Another piece of family history is that the famous picture used in the Mount Airy Lodge ads for decades is that of Mildred. The bathing suit/beach ball photo could be counted on appearing every Sunday in the NYT travel section. The ad became so iconic pop artist Roy Lichtenstein created a pop-art poster of it in the 1980s.

My wife and I once stay at Mount Airy in the 1970s soon after we were married. It was a very popular resort at the time. I remember a giant oil painting of Susanne Martens behind the reception desk. She was the wife of John Martens, the couple who built the resort up from a tiny motel/resort.

The society page notice is found family gold—at least for me.  Just think that on a weekday there was space devoted to social events. Aide from the word "feted" in the headline there are other wording conventions that you would not see today. Mildred is referred to as the "bride-elect." George is referred to as "the bridegroom-elect." Married women are Mrs. and plural single women are Misses.

My uncle and Mildred did not stay married for long. I don't know the full story, but just think of the date of the notice: November 7, 1941. The next 7th of a month the Japanese have bombed Pearl Harbor and the world is forever changed.

My uncle spent the war commanding destroyers in the Pacific. I have no idea what leave he got, but he and Mildred parted ways with no children. My uncle remarried in 1951 and started a family with Maria Clarke.

But for one moment in 1941, the bride-elect and the groom-elect were feted in the Trianon Room of the Ambassador Hotel in NYC.

Sunday, August 5, 2018


Nothing like an obituary to resuscitate the past, in this case the 1950s. The 50s were so long ago I sometimes wonder if I was really alive then. (I was.) You mean you remember Elvis on the Ed Sullivan show? Yep, and remember the adults talking how the world was definitely going to hell in a hand basket. We've been going to hell in a hand basket for so long I wonder why we're not really there yet, bringing back souvenirs and Tweeting up a storm. Regardless, the 50s saw TV catch on, and game shows were the rage.

The 1994 movie "Quiz Show" so lovingly recreated the era. The movie opens with people in NYC rushing up out of the subway, women and men in hats, women wearing white gloves, all anxious to get home in time to prepare dinner and sit down and watch "Twenty-One," or "Tic-Tac-Dough." The country was in game show frenzy.

Popularity of game shows comes and goes, and they all have their life cycle. If anyone remembers "Who Wants to Be A Millionaire" hosted not all that long ago by Regis Philbin on ABC, you can understand the fever. The show was on initially once a week, and quickly spread like a disease to three nights a week. Regis would kid his show saved ABC from financial ruin. He was probably right. All networks need a hit, and '"Who Wants to Be A Millionaire" was one.

And it wasn't just this country. The Australian series 'The Dcotor Blake Mysteries" on PBS  is set in the 1950s, with Dr. Lucien Blake, a police surgeon, smartly dressed with a great looking hat and impeccable manners, acting as a police surgeon for the constabulary in Ballarat, Victoria, a town that sprung up during the gold rush of the 1850s.

Dr. Blake solves crimes through forensic analysis. His wife, an Asian, is presumed dead, someone he met in Malaya when he fought in WW II. His daughter is also presumed dead. His household is his deceased father's old house that he practiced in, he also a police surgeon. Living in the house is Jean, who was the father's receptionist and housekeeper. Jean is a widow, whose husband was killed in action in the WW II.

Maddie, a district nurse, also rooms in the house. Some episodes have one of the young male members of the Ballarat constabulary also living there as well. Meals are boarding house family style, cooked by Jean.

One episode has everyone excitedly gathering around the TV to watch the evening's game show. I don't know what the show was, but this is Australia in the 50s, and the period settings in the show are accurate. And that's what is was like everywhere. Game shows were popular all over the world.

The obituary that kicked off this wave of nostalgia was for Howard Felsher described as a "game show fixer" who has passed away at 90. I never heard of Mr. Felsher, but reading the obit you can see that he was a bit behind the curtain. He was a producer of the popular show Tic-Tac-Dough, a show that was just what it said, placing Xs and Os based on getting questions right. Think Hollywood Squares without the celebrities wising off.

"Game show fixer" doesn't mean someone who took a poor performing show and helped it along by making production changes and jazzing up the set. Although, Mr. Felsher did help goose the ratings by having the contestants fed the answers beforehand in order that the show might generate "excitement, tension, pace, drama, suspense." Make the show more popular.

There were two shows, a daily daytime show and a once a week nighttime prime time version. It was the prime time version that Mr. Felsher was boosting. And popular it became. But then the hearings came around that revealed the rigging. Mr. Felsher never thought what he did was terrible wrong, but he did lie about it to grand juries, and did coach contestants to lie under oath about knowing the answers ahead of time.

Mr. Felsher was never criminally charged, and later came back, somewhat like Nixon, and produced the highly successful show "Family Feud."

The damage to "Tic-Tac-Dough" was collateral to the absolute explosion that occurred to the show "Twenty-One" when contestants went on record admitting they had been fed answers, or even worse, went into the tank like a mob-controlled fighter and let their opponent win. The two shows had common producers.

This was news. This was bigger than U.S. Steel. In the 50s I remember the Kefauver hearings that dove into organized crime that were televised. It was in these televised hearings the godfather Frank Costello calmly toll the committee that, "I pay my taxes," lest anyone think he was Al Capone and could be had for income tax evasion. Frank was a business man. Frank was cool. As a kid my friend remembers having his father, a CBS producer, introduce him to Frank at Toots Shor's; just to say hello.

The lid came off the top when one one of the contestants, Herb Stempel, a wildly successful returning champion (think "Jeopardy's" Ken Jennings) revealed he went into the tank to let Charles Van Doren win. The disclosure came well after Herb purposely misnamed the Academy Award winning  movie of 1955, mumbling out "On the Waterfront" rather than "Marty." Down goes Frazier.

This was 1956 and the earth shook. The show was rigged. Contestants placed in isolation booths by twin models, fitted with clumsy headphones were sweating and wiping their brows, all as part of an act. They had been fed the answers and were pretending extreme thought and outsized relief when they answered correctly.

The "Payola" scandal of radio disc jockeys getting pay for play hadn't yet hit the fan, but when it did, it was revealed to be a widespread practice all across the country in the 1950s. Dick Clark was perhaps the most recognizable figure in the scandal, but he, like Howard Felsher, survived and went on to other things in the media business.

It is almost provincial that congressional hearings of the era centered on game shows and choice of rock n' roll radio programming. We've come a long way baby.

Mr Felscher is seen in the accompanying photo adjusting the game board for "Tic-Tac-Dough" behind the scenes. It shows how mechanical things were then.

Mr. Stempel is still with us, at 91. He became the whistle-blower that shook the game show industry. He described the shenanigans in congressional testimony and in interviews. He expresses annoyance that he is seen as the culprit because he exposed Van Doren's and the show's dishonesty.

The show's producers had figured Herb had his run. The ratings were "plateauing" and they needed to introduce a fresh contestant/champion.  Charles Van Doren had a pedigree. He wasn't a Jewish postal worker from Queens wearing black-rimmed glasses. He was connected to an eminent academic and literary family, and was himself an English professor at Columbia University. His father, Mark Van Doren, was a Pulitzer Prize-winner who also taught at Columbia. Charles Van Doren was getting the shot at the title.

The movie question proved crucial to the "downfall." Three tie games had been rigged in order to goose the ratings. And goosed they were. Listening to the questions you realize they were complex, multi-part questions that usually required the contestant to ask for the question to be repeated. They don't ask questions like that anymore.

Charles Van Doren is also still with us at 92. At a 1959 Senate committee hearing he apologized for his role in the scandal. Thus, all the obituaries surrounding the quiz show scandals have yet to be written. Who gets the bylines?

I remember watching "Twenty-One" with my father. After the scandal broke my father wondered out loud how someone knew the names of two obscure islands in the Pacific in Micronesia. I don't know if it was a Van Doren question, and I don't know what the question really was, but my father, who had served on Guam during WW II for the Corps of Engineers making maps from surveillance photos, expressed some after-the-fact surprise that anyone could name those two islands. At the time he didn't scream "rat" but it was starting to make sense.

That the islands are small doesn't begin to describe them. But they are populated these days, and for the first time athletes from there were represented in the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, Australia ,not that far away from them. Nine hundred athletes competed in 12 sports from the Federated States of Micronesia: they came from the island states of Yap, Chuuk, Pohnpei and Kosrae. There are many  more islands than those four. If anyone was left at home after 900 athletes went to Australia is not known. Guam is nearby, and remains a U.S. possession.

The American bubble of fair play was broken by the scandal, and others that followed. When I used to watch "Who Wants to Be A Millionaire" I always smelled a rat when it seemed too many people from a very affluent part of Nassau County were introduced in the Lightening Round, the rapid fire, finger clicking round that contestants had to get through in order to stay on the show. Things seemed skewed.

I always imagined the Manhattan DA's office was watching. I imagined I'd eventually hear that the producers would be caught selling access to the Lightening Round. It never happened, but my guess is people had friends in the right places.

"Tic-Tac-Dough" and "Twenty One" went on to other iterations, and without scandal. There are plenty of game shows today that one might think askance of, but there's probably little chance anything of  real fraudulent consequence is going on.

The audience base is there. We love the shows.