One of my favorite gambling road trips

I’ll never forget that phone call in February of 2006.  It was from Brian DeJong from River Downs and Beulah Park and he asked me very simply “So do you want it?”  It…was the announcer job at River Downs.  I had only called a handful of races at Portland Meadows so they were taking a shot with a total unknown.  I told him yes right away, not even asking what the pay was.  I didn’t care.  This was my chance.  I had been working for my mom for a couple years as a floor man at her poker room and I hated it.   I remember standing in my upstairs computer room and just screaming “Yes!! Yes!!”   I ran straight down to my mom’s business to tell her the news.  Somewhere on that drive I realized that I was going to have to move cross country in a month.  At the time, I hadn’t left the Seattle/Portland corridor in about two years, so I was nervous about not only moving, but moving 2306 miles from home.  As the trip got closer and closer I decided I was going to make my trip into a vacation.  Here was the itinerary:

Friday: Portland to Sacramento (Cal Expo harness friday night)
Saturday: Sacramento to San Francisco (Golden Gate Fields Saturday)
Sunday morning: San Francisco to Arcadia (Santa Anita)
Sunday evening: Arcadia to Los Alamitos (Los Al)
Sunday night:  After races at Los Al drive to Palm Springs
Monday Morning: Palm Springs to Phoenix (Turf Paradise)
Monday evening: Phoenix to Tucson
Tuesday morning: Tucson to El Paso (Sunland Park)
Wednesday: El Paso to Dallas
Thursday: Dallas to Hot Springs
Friday:  Oaklawn Park
Saturday: Little Rock to Nashville
Sunday: Nashville to Cincinnati

It was an ambitious 9 day trip that was going to consist of a shit load of gambling and a shit load of driving.  I brought $3,000 with me for gambling and somewhat responsibly didn’t play much at Cal Expo or at Golden Gate.  When I pulled into Santa Anita on Sunday I had stayed up most of Saturday evening studying the PP’s.  I went off like a rocket.  I didn’t hit a single thing all day.  I think I ended up dropping like $600 and my bankroll was already about a quarter of the way gone counting my three In N Out runs I’d made on the trip (Redding, Kettleman City, and one in LA somewhere).  I sprinted down the freeway to Cypress California and went to Los Alamitos.  I introduced myself to Mike Joyce and Dave Weaver who were there broadcasting the Quarters.  They were super nice even though they’d of course never heard of me.  When I was walking around I heard Ed Burgart say there was a carryover in the Pick 6.  I thought he said there was a $12,000 carryover so I took a $24 stab at it.  Well I hit each leg and even though it was chalky, with the carryover I thought this might pay well.  Well it turns out the carryover was $1,200 and not $12,000 and it ended up paying a whopping $76.

I drove to Palm Springs that night and the next day got up early and raced to Phoenix.  I went into the office at Turf Paradise and asked if I could meet Luke Kruytbosch.  The lady said he’d be there shortly and sure enough he walked right in.  I introduced myself and told him I was moving to Cincinnati to announce at River Downs and he invited me to come up and hang out with him.  It was surreal.  This guy announced the Kentucky Derby and here he was inviting me up to hang out.  Luke couldn’t have been nicer.  He gave me advice, told me some funny stories and told me some of the characters he knew from River Downs, including a guy named Vince who was the simulcast coordinator.  Well as the card wore on I told Luke I should leave him alone and I went down to the apron to gamble.  Well the last race there I hit a Superfecta that paid $1,800!  I looked up at Luke and was trying to communicate that I made a big hit, but i’m sure to him it just looked like a fat guy dancing.

I drove to Tucson that night, my wallet quite a bit fatter and in the morning I made a b-line through New Mexico and down to El Paso to go visit Sunland Park.  I remember you actually enter Texas and then when you get off the freeway and drive to Sunland, like 2 blocks before you get to the track you cross back into New Mexico.  I spent the whole day with Robert Geller, who I’d known from working at Emerald Downs.  Robert is the best guy ever and we had a blast.  TVG even called and was asking him which horse he liked and he asked me…I said the #3.  Robert says on air “My friend Jason likes the 3….I like the 6, who looks great on the track.”  The 6 was 45/1!  Well it came in 3/6 and TVG called right back after the race and wanted to know if we hit the exacta!  (we didnt).  I do remember there was a horse making its debut named “Scaramouche” and Robert had never heard that word before and I told him I think it was from the song Bohemian Rhapsody.  Well in the race, Scaramouche made a huge move and grabbed the lead at the 1/16th pole.  Robert without missing a beat turns to look at me, away from the track and says “And Scaramouche doing the fandango!”  I died laughing but at the same time admired his immediate wit and ability.

Wednesday was a drive all day through west Texas and then drive to the Lone Star Parking lot just to say I went there.  Thursday was drive to Hot Springs where I was gonna go to Oaklawn the next day.  I ended up that night going to a classy (dive) Gentleman’s Club (strip club) called the French Quarter.  There were two gals dancing there, one older and really thin blonde gal and one younger and thicker blonde gal.  Well the older gal was on the pole and doing some upside down trick and pops her face on the pole and a tooth comes flying out.  She bends over and picks it up and puts it right back in.  It was the strangest and most awesome thing I’ve ever seen in a titty bar.  I mean gentlemen’s club.

I spent the next day at Oaklawn, which if you haven’t been is horseplayer heaven.  I was standing in line waiting to play a trifecta at Gulfstream and some lady, with an hour to post at Oaklawn, was asking questions on how to bet a daily double.  the teller explained and she wasn’t getting it and sure enough I get shutout (the self serves were 3 or 4 people deep).  The tri hits and I would have made $400.  I sat there pissed off and did that passive aggressive move where you curse loud enough about your bad beat so everyone, including the teller and the lady know they cost you $400.  I was a douche.  I ended up hitting 4 out of 6 in the Classix wager and lost a couple hundred bucks.  I was pretty burned out at this point though.  I drove to Nashville the next night and just pigged out on Texas Roadhouse for dinner in my hotel and got up the next morning and finally drove to Cincinnati.  I drove straight to River Downs to look at my new place of employment.  I stopped at White Castle, which was the grossest hamburger I’ve ever had.  They were just awful.  But it was a great adventure and the next two years when I would drive to River Downs I’d make the same drive each time.  Awww to be young.

You might be a horseplayer…..part 2

Monday night I was feeling frisky again and started chugging through a bunch of “You might be a horseplayer if” jokes. So here is Part 2 of the mildly popular series :)


When you refer to your overdrawn bank account as a “minus pool”…you might be a horseplayer
When Ajax is a Canadian QH track and not a cleaning product…you might be a horse player
When you refer to your friend who spends all his time with his spouse as being gelded…you might be a horseplayer
When you gain five pounds and refer to it as losing your bug…you might be a horseplayer
When you can recall how much a 6 horse trifecta box costs faster than you’re birthday…you might be a horseplayer
If you redboard to Andy Serling on twitter… might be a horseplayer
If you’ve ever had an argument with Brooklyn Back stretch…you might be a horseplayer
If you have more tickets in your wallet than credit cards…you might be a horseplayer
If your wife buys a juicer and you make a joke about her buying Doug O’neill….you might be a horseplayer
If the only time you set your alarm for 5am is cause it’s Dubai World Cup Day….you might be a horseplayer
If you know the name of the morning line maker at NYRA but not your wife’s best friend…you might be a horseplayer
When you refer to your oldest child as your first crop….you might be a horseplayer
When you refer to the start time of any event in your life as post time…you might be a horseplayer
When you get a cramp during sex and tell your partner you’ve been pulled up…you might be a horseplayer
When 95% of your ATM withdrawals occur at the OTB…you might be a horseplayer
When you get stood up and refer to your date as a scratch….you might be a horseplayer
If you bought satellite just to hear Steve Byk….you might be a horseplayer
When you refer to monday and tuesdays as days off…even though you worked…you might be a horseplayer
If the guy at 7-11 bends under the counter to grab a form when he sees you walking in the parking lot…you might be a horseplayer
If you complain about food trucks at the tracks on big days….you might be a horseplayer
If you still call Parx “Keystone Park” because that’s what it was called when you started gambling…you might be a horseplayer
When you name your pets after famous race horses….you might be a horseplayer
When your belt has a halter name plate on it….you might be a horseplayer
If you’ve actually heard of Chester, West Virginia…you might be a horseplayer
When you say Exactor just because it’s more fun to say….you might be a horseplayer
If you correct people when they say Trevor Denman is “british”….you might be a horseplayer
If you tell your friends you’re going to Inglewood after dark on a Friday….you must be a horseplayer
If the only french you know is “Il Sont Partis”….you might be a horseplayer
If you assume any girl named Laurel was named after the track in Maryland…you might be a horseplayer
If you were more sad when Suffolk closed down than when your house got foreclosed…you might be a horseplayer
When you know exactly how to say “Dakota” or Nebraska backwards…you might be a horseplayer
When you’re more familiar with Larry Lederman than David Letterman…you might be a horseplayer
If your HANA membership card is more prominently positioned in your wallet than your license…you might be a horseplayer
When you’ve been to more tracks in your lifetime than relatives houses….you might be a horseplayer
If you don’t know who Dan Tordjman is but know who Danonymous is…you might be a horseplayer
If you’ve ever been up at 4am and talked Zimbabwe racing with @chare889 on twitter…you might be a horseplayer
If someone mentions Dubai in casual conversation and your first thought is of Pat Cummings…you might be a horseplayer
If you’ve ever had a negative tweet typed and ready to go in case Baffert wins the race…you might be a horseplayer
If you know who Joe Withee is but can’t name the speaker of the house….you might be a horseplayer
If you Iphone has Pletcher in autocorrect…you might be a horseplayer
If the DRF has only two tracks in it for $7 and you still buy it…you might be a horseplayer
If you feel like you know your horse racing twitter friends better than your co-workers…you might be a horse player

If you think down on people who play slots yet you’ll bet a race with no pp’s…you might be a horseplayer
If you text your friends because you saw Deshawn Parker at the grocery store… might be a horseplayer
If you’ve ever scanned a bank of TV’s at the OTB looking for the next race that is 0 MTP…you might be a horseplayer
When you refer to your hottest sexual partners as “stakes caliber”…you might be a horseplayer
If you’ve ever gotten into a twitter argument with Bruno the Clocker….you might be a horseplayer
If you’ve ever sent in a complaint email or tweet about Todd Schrupp…you might be a horseplayer
If you’re willing to walk 2 miles to the track to save $4 on parking….you might be a horseplayer
If you get enraged that NYRA doesn’t run on Palm Sunday….you might be a horseplayer
If you’re youngest is a star athlete and you refer to yourself as a leading third crop sire…you might be a horseplayer
If your Hall Pass girl is a paddock hostess… might be a horseplayer
If a $0.25 DRF price increase ends up costing you more than a 10% income tax hike…you might be a horseplayer
If you know the fastest way from Santa Anita to Los Al on a Saturday night….you might be a horseplayer
When you refer to your inlaws as your wife’s “Connections”…you might be a horseplayer
If your son breaks his leg at soccer and you tell your wife “he snapped one off”….you might be a horseplayer
If you really weren’t surprised how much Scott Blasi cursed….you might be a horseplayer
If a girls tells you “you hung” and you think it means you didn’t finish strong….you might be a horseplayer

If on Kentucky Derby day friends you don’t talk to all year text you out of the blue….you might be a horseplayer
If you hoped Steve Coburn would keep blabbing his mouth cause it would keep racing in the headlines…you might be a horseplayer
if you have more Kentucky Derby glasses than regular glasses in your house….you might be a horseplayer
If you felt guilty when Gary Stevens quit twitter cause you always talked shit to him….you might be a horseplayer
If you remember the name of the horse that cost you money but can’t remember your address….you might be a horseplayerIf you’ve ever gotten into a twitter feud with Bayern Colt or the old Palace Malice account….you might be a horseplayer
If a little piece of your heart died when Christine Oliveras got married….you might be a horseplayer
If you’ve ever lied about where some extra money came from… might be a horseplayer
If the only time you’ve called your congressman was to object to a takeout increase….you might be a horseplayer (last one I promise)

You might be a horseplayer

I had some fun last night writing and tweeting out a series of jokes in the vein of Jeff Foxworthy’s “you might be a redneck if…”.  Only all mine were about horse players.  It really just started out with one joke about Australia gamblers and next thing I know, I pulled open a horse racing glossary and just made the first jokes that came to mind.  People seemed to get a kick out of them, so I thought I’d write em all down.   So enjoy!

If you’ve ever postponed sex to catch one more race from Australia B….you might be a horseplayer

If you refer to your pregnant wife as In foal……you might be a horseplayer

If you refer to your most talented daughter as ‘The Big Mare’….you might be a horseplayer

If you’ve ever been late to a date cause you were in your car watching 4th from Ellis Park on Horse RacesNow app…you might b a horseplayer

If you refer to the taxes taking out of your paycheck as takeout…you might be a horse player

If your vacation destination is Cypress, CA or Arlington Heights, IL…you might be a horse player

If you pay $7 for a newspaper… might be a horse player

If you’ve ever told your wife that your in the mall while you’re at the OTB…you might be a horseplayer

If your 4 year old gets a nose bleed and you tell your wife to give him lasix….you might be a horse player

If you get pissed at your child for having their wedding on the 1st Saturday in May….you might be a horseplayer

If you’ve brought homework to the track….you might be a horseplayer

If you pretend you’re a jockey while driving through traffic…you might be a horseplayer

If you know who Frank Miramahdi is but don’t know your own neighbor…you might be a horseplayer

If you refer to a virgin as an apprentice…you might be a horseplayer

If you refer to your hottest sexual conquest at “Black Type”….you might be a horseplayer

If you refer to red heads as “chestnuts”…you might be a horseplayer

When instead of a ring, you hang a claiming tag on your spouse at the wedding…you might be a horseplayer

When you refer to your trainer at the gym as the “Clerk of Scales”…you might be a horseplayer

When you know Ken Ramsey’s silks but not your own anniversary…you might be a horseplayer

When you refer to your wife’s inlaws as her “connections.”….you might be a horseplayer

When your wife puts on earmuffs and you tell her she looks like Gate Dancer…you might be a horse player

When you actually took the time to figure out how many “hands” tall you were….you might be a horseplayer

If you’ve ever called someone to brag about a losing bet….you might be a horseplayer

When you and your friends rate the attractiveness of people of the opposite sex by using claiming prices…you might be a horseplayer

when you call a 126 pound man ‘5 pounds overweight”… might be a horseplayer

when you flunked junior high math but know exactly how many yards are in 5 furlongs…you might be a horseplayer

when your ring tone is the call to post…you might be a horseplayer

When your buddy brags about banging a hot chick last week and you tell him to stop redboarding…you might be a horseplayer

when you associate the #9 with turquoise…you might be a horseplayer

when you refer to yourself as a “insert state you’re from”–bred….you might be a horseplayer

when you feel like your know Mark and Nancy from Mountaineer better than your coworkers…you might be a horseplayer

when you’re nervous for something and refer to yourself as “washing out”…you might be a horseplayer

When you don’t know what country Dubai is in but do know the name of the big track there….you might be a horseplayer

If you get more upset when Belmont and Keeneland run a race at the same time than if your wife cheats on you…you might be a horseplayer

when your neighbor says he’s going to Philly for business trip and you tell him about Parx Trifecta takeout rate…you might b a horseplayer

when someone cures cancer and you still put them down on twitter….you might be a horseplayer

When you’re more upset about a $0.50 DRF price increase than your house value decreasing 100k…you might be a horseplayer

when a random side character in a movie or show has a DRF in his hand and he/she immediately becomes your favorrite…u might b. a h-player

If you feel like you and Dave Weaver would be the best of friends if you met….you might be a horseplayer

when you know more about Zenyatta’s first foal than your first nephew…you might be a horse player

When a job application asks you if you belong to any groups or organizations and you list HANA…you might be a horseplayer

If you know who Chuck Dybdal is and you think he looks like Santa Claus….you might be a horse player

If the last book you read was Beyer on Speed in 1987….you might be a horseplayer

When meeting Vic Stauffer is more exciting than your sisters graduation from might be a horseplayer (that’s me)

When you bring up to your therapist feelings of sadness about Palace Malice might be a horseplayer

When your only knowledge of political goings on comes from PaceAdvantage Off Topic section…you might be a horseplayer

When every time you use the word “gaining” you say it like Mike Battaglia….you might be a horseplayer

If a horse racing topic trends nationally and you feel prouder than when you graduated college….you might be a horse player

When you talk like Michael Wrona for 2 hours after watching a race from Golden Gate…you might be a horseplayer

when you’ve debated whether to get a 3 piece from KFC or play a $5 ticket at Yonkers….you might be a horseplayer

When you spend more time watching ‘s webcast than you do Netflix…you might be a horseplayer

when you blame traffic for you being late and not the fact that two horses scratched at the gate… might be a horseplayer

If you refuse to let your spouse throw out a shirt from a track you went to in 1989…you might be a horse player

When someone asks you who your celebrity crush is and you reply with a paddock host….you might be a horseplayer

If your autocorrect on your phone knows the word Pletcher….you might be a horseplayer

When the only Bing Crosby song you know is “where the turf meets the surf”…you might be a horseplayer

If people ask if you’ve ever met a celebrity and you say you’ve met John Conte….you might be a horseplayer

If the only time you’ve watched Lettermen in the last decade is cause Victor Espinoza was on…you might be a horseplayer

If you tell your kid you’re not taking them trick or treating cause it interferes with Breeders Cup Friday…you might be a horseplayer

If after a big winning day you were convinced you could make a living playing the horses…you might be a horseplayer

If 4 of your best friends are total strangers who you talk about Los Alamitos on twitter with….you might be a horseplayer

If you can list Larry Collmus’ resume faster than your own….you might be a horseplayer

When you complain PP’s aren’t out 5 days before a race then don’t look at them til the night before….you might be a horseplayer

When your fingers have muscle memory for dialing up TVG an you dont even have to look at the remote…you might be a horseplayer

When you list of heroes in life includes “GetTheLosAlEdge” and “JJ”….you might be a horseplayer

When you get reassigned to San Antonio for a job and the first thing you do is check when Retama Park runs…you might be a horseplayer

If you’ve ever been yelled at on twitter by Andy Serling… might be a horseplayer

If you’ve ever had a twitter battle with Adam from Canada….you might be a horseplayer

If you’ve blamed an announcer for your horse losing….you might be a horseplayer

If you think Mike Joyce resembles Hideki Irabu….you might be a horseplayer

If the only time you’ve been to a food truck is cause they were in the infield of the track….you might be a horseplayer

If you can name who won the 1989 BC Classic faster than you can name who was President in 1989…you might be a horseplayer

if you scoured YouTube to find the Tom Durkin Match Game clip….you might be a horseplayer

If someone asks you if you’ve ever had your heart broken and you tell them about Smarty’s Belmont Stakes..u might be a horseplayer

If someone moves up a few notches of attractiveness to you because of their racing tweets…you might be a horseplayer

If every couple of months you wonder what happened to Frank Lyons…you might be a horseplayer

when you say “I would have had the tri” cause the 3 you boxed in the exacta ran 1 thru 3…you might be a horseplayer

If you complain about $2 admission but happily throw $20 at a tout from a toothless guy….you might be a horseplayer

If the only time you’ve made a bet at Balmoral was cause everything else was done running….you might be a horseplayer

If the only concert you’ve been to in the last decade was a Hollywood Park Friday night event…you might be a horseplayer

From Vic Stauffer: If you watch a losing replay hoping for a better trip. You might be a horseplayer


Happy Birthday to my mommy!

Today is my mom’s 58th birthday.  I didn’t get to see her as there are a few hundred miles between us, but I talked to her and thought of her quite a bit.  Her and I are very close and I’ve always felt so blessed to have her in my life.  She really is the best person I know for a lot of reasons.  She has been in my corner and behind me at all points in my life, whether things were going well or going bad.  I remember one time asking her one time about what she remembers about being pregnant with me and me as a baby.  She sent me this long email and told me about everything from before, during and after my birth.  But this paragraph just killed me….in the best possible way.

“I have always felt so fortunate with you………  I got everything I wanted with you…   I loved every moment of being pregnant with you, every moment of your being a baby….  (I was always thankful to your Dad that I was able to stay home with you as much as I did) and every year was a delight.   You were such a happy and fun kid……You made everything better.   Watching the world thru your eyes was so fun………Definitely, my favorite part of my life……..  Thank you so much…….I love you, Mom”

I still get teary eyed reading that.  Our bond has always been special.  Through my personal struggles with addiction and anxiety/depression she’s still been a steady supporter at all times.  One of the most special gifts I was given this past year was to have my novel published and to get the chance to thank my friends and family in a public way was a true blessing.  The words I wrote to my mom in the acknowledgment are some of the words I’m most proud of in the book.  I think they convey the way I feel about her and how I think about her.

“And to my mother. You are all things. All things good. All things love. All things courage. All things beauty. All things grace. I’ve never known a greater blessing than you.   You were the only sure thing in a life filled with long shots. This book and this life are written more for you than anyone.   You are my hero.”


Gambling with Pete Rose

Some of my favorite gambling stories come from my time at River Downs and gambling with baseball legend Pete Rose.  Pete’s best friend from back in the day is Arnie, who is the equibase guy at River/Belterra.  Well I had gotten to be friends with Arnie and whenever Pete was in town we’d all hang out.  Gamble in the OTB after the races, go to dinner, go to events, it was super fun.  Pete was always amazingly nice to me and I even had him on my radio show once (below).   I often tell these stories around other folks and they always get a laugh.  I don’t know how they’ll translate in writing without my witty verbal storytelling, but here goes.

Story 1:  River Downs bar

We’re sitting at the bar in the old River Downs simulcast area.  The races are over, it’s a Tuesday night, pretty sparse crowd.  It’s just me and Arnie and Pete at the bar and some other guys a few seats down.  Well all of a sudden this young black family walks up to us.  The little boy, probably 9 years old says “Mr. Rose could I have your autograph?”  Well Pete looks at the kid and says “I’ll do you one better kid.”  Pete looked over at Arnie and asked him “Arnie who you like in this next race at Great Lakes Downs?”  Arnie hadn’t looked at the form, but saw there was an entry at even money so told him that was who he liked.  So Pete takes a $100 bill out of his stack, he would always show up with a lunch sack with thirty or forty grand in it to bet with.  Pete hands the little kid the $100 and says “Here…go tell your old man to bet $100 to win on the #1 at Great Lakes Downs.”  The kids face lit up as he looked at his dad who smiled at him and they walked over and made the bet.  Well turns out it was a 2 furlong Michigan bred 2 year old race and the entry didn’t even hit the board.  So the dad and his son walked back over and asked “Mr. Rose could you maybe sign the losing ticket for him?”  Well Pete, never one to give up, said “No God Damnit we’re gonna get you a winner.  Arnie, who you like at Indiana Downs in the next race.”  Well Arnie had been capping this race and said he liked the #4 horse at a nice price, 7/1.  So Pete gives the kid the instructions to bet the #4 at Indiana Downs.  The dad walks over and makes the bet and the #4 breaks beautifully and goes right to the front.  John Bothe is calling the action and as the #4 turns into the homestretch, the whole bar is starting to yell cause everyone knows what’s going on.  This very quiet family is screaming at the televisions.  Pete and Arnie and I are all hollering and whipping our DRF’s against the bar.  The #4 holds on and wins by a neck!!  The place went nuts!  So the results go official and the dad goes and cashes out for $800, and brings the money straight back to Pete.  “Here you go Mr. Rose.” He says.  Well Pete looks at him and the kids and says “You keep it.  Take the kids out to Toys R Us or take them somewhere nice to eat like Sizzler or something.”  I almost spit out my drink when Sizzler was his nice restaurant recommendation.  The family was jumping and cheering, I mean they’d just been given $800 by the Hit King.

So no more than 5 minutes later, Pete plays a $500 straight tri and $1000 straight exacta at Mountaineer and hits them both for like a total of twenty four grand.  We’re all screaming and yelling and the guy down the bar from us says “Pete that’s karma for helping out that family!”

So now fast forward another two hours.  The mountain is just about done.  I think there’s a race or two at yonkers and balmoral left and Pete’s pissed back about 15k of the 24k score.  He looks over at Arnie, and in the most deadpan delivery ever says “Arnie we gotta do something to change up our luck……..go find me another black kid quick!.”   I just about fell off my stool laughing.

Story 2:  A-Rod

We’re sitting in the same River Downs bar and Pete gets a text.  It’s from Alex Rodriguez.  He and Pete had gotten to be buddies over the off season and talk hitting alot.  Well A-Rod’s text to Pete says “Pete, I need some help.  I’m 0 for my last 14…got any advice?”  So Pete replies to the text and we move on with our handicapping.  Arnie asks Pete “What did you tell Alex?”  Pete pulls out his phone and says “I told him the truth.”  So me and Arnie look at the phone and here was the reply….”Alex….I have no idea how to help you out of this one.  I never went 0 for 14.”

Story 3: Mom

My mom and I had driven down to Churchill Downs on a Wednesday to play the races there.  She made $100 and I lost $200.  I had handicapped all night, she played birthday numbers.  Well as we’re driving back Arnie calls me and says “Hey Pete and I are in the VIP room at Turfway.  It’s just us and they’ve put out some food.”  So we go there and my mom who is a lifelong baseball fan is having a total kick getting to hang out with Pete.  But Pete is losing this night.  Pretty badly.  So a race at Delta Downs gets ready to go to post and My mom says “let’s do the bet where you box three horses.”  A trifecta mom.  So we play the two favorites, the 1 and the 3 and throw in a bomb, the 10 horse who is 20/1.  I hear Pete tell Arnie “Give me a $1000 straight exacta 1 and 3.”   So the 1 goes out on the lead and the 3 is chasing him and they’re like 5 in front of everyone.  They get to the top of the lane and they’re both gassed and only one horse is flying.  The 10.  My mom starts screaming “that’s our horse J, that’s our horse”.  It’s 1 and 3 literally to the final jump when the 10 blows by them.  10-1-3.  My mom is cheering and screaming for our $280 hit while Pete is sitting there just pissed off.  He finally snaps and says “Don’t worry, your 10 horse only cost me a grand.”  My mom felt so bad and sat there the rest of the night not saying much.  He was actually really nice to her after that, but you could tell he was irritated.

What racing could learn from Wrestling

I’ve had the “how to save horse racing” conversation so many times in the last ten years, that honestly I don’t even have it anymore.  I leave it to people much smarter than me.  I just want to show up, do the best job I can, try to introduce as many new people to the sport as possible and do what I think is right and good.  That being said, i’m a wrestling fan.  Yes I enjoy the ‘fake’ sport of wrestling. I love the athleticism, the story lines, the ridiculousness and the characters.  And I think racing could learn some things from wrestling that would make the product awesome!

1.  Big Entrances!!

So the Kentucky Derby does up the entrance of the horses onto the track, with people singing and crying and it’s something everyone remembers! Yet the other 20,000 races each year we do a call to post from a guy wearing a uniform that without fail always looks douchy and then they come out and we say their names in a monotone voice.  How bout some music… bout some “lets get ready to rumblllllllllllllle”.  Those entrances are always memorable.  Michael Buffer is a zillionaire because of them.  One of the best entrances in Wrestling is Bray Wyatt (shown below).  Imagine California Chrome and Steve Coburn backstage at the Belmont, they hit the lights (yes we should race more at night) zoom in on Steve who says “New York….we’re here!” and then cue the music and all the cell phone lights at CC comes on to the track!  It would be the most awesome entrance ever!

2.  We need heels!

Heels are the bad guys in wrestling.  Just imagine if Calvin Borel is giving a nice interview to Gino on TVG and then out of no where, BAM!  Drops Gino with a huge right hand!  Then stands over him and tells him off!  The crowd boos and now everyone hates Calvin!  Calvin comes onto the track for the next race and you get 20,000 people in the stands booing him while he’s raising the roof on horseback!  It would be incredible!   When Dale Romans and Indian Charlie got into a tustle, we missed a huge opportunity.  They could have ran with that gimmick at least through Breeders’ Cup!  But instead, they suspended IC and Romans made one joke about his pants and it was over.  You gotta embrace your feuds!  Look at Baffert.  He’s a total heel!  Some people love him and some people hate him, but guess what, he puts butts in the seats!!!  Embrace the heels of racing!  Listen to the crowd go wild when a “good girl” turns on her sister!

3.  Championship Belts

How awesome would it be if Wise Dan strolled into the paddock with a championship belt over his neck.  And if you beat the champ, you get the belt.  Plus after the races, we announcers could live out our Howard Finkel fantasies and say ‘And NEEEEEEEWWWWWW Male older turf champion……Optmizer!” (that’ll never happen.)  But just like WWE, if you sit out and go to the bench, you forfeit the title.  We need active champions!!

4.  Pay per views

As I type this all I’m hearing is the HANA crowd saying (we already pay enough for this damn sport).  Well this is a parody piece, so calm the fuck down you guys.  I’ve been a big advocator for “big days” at tracks.  It seems kinda pointless to have stakes races every week at some tracks when instead, once a month, you have a big event at your track with stakes and lots of goings on.  You use the whole month to build up to that day, build excitement and more.  It’s really hard to turn customers into 5 or 6 day a week bettors like many of us are.  However, it’s not that hard to turn them into once a month or once every two week participants.  Create huge events that people will remember and talk about and that create buzz.  The WWE does this with their once a month pay per views.  They build the excitement and then if you want to watch the big payoff, you show up on that one day (and you fork over your money cause you have to see it!  There’s demand!!)

5.  Factions

One of the coolest things in wrestling are factions.  Groups that team up for one common cause!  Imagine if Baffert and Pletcher and D. Wayne all teamed up to form the Silver Foxes!  I’d buy that t-shirt!  Baffert wins a stake and Pletcher and Lukas are in the winner’s circle with him celebrating and taunting the other trainers as they walk back to their barn with their heads hung low!  Everytime they cut an interview with Christina Oliveras the other guys are standing right behind them, sweating and looking like their ready to explode their so jacked up for the race!  I mean, the greatest faction in wrestling is called “The Four Horsemen!”  Factions and Horsemen go hand and hand!

6.  Crooked Referees!

Wait, we already have those.

7.  Managers!!!

Is there anything worse than interviews in horse racing?  Especially jockeys!  “I was really just a passenger.  I want to thank Mr. (insert trainer and owner). blah blah blah blah!!”  I can tell you what each jockey is gonna say before they say it.  So how do you remedy that?  Give them a manager!!!  Managers are supposed to be great talkers.  Imagine Zoe Cadman asking Joe Talamo “Joe tell me about your trip?” and Joe’s new manager jumps in and says “Let me tell you something Zoe…..these other riders are all riding for second.  Did you see the move smoking Joe made at the quarter pole when he shutoff espinoza?  That was the stuff of legend.  That was Arcaro!  That was Shoemaker!  Espinoza couldn’t carry Joe’s goggles as a jockey!  And that’s why we’re number 1″


Track Announcer’s favorite Tom Durkin memories

Like most horse racing fans, I’ve spent a lot of time this week thinking about the great Tom Durkin, who is retiring from the announcers booth at the end of this weekend.  He’s been a profound part of so many memories of horseplayers and fans for decades now.  He’s also been a huge influence for many of the announcers in the country. His status as one of the most respected racecallers in the United States is not in question and I thought it would be fun to ask many of the racecallers what their favorite Tom Durkin racecall was from his masterful career.  The problem with this question is each guy probably has twenty answers.  For me it will always be Smarty Jones and Birdstone in the Belmont Stakes.  The last quarter mile of that race is just too much greatness for any race to have.  There’s just so many.  But here are what some of the announcers from around the country had to say as their favorite Tom Durkin moments.

Vic Stauffer (Hollywood Park)

“Bertrando STUNNED at the inside with the move here of Arazi”

It’s one thing to pick up a huge move. Quite another to incorporate how the defeated favorite is reacting. That’s race calling on a whole different level to us mere mortals. I had the privilege of standing about 6 feet behind Tom on the back tier inside the Churchill Downs announcers booth that day. I was handling the non race call announcements.  It was on that day I knew definitively as long as Tom was calling I could NEVER be the best announcer in the country. No chance.

Magic, Genius, Touched, Destined. The unconquerable, invincible, unbeatable Tom Durkin.

Peter Berry (Mountaineer Park) 

“Arazi, BC Juvenile. “Bertrando a stunned second” magnificently captured one of racing’s most historic moments”

Michael Chamberlain (Turf Paradise, Vernon Downs)

“I am going to off the board a bit and go with the 1992 Breeders’ Cup Sprint and Classic. The Sprint, which was Bob Baffert’s first BC win by the way, was a great finish with Thirty Slews getting up at the end to beat out Meafara. The way Durkin exclaimed, “Thirty Slews surges to victory” caught the moment perfectly and I have actually used it occasionally myself in some race calls.

Later that afternoon in the Classic, won by A.P. Indy, Durkin caught the move at the quarter-pole where A.P. Indy got going and the stretch call and finish, where he said, “A.P. Indy WINS the Breeders’ Cup Classic by three conclusive lengths” again was ideal for the circumstance. A.P. Indy likely needed that victory to be named Horse Of The Year, which he was. The inclusion of the word conclusive made the point that needed to be made and it’s having that capacity to know what was on the line as it was happening that made Tom Durkin the best in this business.”

Michael Wrona (Golden Gate Fields, Santa Rosa)

“In my role of calling the non-Breeders’ Cup races and making all Public Address announcements, I was in the booth with Tom for the 1993 Breeders’ Cup Classic at Santa Anita. I’ll never forget becoming petrified that he had the wrong horse taking the lead in the stretch, as the obscure longshot Arcangues burst forth. There had been another European horse (Ezzoud) with similar silks in a similar position – indeed, Arcangues came from directly behind Ezzoud in upper stretch – and I was fearful that Tom was heading for a catastrophic mistake. Afterwards I asked him about the potential confusion, and he said he identified Arcangues by a white mark on the horse’s forehead. In that moment, my respect and admiration for him skyrocketed to a level I reserve for very few in the profession.”

John McGary (Evangeline Downs)

“my favorite racecall of his in the 1993 BC Classic. Just a terrific racecall where he rattled off several horses in the world’s most important race with his terrific voice and cadence and immediately seized the moment (a huge upset looming, an absolute shocker, he’s 99-1!! Etc.)”

Don Stevens (Delta Downs)

I would have to say the 2001 Breeders’ Cup Classic, won by Tiznow, was my favorite. The race came just six weeks after the awful tragedy of the September 11 attacks and of course it took place at Belmont Park. Durkin’s call of “…here’s the wire, desperately close, Tiznow wins it for America!” will always be etched in my memory.

The race was very historic as Tiznow was the reigning Horse of the Year and he became the first to win the Classic in back-to-back years. I’ve also gotten to know Chris McCarron over the last several years with his work on the $1,000,000 Delta Downs Jackpot race and this was his fifth win the Classic. What a great rider, what a great horse, and what an incredible race call by a legend that I will always consider to be the gold standard when it comes to track announcers.”

Bill Downes (Indiana Downs, Beulah Park)

“My favorite race call to this day is the 1987 Breeders Cup Classic.  Alysheba and Ferdindad hitting the finish almost in tandem.  Hollywood Park is literally going nuts.  I get goosebumps even though I have literally watched that race 200 times.

I don’t think Durkin gets enough credit for the 1988 Breeders Cup Classic which took place in the dark before Churchill Downs had lights had giant video boards.”

Jonathan Horowitz (Arapahoe Park, Zia Park)

“My favorite race call by Tom Durkin is when he announced Yakahickamickadola in a race at Hialeah on April 25, 1989. Even when doing something as simple as saying a horse’s name in a claiming race, Tom has the ability to create a lasting impression through his thoughtful and purposeful delivery.”

John G. Dooley (Arlington Park, FairGrounds)

“I’ll always have a special place in my racing heart for the 1988 Breeders Cup Distaff. Having worked in the NYRA Press Office from 1987-March, 91, I had covered Personal Ensign and the McGaughey Stable often during that Fall Championship Meet. I also had spent time around the D.Wayne Lukas barn too so felt a connection to both. But was more rooting for the New York horse to keep her win streak alive! 

So the match up loomed at Churchill Downs of the undefeated East Coaster Personal Ensign and Kentucky Derby winner Winning Colors. The far end of the Aqueduct Press Box in the growing darkness of that Saturday watching it all unfold along with a few members of the NYRA Press Corp. Hanging on every stride. Every mud splattered furlong by furlong in Louisville. And as they turned for home, Tom exhaulted, “Here comes Personal Ensign, unleashing a furious run on the outside.” 

A Derby winner, an undefeated filly, A Breeders Cup Crown at stake and so it came down to….as called by Tom, with racing immortality on the line, “A dramatic finish! And it is Personal Ensign there with Winning Colors in a photo. At the 1/16th pole it looked like Personal Ensign was facing her first defeat, but in those courageous 110 final yards, she certainly proved herself a Champion this afternoon.” 

Will never forget that race! As perfectly described by the Voice of the Breeders Cup. Happy retirement Tom.”

Travis Stone (Monmouth Park)

“Picking out just one call from Tom’s career would be like selecting Beethoven’s best symphony, or Mozart’s best sonata, or Shakespeare’s best verse. That said, when you consider the emotion, attention and anticipation surrounding the 2004 Belmont Stakes, it’s hard to imagine a better race call than those two and one-half minutes.

While he had a career full of amazing dramatic lines (“unconquerable, invincible, unbeatable” or “one final acceleration” or “Tiznow wins it for America”) the delivery of “Birdstone wins the Belmont Stakes” might have been his best. So simple, yet so powerful with the appropriate dose of drama and emotion. He will be missed.”

Peter Aiello (Hialeah Park, Gulfstream Park)


Frank Miramahdi (Oaklawn Park, Cal Fairs)

“Belmont Stakes between Real Quiet and Victory Gallop.  Incredible preparation and delivery of the final line “A picture is worth a thousand words, this one is worth five million dollars,” said with genuine emotion.”