Every year around this time old school memories start to pop up on how I got involved in this crazy game. With all the material I have, I could write a book. Rumors have it that one is indeed in the making. Today we’ll just make it simple and talk about horse racing as horse racing is first and foremost in my heart.
I remember coming into the game around the time Secretariat and Sham were doing battle. I was torn between the two as the media touted Sham but my older brother was in Sham’s corner. I ended up falling in love with Secretariat and rooted for him every time he stepped on the track. “Big Red” will be the best horse I saw compete, not in person but over the television. I have lots of favorites but stand firm on him being the best horse I have seen in my lifetime. You’ll never change my opinion on ‘Red.
I really got hooked the first time I set foot at Santa Anita. It was on a Sunday as my family and another big time horse racing family set foot into the infield for a family picnic. I can’t remember the exact amount of cash I brought but remember I had a banner day wagering on horses to show and walked out with much more than I went in with. For a runny nose kid of about 12 years old, it wasn’t a bad day and I thought I had found the secret of making cash. On the drive home I figured “who needs to mow lawns when I can bet on the horses.”
Of course that idea went out the window when I lost on all of my next wagers but I was still hooked. There was something to be learned here I thought and if I stick with it I’ll be able to make cash. While that was sound reasoning at the time, there was still so much to learn about money management, bankroll, etc.
I maybe was the youngest subscriber to the Los Angeles Herald Examiner. I idolized the public handicapper’s … Jerry Antonucci, Professor Gordon Jones and the other ‘cappers that had their picks listed in the consensus box. At the end of the day, the horse section in the sports page was marked up like I was an old pro. I didn’t really know what I was marking up but all I knew is I was learning and was fascinated at the game.
I soon found myself riding with my mom in the morning as she would often take my dad to work. Heading west on route 66, I would ask “turn it on KIEV.” Each morning KIEV gave out scratches and changes with Bill Garr who gave a 15 minute radio report on a.m. radio. Back in the days, the radio was the source. Internet? What is the internet? I soon found out that scratches in the mornings meant the horses wouldn’t be running that afternoon and less horses to concentrate on. Thanks KIEV! Plus jockey changes were important too! I don’t like jockey “A” but what if all of a sudden jockey “B” was riding? More powerful information I needed to learn about.
I also marveled at the “touts” ads printed in the Examiner that would run at the bottom of the page. I even called them trying to pry information from them for free. Mostly I heard “get lost kid” before they hung up but did grow found of this one guy, Jay Richards who told me to call back after post. Jay was awesome, gave me some advice but politely asked me not to call again until I was 18. Probably his way of saying no more freebies until you can bet legally and purchase our info. Okay Jay, I gotcha.
While my parents became more curious as to why I was getting up at 6:00 a.m. to get all this information, I think It was my father who figured it out before mom did. It wasn’t that I wanted to make sure he safely made it to work but rather I was gathering info for the track and stopping for doughnuts along the way didn’t hurt either.
I’d go off to class and would frequently gaze at my “marked up” Herald Examiner. I couldn’t wait to see how my horses ran. All I remember was I want to be at the track. I don’t need to be here sitting in a junior high school wasting time.
One day I thought I got busted. Snatched from my hands was my beloved paper by the wrinkled hands of my typing instructor. He looked at it, walked to his desk and simply said, “Ed, please see me after class.” I was busted. This was no freaking Leave it to Beaver episode where I was going to get chewed out by Ward Cleaver. My mom was going to kill me I thought.
But when the bell rang, and I sheepishly went to my instructors desk and he said “this is very impressive son. How long you been interested in horse racing.?” I almost fainted. I wasn’t in trouble at all. My teacher was in the game as well! “I like the 6-8 daily double today he told me. Lets see tomorrow how we both do.” As I was walking out of my typing class, I was thinking, what’s the daily double? I guess by now we have figured out why still to this day I use the two-fingered “hunt and peck” method.
The following day we found out we both lost. He even told me that I didn’t need to wait until the following day to get results from the paper, that I could get the end of day results on the radio at KIEV. How awesome was that? I could start my ‘capping earlier!
My typing instructor became my new “mentor” He told me about different wagering, explained to me about the weights and why sometimes trainers switched jockeys and a fascinating thing called claiming races. I also found out about this fascinating thing called the Daily Racing Form in which had all the stats and figures that the professional handicappers used to make their decisions. He pulled his out from the grade book he had it stashed in and let me look at it. I felt like I was drowning in a swimming pool. So much information. This is it I though. My key to success.
When I started high school, I had vastly improved my handicapping education. My network of fellow handicappers had vastly widened and the best handicapper I knew was actually my fathers best friend who would often attend the races as both families would get together on Sunday’s to have picnics in the infield. I had located another “horse friendly” instructor in high school as well and had become his “teacher’s aide” with my sole responsibility helping him grade papers for 6th period. I didn’t grade many papers but did find my self catching the last race at Santa Anita with my best friend who didn’t have a sixth period. With my instructors $2 in pocket, my friend would drive, I rode shotgun. With the valuable DRF in hand and my marked up Examiner, my friend would ask me questions and I belted them out. “Hurry, we may miss post time I would remind him
With patrons getting in free for the 9th race, we often found ourselves first in line waiting for the gates to open and we would spring from the gates and be off to the betting windows.
With a new-found circle of friends and the newly found Daily Racing Form, my game vastly improved. I couldn’t get enough. I also found that my father’s interest increased as did my trips to the track. I found myself heading to the track with my brother and just about anybody I could hitch a ride with.
Evenings would be spent pouring over the Herald Examiner and making selections. But the magical time frame was early evening when my father and I would often make a mad dash to our local liquor store to purchase the Daily Racing form for the following day. To me, the DRF was a valuable tool that was well worth the cash that was paid. Back then, the DRF cost around a buck but only contained the past performances of So Cal racing. Often, I couldn’t wait to get home and with pops behind the wheel, I’d often start handicapping before we got home. BTW, my cost for the free ride to the liquor store? I had to let pops get a free glance sometime after we arrived back home. Before bed, he’d slip me $2 bucks and say, 4/7 daily double.
Back in the day, before the internet, waiting in the liquor store parking lot for the DRF runner was common place. I even befriended the liquor store clerk and would call him before pops and I ventured out. “Sammy, forms there yet?” “Just got here he’d say or not yet, he’s running late.” Either way, I always got one. How could you handicap without one? They were like gold.
And gold they were. People needed one and were so obsessed everybody knew the car the DRF runner drove. Should patrons get there before he arrived, we’d wait for him. As soon as “James, the DRF guy” pulled in the lot, you’d see about 4-5 casually dressed men exit their cars to line up inside to purchase one. For those not in the know, many probably though there was a mob hit in the making.
Nowadays things are so much different. With the price of the DRF approaching $10 bucks, the DRF or “PP’s” as they are also known by are printed off the desk top. Cheaper that way for sure and you get the track of your choice.
Every year around this time brings back memories of pops and me waiting in the liquor store parking lot. Why this time of year? Opening Day at Santa Anita and obtaining a fresh copy of the DRF was a requirement. Also, the break in racing between the now defunct Hollywood Park Meeting and Opening Day at Santa Anita was around 30 days. Yeah, 30 days! Handicappers were like rabid animals waiting for the DRF and the Santa Anita meeting. You don’t have that urgency anymore. Just another day. Although with a nine day break between Los Alamitos and Santa Anita this year I have been a bit more anxious than normal.
While I miss my dad more than you’ll ever know, I still will stroll through Santa Anita and remember the good old days. Recalling the memories will never be forgotten like the day dad fell in the rose bushes (sober) running to the T.V. monitor to see if his 99-1 shot he bet on held third. Cut up and bleeding, he emerged only to realize he had been nosed out of the show and didn’t know of his need for a few band aids until after they posted the photo sign and the race went official. Also, my fathers best friend chiding him for finally hitting a race.
“Throw enough shit against the wall and some of its bound to stick,” he said.
Oh the memories.
Next time we’ll discuss how I met my first “bookie” or “bookmaker.”