We were hungry that day at the Downs that is literally quite flat
Bodemeister shot out of the gate like a ricochet off of a Louisville bat
Blisters were a poppin’ as he left that stampede behind
But the steam started to leave the engine with 200 yards to the line
And our mighty hope – I’ll Have Another (who the great Borg picked on top!)
Came up flying outside, while the late closing Dullahan settled for show

On to the next peg: home to Loyola and bay spices for your blue crabs
2nd fiddle again on the board was our virtuoso young lad
But this contest was shorter and in the end a whole lot closer
By a long shoulder for a double crown was I’ll Have Another
Now the bushel bags of expectation are heavy at 10 days away
It is telling time for our hero–horse, and raising champagne spray

Yet the light shines bright pulling focus onto trainer and owner
Digressions from the habits of our lovely animals in the name of fair play
His connections are dusty and the facts taste somewhat gritty
But one doesn’t turn away from Berlin because he plays a lousy piano

While Union Rags is organizing a mile and a half campaign
And Dullahan looks quite sharpahan after 5 weeks to plan
But this colt – I’ll Have Another – will repel all invaders
Lifting the fog and the shadows from all of the haters

150k and counting expected at Belmont it would practically feel snug
I was there when Victory Gallop sent us home in a Real Quiet depression
If our hero wins his race, well you’ve heard of spontaneous combustion…
In true fashion I can hear myself saying “he was a steal at 14- 1 on derby day!”
Three cheers for all of the horses: back to barn and farm safe and sound
And to you, my friends and fellow players, good luck on all of your Belmont days.

Now available for sale on

We’re happy to announce Public Handicapper is selling Off to a Flying Start on their website. Public Handicapper is a free, national handicapping contest. Their current contest is the Public Handicapper Prep, running through end of April, with a top prize of $500. The Public Handicapper Challenge runs from May 4 (the Kentucky Oaks) through November 3 (the Breeders’ Cup).

Sign up and show off your handicapping skills and while you are there, pick up a copy of Off to a Flying Start for yourself or your favorite horse or language lover.

Losing a Pick 4: The Five Stages of Grief

In the short period of time since the 50 cents minimum bet has been offered by NYRA on the pick 4, I have been alive several times into the last leg. This had been a rarity in my handicapping life at the larger denomination and my mind raced with ways to spend those large will-pays while waiting for the last race to go off. My natural inclination was to start figuring out how I would like to be paid: hundreds (sometimes hard to cash), twenties (too bulky, fifties (bad luck) which made it that much harder when I lost these wagers. But there are ways of coping with, and understanding, the psychic pain associated with losing on the last leg of a multi-race wager. To explain these complicated feelings I have taken a page from pop psychology and  developed my own 5 stages of grief after losing the last leg of a pick four.

Denial – A crushing defeat is a crushing defeat, but the fact is that I cannot believe what I have just seen, usually on a small TV monitor at a simulcast facility. This disbelief is nothing more than a protective coating that helps me move on to next race. But when my fellow cigar chomper, who professed mild interest in the winner, tells me he only had “a few bucks on ‘im”, I cannot deny the sight of visible steam coming out of my ears. Where’s my blood pressure medication!?

Anger – At the new 50 cents minimum I should be able to toss in a couple of  “maybes” here and there.  But my bankroll is smaller after playing Calder, which looked like a monsoon had landed on track and I had no business betting in the first place. My anger is directed at my lack of handicapping discipline. Because I have my own golden rule: “Do not run up and bet a simo race until you’ve covered all the races you spent the morning figuring out” and I can’t follow it.

Bargaining – This is where I start asking for help from the racing powers: just this once please put up the inquiry or objection sign. Just this once make it so that I put the wrong horse onto the ticket and that would be the number that won the race or maybe I’ll scratch into the post time favorite. This type of bargaining works both ways: usually my end of the bargain is a pledge of 10% of future winnings to a horse charity or the promise that I will never again yell repeatedly at anyone near by “I crushed that number” after hitting a long shot winner.

Depression – This is the darkness before the light of acceptance. The storm cloud in my head is repeating: I will ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS make the wrong bet. Of course I know this is not true, I try to keep in mind the Derby tri I hit this year and the late pick 4 at Belmont that paid handsomely, even for two bits. Then there is always the “happy” trip to the ATM, like a cherry on top of a crumby day at the track.

Acceptance – I really enjoy betting the NYRA pick 4; it’s a challenge and a thrill to be alive into that last leg, it’s even better when I have the occasional win. I’ve been playing horses for a long time but there is a learning curve for me with the Pick 4. When I’m alive into the last leg, I’ve taken to covering a few other horses with win bets. I’m slowly figuring it out, but it’s more than that. I have a stack of pick 4 tickets at home. I’ve always tossed losing tickets right away but I can’t bring myself to get rid of these little mementos of how the racing played out. They’re reminders of the action, the strategy, the fun of being in the game.

War Horse: A Short Review

We saw “War Horse” at Lincoln Center Theater this week and I thought a short review for those of us who love horses was in order.

From the Miriam-Webster Dictionary:  War Horse

1: a horse used in war: charger

2: a person with long experience in a field; especially: a veteran soldier or public person (as a politician)

3: something (as a work of art or musical composition) that has become overly familiar or hackneyed due to much repetition in the standard repertoire

The play tells the story of young Albert Narracott and his majestic horse Joey in the days just prior to WW I. The real stars of this production are the puppeteers and the designers of the play. The horse puppets, especially the yearling Joey, give the uncanny feeling of a living, breathing animal.

When war breaks out, Albert’s drunkard Father sells Joey to the British Army. A kindly Officer promises Albert he will care for his beloved colt on the battlefield but is quickly killed in battle. Heartbroken Albert runs away from home to enlist in a desperate attempt to find his horse. The script by Nick Stafford is from a book by Michael Morpurgo first published in 1982. In the program it is noted that eight million horses perished in WW I. Morpurgo has said that he wanted to write of the suffering of the Great War through the eyes of a horse. That is exactly what we get in this production, especially in the last heart wrenching scenes when Joey and Albert are reunited on the battlefield.

Special note should be given to set designer Rae Smith and the Handspring Puppet Company who show us simply the nature of war in general and this battle in particular. WW I was the last major war in which horses were used in battle. “War Horse” is a fitting tribute to those who lost their lives in the fighting that history has told us was a barbaric atrocity.

Albert and Joey photo by Paul Kolnik, Lincoln Center Production

A Sermon on Simulcast Horse Racing


Simulcast horse racing is a wicked calling

But Jim is one who claims to be shrewd

He follows race upon race with bankroll falling

While betting horses on the tube


Around his home there are no roses rambling

Not a warm greeting at the door

Those sacred chips are gone to gambling

His obligations left for want of one big score.


A dark room, a bevy of tracks on the screen

His head is filled lines of tiny type

Folly singing of a horse quite keen

Hard earned scratch gone for hype


Glued to the set from gate to wire

Cheap analysis from the highest tout

Caught in the net of a betting quagmire

“But down in Kentuck is the lowest take out!”


Good money bet on the 1st race double

Before the sirens’ call of hooves

Steed and mount their trip of trouble

A mirage of hope before bad news


Late at night when all the screens have gone to dark

You could call Jim a sad and bitter recluse

In a dream, he catches a 40 to 1 shot on a lark

His pillows of Racing Forms have found their use.

NYC OTB: More From the Picture Collection

As everyone knows by now,  this week the last of the NYC OTB parlors closed their doors, probably for good. I was never a big OTB player, I had a telephone account with them, but I usually stopped in just to get the Daily Racing Program. Known as the “the book” to the tellers, for 3 dollars it carried each thoroughbred track that was being simulcast that day. Using the “book” is a learned affection (small type, cheap paper, etc) but it does carry 1st timer sire and trainer stats for the preceding 12 months which can be a nifty angle for MSW and MCL races. The book is hard to find now in our neck of the woods, but the magazine shop on Varick next to the old parlor below Houston usually carries multiple copies.

Now onward to the pictures! Last Wednesday (Dec 8th), the first day  NYC OTB had closed its doors, I made my way back to the New York Public Library’s Picture Collection. A few months ago I posted here about the popularity of the OTB in 1971.

Here are more from the collection and a few of my own.

From the New York Times May 1, 1971 photo by Robert Walker

OTB Pallor 1977 location unknown (uncredited photo)

Unknown newspaper dated May 17, 1971 (uncredited photo)

Unknown OTB location dated May 17, 1971

Shuttered OTB shop on 48th St between 5th and 6th (about 75 yards from the Rockefeller Center holiday tree) Dec 8th 2010

The sign over the flagship location on W 38th St and Broadway, Wed, Dec 8th 2010.

38th St and Broadway Wed Dec 8th 2010, not long after the last at Aqueduct.

And the sign says...

She Has Stepped Into The Gate For The Very Last Time

Man o' War's shoes

They came in the Jazz Age to see the noble Man o’ War

During the Depression people cheered their great Seabiscuit

Rock and revolution were at the track to greet Secretariat

Now this twittering age bids farewell to our mare Zenyatta


She has stepped into the gate for the very last time

Calm as a mouse yet larger than life

For me, those ears are her secret pride

slightly tilted and off to the side


It is all now a haze in the mind’s fluxuations

Coming down to the wire with Blame eye to eye

What a mean little difference not seeing her stomping dance

Led away from the stage of our games of chance

Led away from the stagX

Her losing a race makes little difference to me

She has come back to the shed row healthy and spry

But cruel November has left us quite cold

Now that Zenyatta has stepped from the racing fold

Zenyatta winning the 2009 Breeders' Cup Classic

NYC OTB 1971: The Way We Were

The demise of the NYC OTB has been well documented. Here are a few shots from the NYPL’s picture collection from when OTB was in its salad days.

NYC OTB opened in April of 1971 and shortly began using the ticket booths in the Grand Central Terminal for taking bets.

Bettors Jamming the OTB Booths at Grand Central Terminal (uncredited photo) May 31, 1971

The New Yorker ran this cartoon in the Sept 16th 1972 issue.

Drawing by Robert Day, The New Yorker Sept 16th, 1972

This picture/story about women at a local OTB parlor ran in August of 1971.

If you look closely you’ll see a man or two.

Women at the OTB - New York Sunday News August 22, 1971 uncredited photo

Does anyone else remember when they played the stretch calls on WINS 1010 AM?

Secretariat with Eddie Sweat

Big Red with Eddie Sweat (date unknown)

Off to a Flying Start: Belmont 12 Days In

The anticipation of five Grade I races on Super Saturday is upon us and here are a few possibly unrecognized stats that are worth bearing in mind.

Bill Mott surged last week with 4 wins and now has a total of 5 out of 15 starts in the first 12 days. With Kent D on the bench the vet from Dakota has been mixing and matching his riders. Mott and Julien Leparoux have had a couple of winner’s circle photos taken so far. Mott now leads the earning parade with over $230,000.

Another trainer whose hard work is paying off this meet is William Badgett Jr. Out of his horses’ 8 starts 3 have won and another placed and for those of us who follow this type of thing, he is 2 for 4 on the turf.

Other conditioners of note include Rudy Rodriguez – 8 wins out of 21 starts and Barclay Tagg with 5 wins out of 20 starts.

After 12 racing days Ramon Dominguez continues to lead the jockey colony with 19 wins out of 81 starts and so far he hits the board at over 60 percent. Following in the win column is John Velazquez with 13 out of 70 starts and Rajiv Maragh with 12 wins out of 67 starts. David Cohen has 7 out of his 10 triumphs on the turf courses where he has raced a total of 25 times this meet.

Rajiv Maragh photo courtesy of NYRA

The only triple digit return on a $2 investment last week came on Thursday in the 7th when Catchapenny K. blew by the field at the eighth pole under apprentice rider Jason Garcia. We had seen the horse show that he belonged at Saratoga but was a major live long shot at 51.50/1. In hindsight, carrying only 107 lbs with the 10 lb bug allowance was a deciding factor in his fastest finish. 8 out of the other 9 horses carried between 116 and 120 lbs in the 25,000 claimer on the turf. Congratulations to Mr. Garcia and Robert Ribaudo on their respective first wins of the meet.