It’s the Silly Things That Count

For want of a nail the shoe was lost;
For want of a shoe the horse was lost;
For want of a horse the battle was lost;
For the failure of battle the kingdom was lost—

Now, as “for want of a nasal strip. . .”

For want of a nasal strip, some have observed racing has lost credibility and its image has suffered as a really serious endeavor.

In this case, that’s not a bad thing.

The legndary publicists of good old-fashioned, you-couldn’t-buy-this-publicity-for-any-amount-of-money publicity always recognized fun trumped serious any day. In fact, if those grand practitioners of the ancient art of flackery were still around, they’d be screaming about additional opportunities lost in the professional efficiency with which “Nasalgate” was resolved.

Bill Veeck, Joey Goldstein, and Irving Rudd would not have shied from public uproar about a nasal strip; these were men who realized Americans fascination with horse manure, artichokes, and spelling. Issues with real gravitas.

Veeck, most remembered in baseball for sending the longitudinally challenged Eddie Gaedel up to bat in a serious major league baseball game, also graced his career scorecard with a stint operating Suffolk Downs and reverentially wrote a book about the experience entitled “Thirty Tons a Day.” He wasn’t talking about hay, but he sold books.

Goldstein, a relentless New York City publicity agent and proud of it, once hyped the French import Jamin in Roosevelt Raceway’s International Trot by alerting the NYC media to the horse’s desperate need for artichokes as a regular part of his diet. The media was all over the story when the precious legumes were air-shipped from Watsonville, Calif., to New York and then delivered by helicopter directly to the track. The horse actually had artichokes as part of its diet in France, but only for laxative purposes. Can’t seem to get away from that subject.

Rudd refuted the publicity adage of “I don’t care what newspapers say about me as long as they spell my name right” when he ordered sign painters on the Bronx’s Major Deegan Expressway to point the way tohis client Yonkers Racewya. That bit of stupidity not only got the sign noticed by every passing motorist, but generated newspaper photos internationally.

If those three gentlemen had made the call, “Nasalgate” still would be awaiting a televised hearing before a panel including Kim Kardashian, Dr. Phil, and Honey Boo Boo. Maybe not so classy, but it would have milked the attention for another day or two.

Oh well, we just have to take solace in the knowledge that while the rules of racing don’t universally address nasal strips, the American public now is very aware California Chrome is going for the Triple Crown in the upcoming Belmont Stakes.

That’s nothing for racing to turn its nose up at.

Bergstein Was Locked onto the Future

The most remarkable thing about Stan Bergstein was no matter how much he cherished a long life of incredible memories in racing, he always was looking forward, even at 87 years of age.

The world of racing changed dramatically during Stan’s long career, with him actively involved as a key agent of change. While he could fondly recall the good old days, he was acutely aware tomorrow was what mattered today. And he was all for charging into tomorrow.

It’s rare to find a 70 or 80-year-old man cheering on new technology the way Stan did, but he was a rare man.

You can only marvel at his career and the myriad roles he filled so brilliantly.

Yet, for all his personal accomplishments and awards, nothing made him prouder than the steady stream of young people he mentored at HTA and their subsequent transition to leadership positions in the racing industry, both harness and Thoroughbred.

As a true Renaissance man, Stan adamantly expressed his devotion to all racing and the need for an ecumenical approach to problems rather than intra-mural sniping. This was one of his more passionate beliefs.

With Stan’s passing, everyone in racing will now stand together in missing him.

$140,000 Bet Against Animal Kingdom

A Staten Island man is so sure Animal Kingdom will not win the Preakness that he has put his life savings of $140,000 on the line.

Not that Animal Kingdom should take this personally. It’s more a bet that no one is going to win the Preakness. In fact, you’ve seen races where it’s hard to convince yourself anyone can win, well he thinks it’s a sure thing.

It’s a pure numbers play. The Preakness post time is 6:05 p.m. Saturday, May 21.

This fellow has spent his $140,000 savings for subways placards and bus stop signage to herald the end of the world at 6:00 p.m. on Saturday.

That means no Preakness. I mean I’ve heard of past posting a race, but you can’t past post the end of the world.

What’s really regrettable, however, is this guy’s money management. If he’s wrong, he’s out $140,000. If he had just taken that $140,000 and put it on Animal Kingdom to win, he could be wrong about Judgment Day and still potentially triple his money.

You always want to hedge your bets.

Animal Kingdom at Fair Hill

Well, that was interesting

Handicapping the Derby with all the entrants as lightly raced as they are these days is truly an adventure, but there’s no question a couple of well- deserving individuals were in the winner’s circle. Trainer Graham Motion, the TRA’s neighbor across the road at the Fair Hill Training Center, is an exceptional trainer and a terrific person. One of the Team Valor partners is Carl Pascarella, who as CEO of VISA, provided racing with one of the best sponsorship partners it has ever had. . .
Good for a guaranteed grin will be tonight’s “Tonight Show with Jay Leno” as its on-the-scene reporter interviews Bob Baffert prior to the race. . .
The winner’s party in the Kentucky Derby Museum is always interesting because coming immediately after the press interviews it has just begun to sink in for the owner(s) and trainer that they have just experienced a monumental life’s event. Owner Barry Irwin, rarely at a loss for words, could only get out a one-line “dream come true” before choking up and Graham Motion appeared more stunned than elated. True emotion is always fascinating. . .
By the way, if racing could take the Derby Museum’s 360-degree audio-visual show on the road, it would have no trouble making new fans of racing. The Derby show exquisitely captures all the human aspirations that ride on the back of every Thoroughbred. If you’re in Louisville, the Museum is not to be missed.

It Occurs to Me

I can remember when Lasix (Salix) was not an issue in racing. Things were much better in those days, if only because I was much younger. . .
Really like the two-page Wagering 101 section in the Keeneland program, but absolutely love it has the need to inform and educate newcomers to the sport. . .
Current storm over the Grand National at Aintree (think National Velvet) and whether the race should be continued in the wake of two horses dying from injuries certainly is indicative that tradition is no guarantee of the future. That message should not be lost on us in the U.S.

While Waiting for the Preakness

Just some random thoughts. . .

Seems like Super Saver needs to add a win in the Preakness before the colt begins to eclipse the ever-delightful Calvin Borel as the star of the show. . .

Regardless of the outcome of the current contretemps over advertising on jockeys’ pants (at least until obliterated by mud) in the Kentucky Derby, it was good to read much of the income was contributed to the Permanently Disabled Jockeys Fund. . .

It’s now been more than a week since the 20-minute Wall Street plunge and still no one can explain what happened on the stock exchange network. If that happened with the totes. . . Or if the pari-mutuel wagering industry had anything like high frequency trading. . . Just saying. . .

Fun reading online debates about how much of Glen Fullerton’s $900,000 score on Super Saver is taxable. IRS, ever able to make things simple, might offer this rule of thumb: if it’s income. . .

Fortunately, the weather forecast for the Preakness is good because Churchill Downs probably used up all the “weather luck” racing can expect. Trust someone who was there, at no point did the skies look anything other than completely dismal. . . except for 15 minutes when the sun popped out from nowhere. . .

Five minutes recommended reading. . . Andy Beyer’s column on trainers’ fears of running Derby horses in the Preakness and Tim Capps’ Blood-Horse comments on the yearning for structure in the racing industry.

Forsythe Was A True Racing Treasure

John Forsythe

You probably had to be there to understand exactly how big John Forsythe was in the Eighties.

I was there and I didn’t fully understand what type of superstar he had become. I came to realize it when I went to work for the TRA in 1982, but if Forsythe ever came to that same realization it was only with a sense of mild bemusement.

In a world of “what have you done for me lately,” Forsythe was a throwback. He personified old-style grace, manners, and values.

That’s partially why he was the Eclipse Awards master of ceremonies from 1977 to 1997, instead of just until 1981.

When he became the “face” of the Eclipse Awards in 1977, he was a moderately successful sitcom leading man from the late Fifties and through the early Seventies, but at the same time his primary claim to fame was his voice. He was the unseen star of “Charlie’s Angels” and his voice also was readily recognizable for reminding America “Weekends were made for Michelob.”

Although definitely an A-list celebrity in 1977, he didn’t move to matinee idol status until he became Blake Carrington in 1981 as “Dynasty” joined “Dallas” in the forefront of the golden age of primetime soap operas.

By my first Eclipse Awards Dinner with the TRA in 1983, I knew we had a master of ceremonies who commanded guest appearance fees as high as anyone in television. Of course, for what we were paying Forsythe we couldn’t have gotten Pinky Lee.

As it turned out, one of the guest presenters for Eclipse Awards at San Francisco’s Fairmount Hotel in 1983 was one of the true icons of American film, Jimmy Stewart, someone Forsythe would have said was a “real” star.

Knowing which celebrities would be coming to the awards that year, I got several requests from hotel staff to meet and get their picture taken with. . . John Forsythe. At the time, the Fairmount itself was a celebrity as the theoretical site of another huge primetime hit drama “Hotel,” with the sweeping circular staircases of its distinctive lobby recreated on a Hollywood soundstage.

The best thing about John, however, was the slight significance he placed upon his celebrity. What tickled him most about his superstar status that weekend was the flustered, elderly women just off a tour bus stopped at the famed “Hotel,” who rushed up to him as he descended the stairs to advise him “You’re on the wrong show!”

Although the demands of his career soon made scheduling the Eclipse Awards difficult at best, with only two exceptions when filming absolutely precluded a two-day getaway from work, John served as master of ceremonies for another 14 years, always elevating the event with his class and professionalism. (He rather emphatically taught Keeneland television director G.D. Hieronymous and me that awards presentations longer than 75 minutes had overstayed their welcome.)

There were times, however, when you simply had to put your foot down with John.

There was the year when I saw he didn’t eat anything at all and realized it wasn’t just because his dinner was spent graciously greeting and having pictures taken with the horse racing world that stopped by his table. The next year, and thereafter, he acquiesced to our ordering a vegetarian meal for him, but only after he was reassured it was being done for others as well.

An annual battle was his insistence on paying for the few telephone calls he made from his hotel room, arguing they should not be part of his covered expenses. We told him we would deduct the amount from his fee, so we won that one.

The only demand he ever made for hosting the Eclipse Awards was an almost embarrassed request one year when — in light of a very bad back, pothole-strewn highways from Kennedy airport to Manhattan, and springless taxi cab suspensions — he asked if he could use a limo service instead. He was told we could take it out of his fee, so we won that one too.

Complimentary upgrades to a suite were always available for John, but he would always insist upon just a single room. We always lost that one.

John never acted like a superstar, but then he never was paid like one either, at least as far as the Eclipse Awards were concerned. Hell, he was never paid anything.

If it was small enough and horse racing-related, he would accept a modest gift of the racing’s gratitude. Otherwise, his only compensation was nothing more than a close and enduring relationship with a sport he loved.

John Forsythe received the Eclipse Award of Merit in 1988. Click here to see the page from the Eclipse Dinner Journal. (pdf file)

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