I always like to claim that I was born on the day that Nashua won the Belmont. The fact of the matter is that I was born early on a Friday morning, June 10, 1955. Nashua won the Belmont about 36 hours later on Saturday, June 11, 1955. Some people engage in hyperbole. Thirty-six hours ain’t TOO much of a stretch. “Close enough for GUVMINT work,” as my DEAR OLE DAD always says.
The first horse race I actually remember seeing was the 1961 Kentucky Derby. It was NOT my idea to watch that race on the tube. It was my mom’s idea. She was from Kentucky (Meade County; my DEAR OLE DAD was also from Kentucky, Hardin County). I had three other siblings, and we lived in Cincinnati, Ohio. We siblings basically made fun of the idea of watching a HORSE RACE on the tube, as I recall.
But as I watched the preliminaries to the 1961 Kentucky Derby that afternoon, I started getting into it for some reason or another. The announcers talked about all the leading contenders. X had won the Y Derby. Z had won the A Derby. B had won the C Stakes. I got the impression (correctly) that this was very much a NATIONAL event and not just some hillbilly hoedown (a legacy we city kids were desperately trying to reject).
My mom decided she liked Carry Back for some reason, and Carry Back dutifully came from way off the pace to win as the favorite. That race made some sort of impression on me. I liked the kaleidoscopic stretch run, the infinite possibilities, the fact that the result was far from predictable but yet made some sort of logical sense (at least most of the time). Maybe it was a STATISTICS thing even back then.
Alas, I do not remember watching another Kentucky Derby until 1965 (and I think I would have remembered if I had seen another one). By that time I was old enough so that sibling rivalries were of paramount importance. I liked Dapper Dan (alliteration of the correct DD description) in 1965. My older brother Mike liked Hail to All.
We bet the three Triple Crown races straight up (nag against nag). I collected (a nickel or a dime) on the first two but lost in the Belmont. Dapper Dan finished second, second (and should have won the Preakness via DQ), and fourth. Hail to All finished fifth, third, and first. That was my first Triple Crown campaign in a nutshell.
Later on in 1965 I noticed a stablemate of Dapper Dan, a two-year-old by the name of Buckpasser. “And the rest they say is history” (Lyle Lovett, “The Girl in the Corner”). My fate was sealed. From that day forward I was a rabid racing fan.
Perhaps some of you are old enough to remember the television series “Race of the Week” back in the 1960s, usually at 4:30-5:00 every Saturday afternoon. Wynn Elliott was the commentator. Fred Capossela was the track announcer. “Many in this crowd of 47,777 are getting down closer to the rail, and that means one thing: IT IS NOW POST TIME.” (That’s my “Cappy” imitation, in case you have not fingered it out.)
I was very fortunate to have “Race of the Week” to look forward to every Saturday afternoon as I was growing up in the 1960s. It provided me with a racing fix every weekend, and I got to see some of Buckpasser’s races live on the tube.
Newspaper coverage of racing was a lot better back then as well, and I will give you one illustration. Not all of Buckpasser’s races were on the tube (only those in New York or Florida). I had to sweat out all of his Chicago races (had to wait until the Sunday morning newspaper to find out the results).
I particularly remember his Arlington Classic Handicap, his first start in a stakes after returning from the quarter crack that had kept him out of the Triple Crown. I sat through mass that Sunday morning with even more impatience than usual, then dashed down to the corner store to buy the Sunday newspaper with the quarter my mom had given me for that purpose.
I might even have waited until crossing the busy street to rip open that newspaper and dig immediately into the sports section, expecting to have to dive into the racing section in the back for the result I craved. Contrary to expectations, though, the result I craved was the main headline for the entire sports section:
BUCKPASSER CRACKS MILE WORLD RECORD
Several nags had shared the world record of 1:33 1/5 for a mile going back many years, and I suppose that contributed to the newsworthiness of this event (sort of like when Isitingood finally broke Dr. Fager’s mile world record back in the 1990s). At any rate, Buckpasser had indeed won the Arlington Classic in 1:32 3/5 (a record which stood for only two years before Dr. Fager lowered it to 1:32 1/5 and held it for the next 30 years or so), and I was one happy 11-year-old kid.
Aside from the newspapers, though, I did not have much success finding reading material on racing. The public library was not much help at all. At that time my DEAR OLE DAD was working for the Post Office at its main sorting center for the city. Some of his coworkers liked to bet on the ponies, and he started bringing home old copies of the Daily Racing Form for me to peruse.
Peruse then I did, which exposed me to the writings of Charles Hatton, among others. I noticed advertisements in the DRF for some of the weekly nag rags. By Christmas of 1968 I was subscribing to The Thoroughbred Record, and I maintained that subscription until I started working for them around November of 1981.
Along with a weekly magazine, my subscription to The Thoroughbred Record included some supplements, including a stallion register. I really liked the stallion register, particularly its five-cross pedigrees. Remember, this was way back before computerization. Each five-cross pedigree had to be researched manually and typeset individually (on linotype, if anyone remembers). A lot of effort was put into each of those five-cross pedigrees. Surely, all those names had to mean SOMETHING, didn’t they??? Or so I thought at the time (and most people continue to think).
Is there a point to all this babble about my personal history as a degenerate racing fan? Perhaps so, and perhaps I will finally get to that point whenever I resume this babble. I felt like I needed a break from all those STATISTICS (and no doubt you readers needed a break as well). So I babbled about something different this time around.
“Ah, but I was so much older then
I’m younger than that now.”