My childhood was horse racing, horse racing, and more horse racing, as my Father was a leading Jockey agent in the country for many years.
My family traveled constantly but our home base was Phoenix, Arizona. We left Cicero, Illinois in the early 50’s to go to the newest and finest track in those days, Turf Paradise. My Father, an A&W Root Beer franchise owner, and he owned plenty of them was destined to sell off the business for horse racing and journey to Turf Paradise. That track, and all other tracks around the country was home for us for many months, but mostly in the summers for me.
There was school in Phoenix for 5 to 6 months and the rest of the year was spent in other towns on other tracks. I came up in the sport as a hot walker then a groom for many of the trainer friends of my Dad. He always was there to set up work and a paycheck for me. The money was great for such a young kid and I’d come back to Phoenix feeling like a millionaire every year and spend all of it with my friends and then start over when summer came.
I loved the track and the people. I especially loved going to the track kitchen each morning. Even today, I can still remember sitting on my grooming stool waiting for MudBug, he was my Cajun exercise rider friend, to return from the kitchen with the morning breakfast snack. Odd, but I can still smell the hot coffee and sense the taste of the dunked cinnamon roll while watching the fog drift by covering the top half of the double shed row across from my stalls at Arlington near Chicago.
Arizona Downs, Turf Paradise, Ak-Sar-Ben, Centennial ( The Santa Anita of the Rockies ), Churchill Downs, Sportsmans Park Arizona, Sportsmans Park Illinois, Hawthorn, Hialeah Park, Louisiana Downs, Arlington Park, Rockingham Park and Hazel Park were where my Father and I worked. Jocks like Bob Yeager ( he still does colors for Turf ), Jerry Bailey, Pat Day, Rudy Turcotte and D. E. Whited along with too many to list Bugboys were family. From the 1st to the 83rd top jocks were in his book. 25 million in purses for the worst top jockey was not bad at all and my Dad hustled book for all of them at one time or another.
I left the track life in ’71 for a beautiful girl, Kim, my wife today of 40 wonderful years. Years went by, then I ran into an old friend from the track, the ‘Mayor’, as I call him, at a place of business where we both worked. We became the best of friends and together one day we went to Turf after he prodded me to go back. We walked in and passed a picture of my Dad in the Jocks room. We grabbed a couple of drafts, turned toward the escalator and went upstairs to sit in the cheap seats. The view of the track was fantastic. Suddenly, the wind shifted north toward us enveloping the Grandstand. I could smell the broken down barns, the horses and their feed. I could smell the track’s dirt. Silently I took in a deep breath through my nose. I knew then I was home. I never really thanked the Mayor but I am now. Thanks Mayor.
So many new and wonderful friends I have made since then. We even formed the distinguished ‘365 Club’, whose story-filled trips to The Breeders’ Cup and Del Mar each year are forever worth waiting for.
Here’s to you all, Dale, Joe/John, Pamelita, Pam, that’s okay I too mix them up although one is the, ‘Inspector’ and Mr. Niceness Saint Rib, the lovely Ms. Jennie, Bim and Joycee Baby, Rick, Justin, Adam of Pong, Drew TT, Jeff aka Barack, Brian ‘B’ for short, Chris and Kristen, J.D. and Mary Anne, Roy and Ellie, Nate and the concrete Jockey, Burton aka John Wayne, Bobby of Pateville, Jim, Julie, Koz, Gary, Patrick and Nita, Brenda of Brenda’s Bar, Andy, Amy of Amy’s Bar, Bob, Sandy, Mugs, David, Utah Jim and Pam, the newest Sam and Maggie and Puerto Rico’s infamous, even though I’ve never had the honor of meeting her, Tiny Mom.
Life would not be the same without you and your treasured friendships. Cheers!
So all said and done, The WiseGuy’s ROD, ‘rate of deceleration’, software came from that day when the Mayor and I sat in the grandstand and he leaned over and said. “With what you know about computers, you’d think you could come up with something to measure how the horses run on the track and put them against each other.”
That was the beginning of days on end at the track with my friend working out the WiseGuy software, traveling to all kinds of races and tracks meeting new people each time and most importantly the genesis of a life’s work called The WiseGuy Diaries which today on my son’s birthday in Novemember of 2013 reached a half a million readers!
Let’s see, what should I do? Oh, I know. I think I’ll see what the Mayor is doing and go to the track tomorrow to celebrate. . .
“The best part of life starts at the top of the stretch.”