Let’s take a look back at 1983 but first it’s important, at least I think so, to look back at the state of racing in those days. And by “state of racing” I mean just comparing how bettors gathered information and were presented information about horse racing as opposed to how racing works today and what elements were present and how different the horse racing experience was for fans and bettors.
For horseracing fan in Louisiana there was only one legal way to bet on horses and that was to go to the track. And, we have and still have plenty of them. My favorite track was Jefferson Downs which ran in the summer at night so I was off of school and could go down anytime. But, Louisiana Downs, Evangeline Downs, Fair Grounds and Delta were all running.
The only one way to see live horse racing without going to the track was to hope that national networks covered the big races. ESPN had launched in the late 70s but they weren’t covering horse racing yet although they did cover a lot of other obscure sports in the early days. In order to watch the Santa Anita Derby for example you had to see it on ABC television. And, I’m not talking about cable. For younger fans that started with horseracing as a sport available at all times of the day and on multiple channels this is probably hard to comprehend at first blush. Only Nevada and maybe New York offered the opportunity to bet on horse racing outside of a racetrack because the federal law allowing such wagering had only been passed in the late 70s as well.
Louisiana was not progressive on this front and all horse racing wagering was done on track only. Unless you had a bookie who was willing to take some bets – more on that in 1986 version.
So, for a fan, particularly this fan, the only horses I saw outside of the normal Midwest circuit horse and trainers were for the big races on TV – the Wood/Florida Derby/Santa Anita Derby – and when national trainers shipped in their horses for the big stakes races at the Fair Grounds – which was a big, big deal to me.
I can remember Laz Barerra shipping in It’s the One in 1982 to win the Fair Grounds Oaks is a memory I still have because Laz was a BFD to me. He had won the Triple Crown a few years earlier and it was news that he would send horses to Louisiana. Bud Delp would bring horses down to the Fair Grounds, and Julie Krone rode a Fair Grounds meet. This is akin to Michael Jordan coming to town to play one game a year. But, that is what we had to subsist on as horse racing fans without simulcast – the one off visits of racings stars.
So going to Las Vegas, for the Beychok boys and the Leggio boys, was not about gambling at blackjack or craps or keno– it was about being able to bet on horse racing all day long at the major and minor tracks across the country. It was a trip to the mountaintop of near religious proportions.
On a family trip to New York my dad and I had to make two absolute stops. One at Katz Deli and the other at an OTB because I thought it such a novelty that there was a place you could bet horses outside of a racetrack. Of course, as you New Yorkers know, the OTBs were dismal dens of degenerry and you had to be by letter and there was no live video in the early days. Weird but novel.
My dad took the family skiing one year in Lake Tahoe. Well, he didn’t ski but he did like to gamble to this was to him a brilliant compromise. This was before I was 21 so still underage to gamble in Nevada. Of course, I would not be deterred. While the rest of the family – sans my dad – spent the day skiing a couple of days, I spent the day in the sports book betting the ponies where they seemed to have a more lax attitude about underage kids gambling. Not so in the casino at Caesars Palace. I was throwing dice, a newly developed skill taught to me on that trip, with my buddy Dane Strother who was older than me but not 21 either and we were strategically placed at opposite ends of the dice table to not attract attention to our youthfulness. Yeah, we were going to out-strategery those dumb casino cops. We were winning pretty good when two of these aforementioned casino cops surrounded my buddy Dane and asked for his ID and proof of age. Being the smart and quick on his feet political consultant he has grown to be Dane said his ID “was up in his room and he didn’t have it on him.” At which point two things happened very quickly. The casino cops kindly escorted Dane up to his room; leaving what was probably his life savings in chips right there in the rack and on the table and the other underage kid at the table…me. vanished in the blink of an eye from the scene with all of his chips!
These memories are to give readers a context of how I usually formulated my Kentucky Derby picks in the early days. Without having the benefit of daily workout reports, replays of every race in a career, specialized speed figures, and of course the all important daily bath photos, the information I got was limited to what I saw on TV and read out of the racing form. When I saw a strong performance on TV and read about it in the Racing Form, I was persuaded.
Such was the case in 1983. The previous year Woody Stephens had unleashed a running machine called Conquistador Cielo to win the Met Mile and then win the Belmont by many lengths in his campaign to win Horse of the Year and I thought Woody Stephens was genius. And he was pretty close. So, when Woody ran Caveat in the Derby Trial, and he won, I figured he thought Caveat could pull off the same training feat Cielo had the previous year back I was bought what Woody was selling. Alas, Caveat wasn’t as good as Cielo and he finished third in the Derby after winning the Derby Trial but he would go on to win the Belmont as the second of Woody’s five straight Belmont victories.
And that occasional handicapper who had last year’s 23-1 shot winner Gato Del Sol who also happened to be my dad – well, he had the winner again in Sunnys Halo because our favorite jockey was on him – Eddie Delahoussaye so it was a good trip even though I didn’t have the winner again.
For those scoring at home: