1981 was a big year for Michael Beychok. Graduated high school by the scantest of margins and met my future ex wife. It was also a big year for a notorious New York trainer named Johnny Campo but we will get to that.
Back to high school for a short story. My best buddy and I had found a perfect scam to hit the track for the last couple of years in high school. His father had a printing supply company that needed supplies moved from the Baton Rouge warehouse to the New Orleans operation once a week. So, for about twenty bucks we would skip out of our last periods in high school and go get the white panel van filled with printer supplies and go to New Orleans. Of course there was a detour to the Fair Grounds and that twenty bucks first had to pass through a mutual clerk’s hands first at the Fair Grounds.
At this time, I was totally immersed in horse racing. My father had bought a couple of claimers that Frank Brothers and Jack Van Berg trained and I lived and breathed horse racing and betting. So much so that we also got picks from a “professional” service from an ad in American Turf Monthly- I mean didn’t everybody do that? No?
My dad and I enjoyed going to the track on the weekend and we started having our Thanksgiving dinner at the Fair Grounds opening day.
On one such printing supply run down to New Orleans we were all jacked up to bet on a horse called Adanac Knight. Alas, we ran into traffic on the spillway bridge and barely missed the post time. Do I really need to tell you the rest of the story…$ 35 to win is what he paid which would have put two high school kids in a better beer than Old Milwaukee for the weekend I can promise you that.
So, in 1981 the Beychok family was all in on horse racing and the trip to the Derby was anticipated for months in advance. Dr. Leggio, our fearless leader of the band, loved Pleasant Colony going into the Derby. It was all he could talk about and since he was my handicapping mentor I wanted to show him who was the better handicapper. Of course it was him and I was stuck on Woodchopper who had broken his maiden and won the Louisiana Derby at the Fair Grounds. I thought I had seen the Derby winner live and in person and my favorite jockey was riding him at the time Eddie Delahoussaye. Dr. Leggio was right and Pleasant Colony and his trainer John P. Campo became household names, as Campo was the type of brash, in your face New York trainer that people outside of New York thought was stereotypical of all New Yorkers. Campo famously told Jim McKay right after the Derby that the horse won because he, Campo, was a great trainer and added, “and don’t you forget it pal.” He was a guy most trainers in New York didn’t like but the public ate him up with a spoon. He told it like he saw it and our group respected that – especially Dr. Leggio who never did anything halfway including betting on the Derby so I’m sure Doc paid for his trip many times over with the bet he made on Pleasant Colony. There were no exactas back then on the Derby – I know hard to believe right – but if there were I know I would have been all over it as Woodchopper pulled a Rumbo and ran a big second at long odds.
My lasting memory from that trip was the smile that you could not wipe off Dr. Leggio’s face for more than a week and the little Styrofoam red dog on a stick he bought at a souvenir stand walking outside the track. He took that thing with us to dinner that night and on the plane the next day. It was a silly little trinket but it was a way for him to show the world that he was a man who could walk around with a Styrofoam dog on a stick because he had the Derby winner and the cash in his pocket to prove it.
Chok’s Derby Record 3-0-2-0 Stay Tuned!