by Bob Heyden
Last Sunday I wrote about my 10 best racetrack money stories (full story here). The feedback I received prompted me to do at least a second round of stories, because I’ve got many more tales — perhaps three dozen altogether. Most are firmly filed between the ears, but for a few more to come I needed to refer to some dusty old manilla envelopes.
Here are the 10 next best racetrack money stories:
20. A friend named Jeff, a disseminator in Las Vegas, was helpful around two decades back. He liked the races and kind of kept us up on what was going on out there long before the current sports wagering boom. So, after a bigtime hot streak where I’d piled on some good-priced winners, Jeff want to do something for me. I declined. He’s that good a guy. Just good stock. But he insisted. So I told him, since I had never been to Vegas at the time, to send me a $25 chip from any casino. “Done,” he said. Three-four days later an envelope arrives from Jeff and I put it with some other mail and didn’t open it for a bit. Finally, I put it up to the light and didn’t see anything inside. What is this? I’m thinking. Upon further inspection, there was a little slit in the bottom right corner. You know, the kind big enough to slide out a half dollar-OR a Las Vegas chip. Jeff, if you are reading this, thanks anyway. You did what you said you’d do.
19. Freehold in the 1970s. There were a quite a cast of characters there regularly. They raced Monday through Saturday in those days. I made a lot of visits, many while I was a student at Rutgers. One guy in particular was like a wind up doll — without the off switch. Constant yapping. So my time going to Freehold started thinning out when the Meadowlands was in full flight and I didn’t see much of him. He owed me $20. I do remember that from sometime in the late 1970s. A quarter-century later, I’m going down the elevator at the Meadowlands and he’s going up the other one. He sees me first and yells out, “I haven’t forgotten that $20!” I wait down at the bottom for a couple of minutes. Nothing. I guess the acknowledgment was the next best thing to the payoff.
18. Freehold again, in the mid-1970s. In those days while in college, if you had $40 in your pocket that was saying something. One day, I had $30 or so. I remember because I really liked this one race and wanted to leave myself something. So I bet my three picks in a $2 exacta and trifecta box — $24 total, $6 left. The second favorite, the third favorite and a longshot in the 19-1 or 20-1 range. They are sitting 2-3-5 nearing the first quarter and another horse breaks and scatters the field. All BUT my three horses. I’m left alone 50-60 lengths in front with just these three horses left, my horses. I am in heaven. The longer shot is sitting behind the top two who are battling now past the half, which makes it even better. The battle continues to the 3/4s-and I see some jostling going on, the top two have locked wheels! No, no, no. This simply cannot be. The longshot roars by them as the other two pull to the middle of the track unable to separate. Somebody else, of course, comes on for second and only one other even finished.
17. One of the hosts of the Meadowlands TV show in the late 1980s into the 1990s was an owner who bet big. One day he gave me a stack of hundreds as he was heading in to tape the show and told me to bet $1,500 to show on a particular horse later on. When I went to bet it, there were hundreds sticking together, brand spanking new. $1,700 was in the stack. Was he testing me? Did he know? Were there more? I counted again — $1,700. He comes back into the press box later and I gave him his ticket and told him there was $200 left over and that the bills stuck together. “Okay. That happens a lot!” he told me. Not to ME it doesn’t.
16. In October of 1976 at Freehold during the Yankees-Reds World Series. The game was on the radio pretty much everywhere. The Yankees had not been to the World Series since 1964 at this point. I was at Freehold for “Roll Back The Prices Day.” Everything cost 10 cents. Beers, too. So the crowd was big. My freshman year roommate from college insisted on coming along. He never saw a free opportunity anywhere he didn’t like. He didn’t reach once and for a dime a pop it was pretty easy to find sponsors. One guy even bet for him — 4-5 races worth. No good though. The final race comes up and the guy bets $10 to win on a horse for my ex-roommate and tells him they are partners. Whatever they get back they split. The horse wins $14 and change. We get ready to go and wait for him, but he’s making no move to find the guy and split the $35 or so each. When we asked where the guy was he responded, “- – – – him!”
15. Late 1970s at the Meadowlands. We were at our favorite watering hole, the Library in Woodcliff Lake, NJ. Twenty minutes from the Meadowlands. It was Friday night — lots of Happy Hour types and couples. It’s getting late and a bunch of us are heading down to the Meadowlands. Four or five people send bets with us, almost all of the $2 across the board variety. One of the nice older ladies bet her grandson’s name $2 to win-place-show because he just graduated. We head out. While driving through Hillsdale which is the next town. A cop we know and a regular at the Library with us, sees us all piled in and puts on his lights and pulls us over — for laughs. We loved it. We all put our hands on the top of the car and everything. People slow rolling by us, dirty looks all over. No harm no foul. We get to the track but we have now missed the first three races. The older lady’s horse, which was 4-1 on the morning line finishes second, so this is probably going to cost me a couple of $2-3. But we had fun. No problem. Next morning I read that there was a bridge jumper to show in her race and the horse finished off the board. Her horse paid $5.20 to place and $78.60 to show.
14. In the spring of 1980 at the Meadowlands, I was in the restaurant business full-time then, but often you could find me in the backstretch in the mornings. I got to know a lot of the horsemen that way. I was 23 and loving it. One day I had that night’s program with me and loved a horse in the second race that was 15-1 morning line with Mike Fagliarone driving. (Mike was in the Freehold Hall of Fame so he could handle himself pretty weel). I tell a few of my friends and a guy I did not know overhears me. He wants to know who the horse is and how to bet him. I told what I was doing and he thanked me. I was working that night at the Restaurant — The Fairway in River Vale, NJ. I got the results the following morning. (There was no TV show then; not until May, 1982) I saw my horse finished second, beaten a nose and paid $38 — something to place at odds of 39-1. OMG!! I was staring at theStar Ledgerfor 20 minutes transfixed on this page as if the results were not yet official. I went to the barn next morning. I was not totally unhappy since I had not only back-wheeled the double, I had him up and down in the exacta ($325) and win and place. After 20-25 minutes, I see in my rear view mirror as I am slow-driving up and down the shedrows a guy frantically waving me down. It’s the guy I just met the day before who bet it. This is the brief conversation we had when I reached him. “Do me a favor he says to me, “Next time you have a horse that you like… keep it to yourself!”
13. Make sure if you ever like two horses in the same race that they don’t sound alike. You can imagine the fun times there were in 1981 when KARRAM and CARAMORE met up. Anyway, there was a guy a year ahead of us in high school — I graduated in 1974 from Pascack Valley in Hillsdale NJ. His first name was ED (just in case he’s reading this I am leaving out the rest). He loved 4-7, his favorite numbers. Loved it. And he had money. But he was naïve. So a few of the guys pounced on this opening. They would take his bets on 4-7 boxed in certain races. Remember that in those days EXACTA races were designated about 4-5 a night. Mostly the numbers didn’t come in. But when they did come in they would tell Ed, “Oh, no. We bet it at Freehold yesterday NOT Roosevelt!” “Yonkers? No we didn’t even go to Atlantic City.” He never caught on.
12. His initials were DD. He was a first ballot inductee into anyone’s Gum-Flappers Hall Of Fame. You know how it works, the less talent someone has in racing the better a yapper they are. This guy was the mold. This was 1979 at Freehold-Yonkers and the Meadowlands. I remember exactly because Fight The Foe was getting claimed a lot and kept moving up the ladder back then and was a truly great story. So on a Tuesday I borrow $20 from DD. I see him again Thursday but I don’t have it. I see him again Saturday and pay him and this is his exact quote, “HALLELUJAH!” Four days later? Really? Whatever. So in the next few months I see him here and there and one night he needs $200 at Yonkers. Somehow I give it to him. His horse wins and he insists on paying me back $210. Reluctantly, I take it. Two months or so later — again $200. Horse loses. That was 1979. This is 2021. Do the math. As a P.S. to this, I even saw him at a club one night showing someone his signing slip for a $2,700 trifecta he had just cashed at the Meadowlands.
11. Tommy The Musician in 1990 in the Meadowlands’ press box. This time I don’t care if he sees this. I hope he does. Right out of central casting-, this guy looked like someone who just watched Damon Runyon meets Goodfellas. In a band. Loved the races. No opinion at all, but that’s okay. But he was becoming something of a pest telling the guard outside the press box door that I was ‘expecting’ him. That kind of thing. So over the course of a year or so, I give him some good ones, but also a parade of junk too. Yet, he’s coming back for more every time. So one day I am looking at Garden State Park for him and told him make SURE to use Plutino on the ticket. John Plutino had a habit of rolling in with big prices a lot and this one had the potential to be one of those. I circled like four horses but John was the key. Plutino wins it, pays $105 and keys a $5,000 trifecta. It was probably 1/5th of a second after they hit the wire that Professor Pepperwinkles’ Anti-Memory Spray kicked in on Tommy. He was not only NOT thankful, but was bragging and boasting all over the place. I am working — doing charts for Sports Eye at this time — and it’s a bit tough to take. Finally, after a race or two of this, when he didn’t so much as even look my way, I asked where he got the $105 winner from? “Oh, that’s right, you told me that one…” as he walked out of the box for good, if I remember correctly.