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Wednesday, March 12, 2008


Racetrack Armies Travel on their Stomachs


TAMPA, March 11, 2008--More than ever in the age of simulcasting, horseplayers appreciate the importance of being prompt. A matter of seconds can be the difference between winning and losing a bet. And you seldom get shut out on a loser.

God loves to toy with horseplayers’ emotions. Dealing with the highs and lows the game creates affects one’s character. And gamblers know this about character: Keeping your head when all about you are losing their’s forges character; becoming unglued at the seams exposes it.

Yesterday, when prompt was important, I never had a anxious moment. That’s because my ride to JFK, a.k.a. Clip-Board, is always reliable and usually prompt. It comes from being a knowledgeable horseplaying lifer. He got the nickname because he can always be found beneath one of the track’s closed-circuit monitors charting the exacta and double will-pays.

Clip-Board follows the money. He writes the probables into a template propped up by a legal-sized board, the paper held securely in place by a clip at the top of the board. Jimmy discovered early that, for him, the absence of a clip-board at the racetrack was not an option. A worker needs the right tools.

But I was surprised to see Sal, a.k.a. Eggplant, was making the drive with him. I don’t know Sal as well as I know Jimmy, but I’m sure there’s a good reason why he’s named for a vegetable best served fried with tomato sauce and mozzarella cheese, a.k.a. eggplant parmigiana.

But if it were eggplant siciliana a la Toni, we’d be talking a whole other ballgame..

First, find a glass dish 3-4 inches deep. Peel the eggplant and cut into half-inch slices. Prepare an egg wash, beating a dash of sea salt and cracked black pepper into the mixture for dredging. And make your own breadcrumbs. Start with Tuscan bread and add parsley, parmesan cheese and a dash of ginger, a digestive aid, to the breadcrumbs.

Dip the eggplant slices into the egg wash and directly into the breadcrumbs, coating evenly but not too heavily. Fry them in olive oil, not too dark, as that could make them bitter and there’s more cooking involved, too.

While the eggplant is cooling, sauté enough beef for a meat sauce. Not talking Sloppy Joes here. (We prefer ground round; a little fatty, but good). Stir beef into tomato sauce. Next, hard boil a dozen eggs.

Line the bottom of the glass pan with a very thin layer of meat sauce. Cover sauce with eggplant evenly to form a layer. Add a layer of sliced hard boiled eggs over the eggplant, then another layer of meat sauce, then a layer of mozzarella on top of the meat sauce.

Repeat the process, making a complete second layer. Place in a 350-degree oven until the bottom layer of sauce is bubbling and the top layer of mozzarella is a crispy brown. Set aside for a few hours, allowing it to settle. Optimally, serve at room temperature. (If you can wait that long, it‘s better the next day).

The drive south from Saratoga Springs to Gotham City began with a bacon, egg and cheese on hard roll with a blend of Green Mountain high test coffee, half breakfast blend combined with half Vermont Country.

Three hours and 15 minutes later we were at Nathan’s in Oceanside. It wasn’t Coney Island but still one of the original world famous hot dog stands. The french fries had just come out of the deep fryer and were perfect; dark crispy outside, soft white inside. Washed down real nice with a Cherry Coke.

Finally arrived at my Atlantic Beach destination where Clip-Board had left the key in the mail box the day before.

Like I said; reliable.

The rest of Monday evening was spent researching and writing the HRI Derby Power Ratings. All that remained was to await the Equiform figures from Cary on the Louisiana Derby and Gotham..

So I turned on the TV and all over the cable news was the saga of Client-9. Apparently, the IRS noticed a non-personal bank account that appeared to have a political or governmental link, it was later reported in the New York Post, before dropping a dime to the FBI.

Apparently, Joe doesn’t get mad, he gets even. But enough of this nonsense. There will be racing in New York State for the next 25 years so who cares? Time for dinner.

Toni and I drove down Ocean about eight or 10 miles to the Lido Beach Deli. Decided on something a little more wholesome, like chicken in the pot, matzoh balls and noodles notwithstanding.

The next morning we arrived at Terminal 6 at JFK stress free with plenty of time to spare. About four hours later, our captain was saying “we’ll be touching down in approximately 20 minutes. The temperature in Tampa is 69 degrees.”

Life is good. I wonder if I can book a reservation for Bern’s steak house?

Written by John Pricci


Accompanying Photo Gallery to "Racing to the Kentucky Derby".
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