Wednesday, August 06, 2014
Vic Zast: The Complete Package
SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY, August 6, 2014--For two chroniclers of the sport of horse racing, it was totally appropriate that Vic Zast and I would have our first face-to-face in this town, a place when Vic would spend every day if he could, but summers would just have to do.
The bonus for Vic, in addition to the top class racing, social scene, and race course itself was that his children lived downstate and could visit frequently. He was always eager to introduce family to the friends he made on his racetrack odyssey, sharing coffee, croissants and conversation by morning and something a tad stronger by afternoon.
We initially met because of Vic’s gift for words, syntax and cadence. I remember reading a piece he wrote for the Bloodhorse, showing it to my wife and saying: I’ve got to meet this guy; maybe he’ll be interested in writing for [this] website?
That day came on a Sunday morning. We shared breakfast and a conversation and if the term “mutual admiration society” hadn’t already existed, we could have founded the organization right there at the table. Vic loved what we were trying to accomplish; I loved Vic’s writing and critical eye. It was a marriage made in turf-writing heaven.
I told him he had carte blanche; that he could write about anything he wanted. I never failed to be surprised by the topics he ultimately chose. I can handicap a race with the best of them but I never knew what Vic was going to do. Not that it ever mattered; I never so much as substituted a semi-colon for a comma.
Clean copy and a great read, what a parlay!
It's hard to define what I admired most about Vic: Was it his joie de vive? Was it his passion, generosity, loyalty, style, his mind? As turned out it was all the above. He had the kind of attributes that makes men loved and respected.
But what I appreciated most from my colleague were his words. His writing had wit, honesty and a sensitivity woven around his relentless pursuit of truth. His advocacy for the sport he loved was boundless.
Vic graced the pages of HorseRaceInsider for far too short a duration. I looked forward to his Monday columns with the anticipation of a devoted fan. He was a wordsmith of the highest order in the tradition of Thoroughbred racing's greats: the Palmers; Smiths; Hattons; Morans.
And nowhere was he more inspired than when he was in Saratoga, riding his bicycle down Fifth Ave. by morning and attending charity events or parties by night, always with his wife Maureen at his side.
Vic was a freelance writer, meaning he went to most events on his own dime, hoping that the writing gigs he picked up along the way somehow would get him even for the trip.
Zast took pictures on his I-phone long before it was commonplace. He took what is now known as a selfie of the both of us in the Arlington Park press box when the Breeders’ Cup rolled into his home town of Chicago. He later confided that he took the “Fix Six Scandal” as a personal affront.
Racing wasn’t about gambling for Vic. He loved the racetrack because it was fun, exciting, a cut above other sporting pastimes. And he never stopped selling that.
He wasn’t embarrassed to bet $2 on a horse no matter how sure, no matter how strong his opinion. The game wasn’t about making a score; it was the color, the spectacle, the style. It was the dramatic storylines that reeled him in
Vic was successful in his life’s work, making a good living as a marketer. He owned his own fragrance company, something he parlayed into a career in horse racing. He was at one time President of Finger Lakes Racetrack and had the vision to promote racing through sponsorship.
The sport’s first sponsored race was a Zast creation, the melding of the Spiral Stakes at the old Latonia together with bourbon distillers Jim Beam. Indeed, the Jim Beam Spiral Stakes was Vic’s brainchild. That would be enough of a career path for most men but it was writing about the sport that he enjoyed most.
There will be a celebration of his life at the Westmoreland Country Club in Wilmette, Illinois this afternoon, golf being another of Vic’s passions. There will be another in his beloved Saratoga on August 17th, one day before the Cary Fotias memorial.
Tee shirts being sold here this season that remind us “Everything’s Better at the Racetrack.” For some, that’s a bit harder to swallow this time around.