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The Conscience of Thoroughbred Racing


HALLANDALE, FL, July 5, 2022 – This is more a New York reference than a national one, but before there was a “Mike and Mad Dog” on sports talk radio there was Hank Goldberg, who died yesterday on his 82nd birthday, which happened to coincide with closing day at Churchill Downs.

And I’m sure Hank would have had an opinion about how the ultra-impressive Bashford Manor winner Gulfport, and Debutante heroine Wonder Wheel, would progress towards next year’s Kentucky classics, both the Derby and Oaks. And he wouldn’t sugar-coat it.

When you’ve earned the sobriquet “The Hammer,” it’s not because you’re in the habit of soft-peddling an opinion.

I replied in a tweet to one of Goldberg’s countless good friends, Jay Privman of Daily Racing Form, an admission that Hank often asked my opinion about a race, which was his way of sharing his opinion and not for any insights he might glean from me.

I say that lovingly because to know Hank was to love him, from long-time-listeners-first-time-callers into his Miami sports-talk show, to Al Davis, to Al Michaels, to Nick Zito. He knew everyone. And for a sports fan in South Florida, Hammer’s afternoon drive-time was appointment radio.

But Hank was so much more. The son of a newspaper sports editor, he ghosted scripts for Jimmy the Greek Snyder’s column and his segment in the early days of the “NFL on CBS.” Later, of course, he was the insider/handicapper for ESPN’s Sports Center, and ABC Sports, too.

And he was a true insider, an original, knowing everyone worth knowing and not shy about sharing what he knew.

I remember a Saturday morning at Gulfstream Park years ago. The Hammer and Tom Jicha hosted a local racing show, their set located at the end of the breezeway closest to the paddock. They invited me to sit in and talk about that day’s feature race.

Coming out of a break, Hank introduced me as someone who “needs no introduction, legendary handicapper John Pricci.” At once, humbled, proud, and a little embarrassed, I snapped “Hank, you’re going to have to set your standards much higher.” He was the only legend on set that day.

While he was convalescing In Las Vegas, cared for by his devoted sister, Liz, he was missed, but more so now that he has left the building; gone from his front row seat in Gulfstream’s Silks race book, or from the paddock and the backstretch, in racetrack press boxes everywhere a big race is run.

As if six-horse fields weren’t enough, old schoolers who were the denizens of racetracks, sports and race books, and no doubt bookmakers, too, are all going to miss Hank, a true racetracker, just like Larry King back in the day, the man who introduced Hank to his first radio job 45 years ago.

And did Hank Goldberg ever make the most of every moment. It was my honor, Mr. Hammer, RIP.

Stephen Foster Weekend Redux

Saturday was a super day for high profile racehorses in the Commonwealth.

Wicked Halo won the rescheduled Tepin Stakes over three outclassed rivals, the race losing all appeal when Churchill Downs decided to give the newly installed turf course more time. Now it has until the fall to take root, literally.

Given her comprehensive win, whereby now eight-time leading rider Tyler Gaffalione was in complete control—stalking comfortable, mid moving at the turn, and shaken-reins ridden out, she looks set for bigger game on either surface.

Rattle N Roll continues to develop for Ken McPeek. Third to Cyberknife in the G3 Matt Winn last month, he rebounded for his first score of 2022 after mostly keeping stakes company throughout his three-year-old year.

Rattle N Roll came with a big late run on a track free of bias after suffering through speed-kind surfaces in his last two starts. McPeek was pleased and will look to rejoin the graded ranks for the Connect colt’s next start.

With the rust nowhere in evidence in her third start of the campaign, Shedaresthedevil was a grinding winner of the G2 Fleur de Lis after stalking fast-developing pacesetter Super Quick, who blossomed with a blowout score in Pimlico’s Allaire de Pont.

She is expected to try to earn her third lifetime Grade 1 when next she appears.

With conditioning and class relief from recent efforts in the G1 CD Sprint and G1 Met Mile, defending champion Aloha West appreciated the listed company, the turn-back to 6.5 furlongs, and the return of Joel Rosario, he got his swagger back with a hard-earned Kelly’s Landing score.

Wayne Catalano will be looking for much bigger game when he sends the five-year-old Hard Spun horse out next time. There are a pair of sprints in Saratoga that would fit that bill nicely.

Olympiad has had his moments this year–four of them to be precise—and he’s delivered in each, all of them around two turns, three in graded company. In taking the 9F G2 Foster—it drew a Grade 1 field—he has become one of the stars in the deep handicap class of 2022.

The Speightstown colt has been pointed to Saratoga’s Whitney since Gulfstream’s Championship Meet this winter and with Life Is Good’s audacious return in the G2 Nerud at Belmont Park earlier in the day, the Spa’s storied Grade 1 on AUG 4 is highly anticipated.

Babies on Parade

We have yet to see replays of the Bashford Manor and Debutante we’ll have our take thereafter. But we did see the winning well-meant debut of Super Chow in the Gulfstream opener and are looking forward to the next start of runnerup Companuevo.

The long, leggy, long-striding and scopey son of Arrogate was slow to begin, finally gained momentum, and by midstretch of the 5.5F dash was in full stride, gobbling up the ground and galloping out strongly. Take notice.

Speaking of maidens, a Saffie Joseph-trained claimer, Capridrey, made a long, wide, sustained rally on the turn going a mile and persevered in the lane despite the big run. Race had to do her good, as did the debut effort of juvenile New York-bred filly, Dream on Cara, Monday at Belmont.

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3 Responses

  1. Saw mister Goldberg about a month ago in ESPN 2 s ” Daily Wager” program.Had not seen or heard him for quiet a while.Just seeing him,although not in a healthy impression,it automatically brought memories of simple days,in All sports.From Howard Cosell to Art Rust Jr, my mind went into a time tunnel with flashes of Jimmy the Greek to Rush Limbaugh to Francesa.His,maybe ,most famous pick was that longshot horse,Brimstone (??) who at odds over 30/1 ,some say,made Goldberg carry$100 bills in his chest rolls ! What bothers me is that these characters are not being replaced by Anyone with a modicum of charm,intellect and ability to tell,and yes,exaggerate real gambling stories.Today s sports ,anonymous,stiff puppets are just mimicking themselves and whatever the big name brands have trained them to be between 4 minutes commercials.Robots can do the same procedure.Rust,Cosell,Goldberg were iconic,daring,,,interesting and somewhat knowledgeable in their own right situation.Is there a betting parlor in purgatory ?Maybe,we ‘ ll subjectively find it out someday/ night. Thanks x the memories..

    1. Had forgotten about Al Rust Jr., he was a great listen. Cosell? Simply larger than life, an original, love him or hate him. The Hammer was a trip, is missed and won’t be forgotten…

      1. Rust was had an encyclopedic knowledge when it came to Boxing,Baseball and Football. Listened to him when i shortly lived in Bensonhurst,listened him after work as i walked with my muzzled Shepherd/ Doberman on my way to one original Sbarro on 65 th Street and/ or to Villabate- Alba,the Best Italian one -stop pastry shop-bakery this side of the Atlantic Ocean..That ‘hood,just like most Italian American sections,has changed. Instead of Neapolitan, Sicilian voices and stores you hear other accents both from stores and residences..It aint what it was,with less diminishing reminders and aromas. Goldberg hit it Big,from what i gather,with Birdstone, 2004 Belmont Stakes winner ,beating Smarty Jones on the stretch,paying something like 35:1 . Thumbs up !

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