HALLANDALE BEACH, FL, February 8, 2021 — Marshall Cassidy, who passed away in his sleep Sunday, would love this story.
It was parent-teacher conference Sunday at Bishop Loughlin Memorial High School. As my parents and I approached Brother Ralph, he greeted them enthusiastically and immediately began singing my praises … such good student, so attentive, very well mannered, and then this:
“Mr. and Mrs. Pricci, John is a natural born leader,” swelling my chest even further, “but, unfortunately, he has a tendency to lead people in the wrong direction.”
And this was two years before I took my senior class’ money, feigned illness, took two trains and a bus to get to Aqueduct in time to bet on the feature race.
The horse was a fast, beautiful copper chestnut daughter of Beau Gar, from the Pilate mare Red Ginger named Red Belle. ‘The Chief’s’ filly ran off the screen at 5-2.
That was two decades before Marshall Cassidy began calling races at New York Racing Association tracks, where I met Marshall during my early days at Newsday.
Both companies doled out expense money sparingly, almost enough to cover living expenses, for the 24 racing days of Saratoga. Enjoying a friendly relationship, we decided to share living quarters that August.
Clearly, Brother Ralph never met Marshall Cassidy, who was as incorruptible and unwavering in character as he was understated and precise behind a microphone.
What I experienced on a daily basis, and what everyone got from the first time they first met Marshall, was a man of style, substance, and grace.
“He was a kind, gentle and steady presence,” said legendary television analyst Charlsie Cantey, the template for today’s successful women broadcasters in Thoroughbred racing.
“I was always nervous before going on air on those early broadcasts,” remembered Cantey, who worked alongside Cassidy, Dave Johnson, and host, trainer Frank Wright on a weekly racing broadcast from NYRA tracks Saturdays on WOR-TV in New York.
“It was a comfort and joy to work alongside him and listen to that velvet voice,” evoked Cantey, a voice his successor Tom Durkin said “belongs in the Hall of Fame.” Later, Cassidy would also mentor current NYRA race caller, John Imbriale.
Remarkably, calling races was not at the top of Cassidy’s wish list. If he had his dream racing job, he would rather have been the next John Blanks Campbell, the legendary racing secretary and handicapper, a contemporary of Cassidy family predecessors:
On his mother’s side was great-great grandfather Marshall ‘Mars’ Cassidy, the first starter to make use of a starting barrier; grandfather Marshall Whiting Cassidy, a starter and steward, and grand-uncle George Cassidy, who started races for 50 years.
Marshall learned to love being behind the mic. When that phase ended, he got his wish. Soon after Equibase bought the past-performance database from Daily Racing Form, Cassidy was charged with making charts for the official NYRA program. Later, he served as a placing and patrol judge.
One year while Tom Durkin was calling races at Hialeah, Marshall came south for some R & R and I was my annual horse-playing sabbatical. One night the three of us went out for barbecue at Durkin’s favorite rib joint in Boca.
We bought the ribs, went to the beach, sat down, ripped open the bags and began to dig in, all but Marshall who took a beat, stopped and stared at the ribs, turned to Durkin and asked: “How does one eat these?”
Marshall would love to retell that story years later, about how we picked up some barbecue, went down to the water and began eating them while sitting on benches under a “thatched cottage”– quintessential Marshallese.
One-upping my friend, I turned to him and said, “in my neighborhood, Marshall, we call it a hut.”
So Brother Ralph was right on the mark, but I had met my match, someone who was unflaggingly incorruptible and warm, with a hearty laugh in the same rich baritone that distinguished his race calling career.
As his friend Paul Cornman noted, after learning of Marshall’s passing, “if anyone deserved to go in his sleep, it was Marshall.”
Can I get an amen, Brother?