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The Conscience of Thoroughbred Racing

IN THE WORDS OF ANOTHER GREAT BROADCASTER, DAVE JOHNSON, THE ROAD GETS NARROWER

HALLANDALE BEACH, FL, OCTOBER 25, 2021 – Bob Neumeier, who passed away too soon at 70 on Saturday evening, had the kind of career that most aspiring sports journalists and broadcasters can only dream about.

One often hears the cliché that a particular person was a notable talent but a better person. Clichés are what they are: truths that encapsulate the essence of things.

This particular chestnut is especially appropriate when describing Bob Neumeier, the man.

We’ve been lucky enough to have had several cups of coffee with the NBC family: grabbing sound bites in the early days when Breeders’ Cup made highlight reels, replete with voiceover from very popular actor and racing fan, John Forsythe.

And for a few years we did research for Breeders’ Cup telecasts hosted by Tom Hammond, did a little writing in the early days of MSNBC Sports, and am currently a racing analyst for WNYT in Albany, New York during the Saratoga Thoroughbred season.

I first met “Neumy” at a Breeders’ Cup event when he worked as a reporter and handicapper for ESPN and saw him subsequently at every soiree thrown by the “Voice of the Breeders’ Cup,” Tom Durkin, an annual tradition following every Championships event.

I knew Neumeier pretty well, lamentably not well enough as I was about to discover after learning of his passing in a Sunday morning Tweet. I wish I had spent much more time with such an engaging and gifted man.

My favorite memories are of racing days at Gulfstream Park where he spent many winters betting on the races between gigs. And he was good at it, too, once winning a handicapping contest at Caesars Palace– something I’ve never done–and more than his share of Pick Sixes.

We’d often meet by chance on race days and exchanged “who-do-you-likes” before and between races before settling into our daily racetrack routines.

The easy-going, knowledgeable reporter sports fans saw or heard on national broadcasts was a natural–Roy Hobbs with a microphone.

I admit to a tad of jealousy because Bob could do something I couldn’t achieve no matter how much time I might have devoted to it: calling play-by-play for a sports team as Bob did first for the New England [Hartford] Whalers and later on radio for the Boston Bruins.

As Goodfella Tommy DeVito might say, I’d “crack under pressure.”

All great performers have pre-event jitters. If Neumy was nervous, it never showed. If you saw him work as a weekend sports anchor, a reporter for WBZ-TV Boston, a Patriots’ pre-game co-host and post-game panelist, you know it, too.

Making broadcasting look easy is hard and Neumeier was good at that, whether it were Olympics gymnastics, track-and-field or, quite naturally, equestrian events.

Neumeier also appeared on ‘Football Night in America’, hosted NHL network overage and co-hosted a Sunday morning baseball show on WEEI, the WFAN of Boston.

But this audience knows him because of his Breeders’ Cup work as a roving reporter, a lead reporter conducting winners’ circle interviews, but mostly as a handicapper teamed up with Churchill Downs linemaker and Kentucky race caller Mike Battaglia.

And once NBC secured the contract to broadcast the Triple Crown, Neumy reprised has handicapping role each spring from Churchill Downs, Pimlico, and Belmont Park.

Fatefully, however, it was at the Derby in 2009 when Neumeier collapsed off set, missed the roses run but returned in time for the Preakness two weeks later.

Conversely, five years after that, in the Fall of 2014, Neumeier suffered a stroke, missed the Breeders’ Cup and the following year’s Derby but again returned in time for the Preakness. It was then that he learned he had developed congestive heart failure and heart disease.

I never saw Neumy express anger or bad will towards anyone. Perhaps had I spent more time around him I might have but somehow, I doubt it.

Back in the day, in my old Queens neighborhood, we had an expression for guys like Neumeier: a real sweetheart. To have known him, however briefly or incompletely, was to love him.

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4 Responses

  1. So sad. I met Neumy at a handicapping tournament up in New Haven in the early 2000’s, and spent a decent portion of the 2 day tourney with him, and you couldn’t find a nicer person (though I think we gravitated to each other off us both being pretty focused on the tourney and quiet instead of spending the entire time between races telling the room “I had that one and changed it last minute”). There are people you can spend just a small amount of time around and just pick up on them being solid, and he definitely fits the bill. I’m just grateful that i got the chance to meet him.

    Your phrase from the old neighborhood in Queens must have been in use in Manhattan Beach back in the day as well, cause my dad says somebody ‘is a real sweetheart’ too.

  2. As a member of the New England racing community. Neumy was a personal friend as well as one of the railbirds. Bob loved racing. He enjoyed all aspects of the game, he celebrated the speed and power of the equine athlete. Bob was a sports broadcaster, but his real passion was handicapping and betting on the ponies.

    There was a period in late 80’s and 90’s when Bob and I would be in the press box literally every weekend. Besides our love of racing, we both worked in sports. I was with Fox Sports NE and he was with NBC Sports both locally and on the National broadcast of College Football, Triple Crown races and then the Breeder’s Cup. We discussed shop as well as handicapping.
    The most important thing is that Bob always remembered the sports fan. He’s always had time to talk with the regular guy. Despite all his personal success, Bob was still one off us.

    Neumy was a Ragozin sheet guy, I am a Thorograph numbers guy so we would constantly compare our sheet patterns in the Suffolk Downs press box. It was a good academic exercise, often times we’d land on the same selection. But, I’d like to think I had better figs and was just a wee bit better at picking winners.

    I miss the big days at Suffolk and Rock press box with Bob, Bill Nader, Lynne Snierson and all the other turf writers. Those were truly memorable times. I will always cherish those memories. I know Bob is in racing heaven now, I’m sure he’s at peace. I hope you are handicapping and picking winners.

    1. T, I feel like I was there with you which, of course, at times, I was there, NY, KY, CA, and I miss those days, too. But like we do when a race or a column doesn’t work out, we turn the page. Enjoyed your reminiscences re Neumy, a good, good guy. And find that report he did from the “Hail Flutie” Orange Bowl. One of the best feature reports on an event I’ve ever seen. The link is in my post above.

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