HALLANDALE BEACH, FL, August 14, 2023 – Far be it for me to rush the end of the 2023 Saratoga race meet; hard to believe that after Sunday’s finale the meet was two-thirds completed and already a part of Spa legend.
But I can’t wait for the final weekend’s inaugural running of the Harvey Pack, formerly the Lucky Coin, a listed event at 5-1/2 furlongs sprint for turf specialists.
It’s appropriate the event goes on the meet’s closing weekend. On many of his Thoroughbred Action shows from Saratoga, Harvey encouraged fans and bettors to come for the final week–far from the madding crowd.
If you can, conjure Harvey in Heaven – not an image that readily comes to mind – looking down at the Saratoga starting gate for the Pack Stakes knowing he has action because one of his guys, Steve Crist, will enter his New York-bred, Thin White Duke, seeking an open-class stakes score; ‘Duke’ won the 2022 Lucky Coin.
As post time nears, we’re certain many memories of his recap show will spring to mind recalling the show’s co-host analysts, many of whom got their 15 minutes of fame as participants.
Harvey loved characters and for better or wise made them famous: Marty Blum, a k a “the Bronx Cowboy”; Tony Di Mucci, who coined the term “body sore” long before “the bounce” became mainstream; Louie the Clocker, who hung out in Harvey’s office daily until one night Pack decided to add him to the rotation.
But it was the handicappers and reporters from metropolitan area dailies who set the show apart from other racing programming, the only one focused on the horseplayers.
Not all writer/handicappers made the cut., however There was a turf writer in the press box, an Associated Press free-lancer, who implored Harvey for some face time on the nightly cablecast.
“How come you never have me on the show?” he asked Harvey one day. “Do you have to work for the New York Times or Newsday to get some recognition?”
“Oh, no, that’s not it, Larry,” Harvey shot back. “I just don’t like you.”
But he did like media types and professional horseplayers with a good opinion. We were blessed to do the pilot program that led the way. Harvey loved Andy Beyer, dubbed “Mr. Lock It Up” for his penchant of boxing exactas and Crist, of course, “the King of the Pick Six.”
Harvey once told Steve that he made both his career and mine. We often laughed about that because this was quintessential Pack, alternating irascibility and the charm that made him a cable TV star and racing legend.
And because he did help define our place in the racing media firmament.
Paul Cornman, celebrated handicapper, professional horseplayer and co-owner of Win, the first New York-bred millionaire, was a large part of Thoroughbred Action’s early days, the show providing a template for today’s replay broadcasts and handicapping seminars.
Later, it was at Daily Racing Form’s seminars at Ciro’s in Saratoga that Harvey introduced “Little Andy”—as opposed to “Big Andy” Beyer, that exposure a large part of launching Andy Serling’s racetrack and broadcast career, eventually becoming NYRA’s handicapper-in-residence.
All are in Harvey’s debt, and we know he would enjoy a proud moment when Thin White Duke, a nickname for the celebrated David Bowie, a favorite of co-owner, bloodstock advisor and former trainer Phil Gleaves, enters the starting gate.
If his last run is any measure, Think White Duke rates to be one of the Pack’s top players. Trailing badly as a talented field of turf sprinters entered the stretch in the G3 Troy on a speed-favoring course, he settled into top stride leaving headstretch and came with a powerful late brush foir third beneath Johnny Velazquez, a David Donk turf-riding regular.
‘Duke’ is a subtle trip handicapper’s dream, making him an obvious, appropriate choice at fair odds for a race named for NYRA’s most celebrated curmudgeon.
Got a Hunch? Bet a Bunch!
We’re not to proud to admit that public handicappers sometimes stoop to the level of those whose favorite methodology is the hunch bet. Such was the case last Friday.
We had absolutely dismal luck when our choice to win Friday’s rescheduled G2 Hall of Fame Stakes, Behind Enemy Lines, was encouraged to take the shortest way home by Joel Rosario. There was room on the fence to dart through only the hole was moving a bit faster than he was.
When Jack Sisterson’s runner got through, he was forced to steady and check the rest of the way home.
That trouble came after first getting muzzled and suppressed into the first turn, and was still on hold midway of the far turn. But outside pressure in the straight from Mysterious Night put the would-be late-finisher in precarious position; Rosario was out of options. But we digress.
As the horses for the following race began their preliminaries, we noted the name “Sicilian Grandma” and thought–hey, I had one of those–until Nana sadly passed several years ago.
Nana liked the action and loved the racetrack. My mother-in-law was the only woman at the poker table on holidays after dinner, and was our baby sitter in Saratoga so that Toni and I could take advantage of the nightlife–providing that I took Nana to the races with me every day, of course.
Adding to Sicilian Grandma’s chances was the fact Tyler Gaffalione–a paesano who was born in the South Florida town next door to mine, Davie–was going for a riding triple, an angle I first heard from old-school turf writers back in the day.
I never looked at the past performances, but how could I resist?
Sicilian Grandma stalked the leader under a confident Gaffalione and got the money at 5-1, ending the day on a brighter note. And that’s one of the game’s positives; you can be right for the wrong reason.