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The Conscience of Thoroughbred Racing


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.

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30 Responses

  1. Boy,who can ever forget Harvey Pack’ s show endings, with his throwings of the papers, notes in the air and saying ” May the Horses be With You” ! Must admit though, that it is easier doing a recap show than picking horses live ! Monday morning quarterbacking is always less difficult….Steve Crist, wasn’t he one of those guys who killed my favorite Sports Races tabloid,the ” Sports Eye” ? ?? Yes ,I still miss it ! On a handicapping note ,since you mentioned handicappers being guests on that program and others, after noticing the winner of the Colonial Downs Secretariat race, and more importantly, how much it paid, it reminded me of the importance of a horse, especially running in higher allowances and Stakes , who has won at that track and distance, which in this case, the colt Gigante, was the only one to do so. Now, since considering everything else, this horse did not figure in the top three out of eight horses, how many more points, or consideration, should a bettor give to that horse ‘s past performances (Three races,one bad,which I ignored , one win ,and a show) on that same Colonial Downs ? ” Horses x courses” comes to mind, but shouldn’t the other top horses with overall better numbers ,cla$$ remain as top picks ? I could only use him for third in triples. But in Turf racing, maybe a side bet with the ” horse x the course” on top seems reasonable, without ‘ couldas, shouldas’… even if it paid $ 40 to win… Now, about that other $ 100 pick…,,……..

  2. First, it was the track program Harvey threw each night, signifying we’ll be back here tomorrow…

    Guest were asked to make selections occasionally at the early a.m. live Taking Horses seminars; the payback was that you got to appear on TV.

    No one was past-posting, red-boarding the results. The idea, at least for me, is explain what happened, point out a trip, misjudged ride, and the like for next time.

    A Horse for Course—one race not enough evidence, but at 20-1 it’s worth a saver wager based on possible horse for course and/or the fact it was the only runner with a winning race over the course.

  3. Until the Fox current show, which is so enjoyable, Thoroughbred Action was the best horse racing show on TV. Great guests (including you John) and the incomparable Harvey Park. Harvey….may the horse be with you!!

    1. Have to admit, Les, your closing sentence put a lump in my throat. Incomparable–and irascible, for sure!

    2. I guess you must still be content with the continual switching of the two ,or even three, Fox channels and/ or with the failure to keep the scheduled times and programs which several times get capriciously changed at the last minute x no apparent reason or explanation, while being replaced by tertiary level sports and repeats. You must have been trained ,tamed well by them.. Congrats !

  4. February 15, 1989. I was a “new face” appearing on Thoroughbred Action during the Aqueduct meet on a dreary winter Wednesday.

    I had 4 winners. Made a small profit even after paying the airline fare for a round trip flight from/to Boston.

    It appears I had company in being disliked by Harvey as he definitely did not like me. I left the track believing he was angry because that day, I won and he lost.

    1. Harvey was a walking contradiction in some respects, I could see him being peeved at losing, especially if one of your picks won and his bet lost. But it also could have been Harvey playing a role. I remember the ‘new face’ feature–good stuff…

  5. One of Harveys great lines about racing was; ‘you can have fun ALL afternoon for $9 dollars’… that was when the the single dollar bet was introduced at NYRA… And ‘true that’ then…..Now you can have a full days entertainment for .90 cents…
    A Damon Runyon character for sure..

    1. Good call, Sonny, can’t say I remember that line. Doesn’t surprise me. Thanks for checking in…

  6. I agree with Sonny L.–the Harvey Pack show was a “must see” back in the day and was loaded with Damon Runyon characters. Isn’t “Louie the Clocker” a name straight from the cast of characters in “Guys and Dolls”?? I taped Harvey’s show every evening and it was the first thing I watched arriving home from work. And I loved the chemistry that you and Harvey had together.

    One of the increasingly common comments from HRI readers is about the overload of opinions and information on the various cable channels that carry horse racing each day. I have to agree that “TMI” has become more of an annoying distraction than a useful source of information. The multiplicity of analysts and commentators has produced a cacophony of divergent voices that you would have to be afflicted with ADHD to follow. With the exception of Seth Merrow –who is a generally the sole commentator/analyst/handicapper on Capital OTB’s broadcasts here in the Capital District–when I watch the NYRA, Fox and/or Fan Duel broadcasts I do so with the sound muted. It is too much of a sensory overload otherwise! I found Fan Duel to be particularly annoying as handicappers were often changing their selections shortly before the race went off–which can be legitimate if odds or the horse’s pre-race appearance dictate a change in selection–but can also simply be a way of touting additional selections to generate more last minute wagering on the Fan Duel platform.

    And of course I remember your beloved Nana, and I know she is smiling right now to know that you made a tidy profit by throwing your handicapping sheets out the window and simply placing a winning wager on Sicilian Grandma in her memory!! In closing, as Harvey would always say: “May the horse be with you!”

  7. Chuck, on my way to a Doc’s visit at the moment and lots to unwrap here, stay tuned. Might even be subsequent column fodder…

  8. I recall Paul Cornman commenting once after having touted out three or four really good price winners on consecutive appearances on Harvey’s show, “I can’t come on your show any longer. You guys are killing my price.” I also often listened to the “Pack at the Track” on his radio broadcasts as well. He was always entertaining, and provided an enjoyable listen and learn commentary. RIP Harvey.

    1. Ditto on call counts, McD.

      Harvey was a completely natural in front of any microphone. The word legend is much overused these days, but it could not be more deserving than in Pack’s case.

  9. Nice to see a race named after Harvey. He only lived into his 90’s. I guess if he was still living NYRA would be waiting to celebrate his 100th birthday.They should have had a broadcast booth named after him. Good to hear Cornman is still around.. I remember when he stopped giving out picks because 20-1 morning lines were opening at 9-5. Instead just gave out trips, which was just as valuable. A lot of fun in those days. The paddock club was great before it got broadcast throughout the track. It was like a select group of characters.A lot of good handicappers around today, but the vibe of being at the track was different. Hard to explain unless you were there.

  10. Could not be better said Aaron, and McD noted the same thing re Cornman’s picks.

    You’re right again, there are good handicappers around today–though would like to see how they would have fared without Sheets and video replays.

    I had to get to the track, and later the press, early. Only one chance to see yesterday’s replays–at the track and before the first race. Otherwise… sorry Charlie.

    And for another, “the vibe of being at the track was different. Hard to explain unless you were there.” Truer words…

  11. John,
    It is nice that every once in a while we get to reminisce about days at the track. It was a great time for racing. Newsday,alone had you,Marc Seigalaub,Brad Thomas and Steve Matthews. I think Moran was also there, followed by Berner.What an array of talent.

    1. Mc Carthy was no slouch either. Last time I saw his name was on the NYRA program, not easily comfortable,fit , for me. Only bought it in emergencies, when the DRF ‘ bible’ was sold out or out of reach. Another good reason to buy the programs a day ahead ! Even watching the PPs in print don’t make me feel as good as when I have the copies in hand. Same ,of course, with dailies when I’m in the NY-LI area. So it cost a few bucks, what am I gonna do ,complain for a couple of days ? With a well done sesame bagel with jam and butter, and cawfee, what’s a $ 10 bill to make me happy , as I reminisce…?? Priceless !

    2. I dare say that at that time, Newsday provided the most comprehensive coverage of New York racing of any newspaper, anywhere in the U.S. And you’re forgetting Richard McCarthy, aka “Wolifie,” who provided workout information, trip notes and the like. All those names mentioned? Not sure if there are that many racing writers that still exist in full time coverage roles. Thanks for more memories Aaron.

  12. Harvey was once asked if he thought a horse would run any better after off loading a deuce on the track. Harvey replied he was never sure about a horse, but speaking for himself, he always felt better after. An enjoyable and entertaining character he was.

    1. Not a surprise that “daddy,” the nickname his guys had for him. would respond that way in those circumstances. He knocked a lot of “softballs” out of the park…

  13. I forgot why I came in! ,…Fast, think of the last time you saw a female rider on a 3/5 …! Yeah, me too.. ( cannot think of one) ! Saw it today in the Erie track which has at least Five regular ladies riding horses there and Ms Helen, M Vanek rode the $3 horse to a win. Emma, Chantal, Rosey, Marie, Julie ? Did they ever do that?

  14. Memories of Harvey ??? Here’s a few more. At his book signing at a table just off the Saratoga paddock, near the Clubhouse escalator, I asked Harvey if an Ecuador – a term he used frequently on the show – referred to 4 winners by a jockey or trainer. He smiled and said it was 3. I was convinced that it was 4 but Harvey was firm. I stood corrected. Back in the 1980’s, and maybe the early-90’s, Harvey Pack’s Paddock Club met outside under covering on green benches near the Racing Secretary’s Office and the Shoe Shine. This will bring back great memories for John as he was a frequent guest of Harvey’s in that location. You didn’t want to miss the Paddock Club – not with the excellent handicappers that Harvey routinely had lined up. Harvey’s racing stories were priceless and timeless. Many times he said something like this: “This 9 in the first race is the world’s fastest horse. It’s an international tip. I’ve been stopped by everyone on my way into the office – 2 Pinkerton’s, 3 fans and a trainer. He’s 3-5 on the board early and he must be the next coming of Secretariat.” One more, referring to bridge jumpers. Harvey never understood why someone would bet a ton to show just to collect $2.10 for a $2.00 ticket. Someone once told him that you can collect 5% on your money in less than 2 minutes and that’s way better than what the bank pays. Harvey shot back: “Yeah, but the bank doesn’t make you run around the track to get the money.” What memories . . .

    1. Richard, I remember the “bank run around the block” line.

      And, yes, Ecuador was for three winners; it was also known as– irreverently for some — the Holy Ghost…

  15. John,
    I caught my few minutes of fame on the “New Face” program. Pack impressed me with his personality and kindness.
    BTW, I actually picked a Lukas Horse with the MiG at 9/2……….he congratulated me………miss those days……..

    1. Nice pick Mark! “New faces” was an enjoyable feature. You’re not alone is missing those days–on many levels…

  16. Irad with another one in Race 10 where he just gets horses to run better than another jockey can. Just amazing.

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