Jun 27, 2008

Ted Turfman and Friends

We recently received word of the death of Mr. Ed Fricke, retired chairman of the Journalism Depart at Loyola U. in New Orleans. Fricke had an inordinate influence on the careers of myself and two confreres at Loyola. That’s because he had a second job as publicity director for Fair Grounds Racetrack. Fricke was known to host a class or two at the track when his schedule got tight.

A 3-year-old named On The Virg was considered Derby material earlier this year and that got me thinking. Wasn’t that the name of a weekly column written by none other than Eclipse Award winner Ron Virgets? He livened up the pages of Daily Racing Form and has since gone on to become a beloved denizen of the Crescent City. Ron had to swim for his life when Hurricane Katrina hit.

Mac McBride inherited the sports editor position from Virgets and then passed it on to yours truly when he graduated. He spent some years at Daily Racing Form also before landing the cushiest job in racing, humming along with Bing Crosby every day where the Turf Meets The Surf at Del Mar. He also heads up the publicity staff there

Fricke called me with a job offer after graduation to cover racing, golf, boxing, ABA basketball and whatever else might come along. All this and $l00 a week! Where do I sign up? The Fair Grounds press box was the major attraction. In those days I could drink $l00 a week in free beer and sandwiches at the track, all the while in the best seat in the house atop the ancient and revered grandstand.

The daily that I wrote for dubbed me with the nom de plume Ted Turfman for my graded handicap at the track. My initiation was a little rough. The guys in the racing office liked to announce that some poor soul was found drowned in nearby Bayou St. John. His pockets were empty except for a copy of my selections. That sort of stuff and a lot more toughened my hide enough to learn the ropes.

Migration to the DRF followed with triple the salary and a chance to travel to exotic places and cover racing exclusively.

That Loyola school paper only had about a half dozen male students. What were the odds that 40 years later we three would still be playing the ponies?

Charlie Hatton, the best writer the Form ever had, said it best. “You get stuck on the flypaper of turf journalism.”