Jul 30, 2008


A couple of years ago I met a New York documentary producer who was video taping horse players. He wanted to know one thing—what was your most memorable “tough beat”?

After 40 years of steady play it seemed nigh impossible to choose only one. I’d had an elephant sit on my bankroll too many times over the years. Then it dawned on me that my toughest beat wasn’t a beating at all. Worse still was knowing I had suffered a player’s worst nightmare…I didn’t get down!

Gulfstream Park was the scene of the crime in February 2001 and the horse in question was none other than Speightstown, a future champion sprinter for owner Eugene Melnyk..
He had shelled out $2 million to purchase the horse at my suggestion at the l999 Keeneland July Sale.

Speightstown was shipped to trainer Todd Pletcher who was under some pressure to run the horse at Saratoga where the owner had taken a house for the season. Speightstown was trounced in his only start at the spa and came out of it a bit worse for wear.

Melnyk and his trainer had a spat over the winter with the result that some of his horses were shifted to the barn of Phil England in Ocala. Phil patiently worked on Speightstown and had him ready at Gulfstream.

The race in question was run on a Saturday during the 2-year-old sales at Calder. I purchased a plane ticket that would leave Lexington in plenty of time to take in the race.

There was a slight delay at the airport so I sped down Interstate 95 just to make sure. When I turned off I-95 at Hallandale Beach Blvd. I about fainted. Right in front of me was a freight train. And it wasn’t moving.

Precious minutes ticked away and I even considered leaving the car with my friend Diane and running the half-mile or so to the track. Just then the train began to move. We zoomed around the corner and into valet parking.

The first person I spotted was Pletcher who was heading out of the track.

“Did Speightstown win?”I asked.

“By six,” he replied.

Speightstown was 5-l on the program. I was almost afraid to ask the next question.

“What did he pay,” I wondered, knowing I should shut up and leave the man to deal with his pain.

“$29.00”, said Todd in his best monotone.

“You’ve got to be kidding,” I said.

“Do I sound like I’m kidding?, he said.

Now I wanted him to just go away and let me deal with my own pain. All I could think of was Nick The Greek’s famous creed that “the next best thing to playing and winning is playing and losing”. I never even had the chance to play.

Todd eventually got Speightstown back in his barn and turned him into a champion. And all I got was another gambling story…a guy has inside info on a $2 million maiden and gets shut out. It was raining pennies from heaven and I’m standing there holding a pitchfork.

Come to think of it, there was a worse day and it also took place at Gulfstream. That’ll have to be one for another day. Enough sorrow for now.