Aug 2, 2008


A horse named Play Melancholy Baby ran at Monmouth Park the other day. It made me think about the story oldtimers would resurrect each year with the opening of Del Mar.

The tale involved Del Mar founder Bing Crosby and a vaudeville comedian named Joe Frisco. Daily Racing Form columnist Oscar Otis liked to dust it off each year when the Turf Meets the Surf at Del Mar.

It seems that Frisco was almost always tapped out and Crosby was his line of credit and rarely repaid. One day, however, Frisco gets lucky and finds a few winners.
He is soon wining and dining friends in the Turf Club when he spies Crosby headed his way. His body language says “pay me”.

Frisco, who speaks with a stutter, quickly takes out a $20 dollar bill and hands it to Crosby.

“H, h, h, here, k, k, kid, sing Melancholy Baby for us,” he commanded.

Shecky Greene was another comedian who liked the races and he was a daily Arlington Park visitor when working the clubs in Chicago. My handicapping mentor Buddy Abadie
was a real pro and he brooked no interruptions when the races were on. He would share a box with national HBPA president Jack DeFee or maybe Ed McCaskey, son-in-law of Chicago Bears owner George Halas. Anyone else was invited to sit elsewhere.

Greene was friends with owner Joe Kellman (who later raced an eponymous champion sprinter for his pal) and asked him to intercede with Buddy. One day Buddy relents but tells Joe that the guy must mind his manners. There’s a sizeable bet down on a race and Buddy’s horse stumbles at the break, hurries along the rail to catch up, swings out for the drive and comes up a nose short at 8-l to the odds-on favorite.

Shecky taps Buddy on the shoulder and says, “If I don’t see you I bet the winner.”

They say it took four strong men to pry Buddy’s fingers from the comic’s neck.


Eddie “Bundle Boy” Meloncon was Buddy’s sidekick on the Chicago-New Orleans circuit. Bundle Boy was a halfway decent trainer but his disposition was such that he’d rather hustle a buck than earn two.

Buddy kept him around as an information source and general court jester. Bundles stretched the friendship from time to time, touting other gamblers after learning Buddy’s figures. If Buddy found out Bundles was killing his odds he would send him into exile.

For a week or two Bundles would hang around hoping that his probation would soon end.
Just for fun, Buddy told the others in the box one day
to jump up and cheer the first time a horse came in a better than l0-to-1.

When a 20-to-1 bomb rolled in the guys arose as one to cheer home the bogus betting coup. Bundles could take no more. He beseeched Buddy to let him rejoin the flock.

Buddy figured he had suffered enough and, besides, he might be useful one day when they shipped back to their hometown New Orleans Fair Grounds.


Back in New Orleans and Bundles invites me to go fishing with him along with my friend Matt Koldys. Matt was the program line maker and calculator in the money room. He was a scratch handicap in golf, a good handicapper and a terrific friend. Like me, he was a once-a-year fisherman at best.

I took one look at Bundles’ boat, a skiff maybe l2 feet long that had seen many a nautical mile. We drove a few hours to the town of Empire, Louisiana, a hot spot for fishing because of the offshore oil rigs.

Catching red fish required no skill and we had loaded the boat to its limit. The clouds began to roll in and Bundle Boy said it was time to go. He fired up the outboard motor but we were not moving. Bundles pulled up the motor and cursed. The propeller had sheared off.

We were in trouble. Big trouble. The seas began to roil, the sky continued to darken and rain began to come down in sheets. We set our sights on an oil rig about a mile away.
Our only means of locomotion was a wooden paddle maybe four feet long and a golf size umbrella which Matt had the foresight to bring along.

Bundles sat in the back of the boat, popping nitro pills for his heart and saying more Hail Marys than the Pope, begging divine forgiveness for his lapses from grace.

I paddled and Matt converted the umbrella into a sail. Luckily, the wind and current were blowing toward the rig. We could see our path to deliverance if we could manage to keep the boat on an even keel. I was a lousy swimmer and, for the only time in my life, I had serious doubts that I would survive.

It was not our hour, I guess, because we did make it, looking like the Owl and the Pussycat who went to sea in a pea green boat. When we were rescued by the Louisiana roughnecks they had quite a laugh at our expense. They also had hot coffee and dry clothes and a crew boat on the way.

Later on I wondered why we hadn’t thrown the fish overboard to lighten our load.