Mar 8, 2009


The recent controversy over fractional times at Gulfstream Park can be solved simply by changing the way races are timed. Thoroughbred race would benefit from adopting the way races are timed by their Quarter Horse brethren, from the gate opening to the finish line.

Serious handicappers have had to struggle to find out what the “run-up distance” is at various tracks, at different distances. For instance, a race which starts when the gate is 40 feet from the timer “beam” will likely have a faster first quarter than a race where the gate is 25 feet from the beam because he has had more time and space to generate speed before tripping the timer.

Now, more than ever, this is important because most of the money is bet offtrack which denies players the knowledge of how far away the gate is set.

The simple solution is to time races from gate to wire, with no run to the pole.. They should also be timed to one-hundredth of a second rather than the customary one-fifth. This information might not mean much to the $2 bettor but it makes quite a difference to the serious player.

The industry ought to declare that these changes will be made on January1, 2010.
Any policy which can be fruitful and inexpensive ought to be adopted by the entire industry if it provides information useful to its customers.

I learned these fine points from a true handicapping master many years ago. Buddy Abadie died in 2002 and we wrote a eulogy in honor of this remarkable man.

It seems appropriate now to offer a re-write of that homage.

“A guy ought to have a bet everyday. Otherwise, he might be walking around lucky and not know it.” Frank “Buddy” Abadie, 1921-2002.

To know Buddy Abadie as a friend was the definition of walking around lucky. He died in his native New Orleans after enjoying one of the most colorful careers imaginable in this business.

Buddy didn’t start out lucky. He was a grade school drop-out during the Great Depression who occasionally helped his widowed mother feed five kids by pinching produce in the French Quarter’s open markets. By age 12 he was galloping horses at Fair Grounds. New Orleans was a wide open gambling town in those days and Buddy soon graduated to setting the morning line for a bookmaker before he was old enough to shave.

In a town full of sharpies (like a tree full of owls he liked to say) Buddy was the best. He served in the US Army during World War II and returned to New Orleans with a bankroll after organizing poker and dice games during the occupation of Germany. There was a bit of Sgt. Bilko in the man.

He married
his hometown sweetheart Gloria and set out to take on the Thoroughbred world once again. He began a quest for a set of speed figures that would make him a steady winner. He endured the gambler’s vicissitudes until the day in Boston when he met an engineer from MIT. Buddy paid this fellow a year’s winnings to come up with numerical tables to correlate weight and speed and a track variant. He even added a table for estimated wind velocity and direction.

“That changed my life,” Buddy said. “I knew I could win steadily with the proper math.”

I first met Buddy in the twilight of his career when I wrote an article about a legendary handicapper who was coming in from the colt. His long-time patron Jack DeFee, a one-time national HBPA president, had arranged for Buddy to head the newly formed Louisiana Thoroughbred Breeders office at Fair Grounds. Soon Buddy began to mentor me on the “proper math”.

No handicapper was more meticulous. He timed the races from the gate to the wire (ignoring the flag fall that started the teletimer) with a hundredth second stop watch. With the program in his left hand and a pencil in the right, he balanced binoculars on his nose and could write notes during a race. Before the instant replay you only got one look and Buddy never missed a thing, a dropped whip, a limp, a trace of blood…all grist for the mill in the hunt for a future winner.

Buddy’s first hot streak came at Delaware Park soon after the war. He was betting a steady stream of winners. One evening there was a knock on his motel room door. A couple of hoods announced that “the boss” wanted to see him and they hustled him into a car. “The Boss” told him that he wanted in on Buddy’s action.

“You must have some pretty good connections,” he said. “Nobody cashes like we see you cash.”

Buddy told the goons that he was a solo act and worked at his craft day and night. He offered to show them how he operated if they’d take him back to the motel. There they saw a virtual monk’s cell with a two-year stack of Daily Racing Forms taking up every square inch.

“You mean you’re on the level, kid” said The Boss. “I ain’t interested”.

Chicago tracks were his favorites and he doubled as stable agent for DeFee and Louisiana owner Oscar Tolmas. Soon he had an active following at Arlington Park. Buddy was a private man when it came to business and no one sat with him unless invited into the box. There was a well known comedian who loved to play the races and he asked a friend to intercede with Buddy to let him in the box one day.Buddy said OK but the guy needs to mind his manners. There’s a sizeable bet down on a race and Buddy’s horse gets trapped along the rail and gets pipped at 8-1 by the odds-on favorite. “If I don’t see you I bet the winner,” the comedian tells Buddy.

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

He bought New Orleans rental property during his salad days and found new joy working a more leisurely pace without the daily pressure of betting winners. But he still made his figures everyday and he was keen to share his knowledge. He tried to convince his only child Gwen to become a handicapper. She demurred and went on to become a successful entrepreneur instead.

Then I showed up, thirsty for the kind of stuff he had to teach. I wrote the racing beat for a newspaper and clocked in the morning with another legend, Frenchy Schwartz. Immediately after the work tab was compiled I would hustle to Buddy’s office trainer for another lesson.

He explained that you timed the races yourself because the timer was not perfect and sometimes malfunctioned. It’s a major edge if you’re the only guy in the grandstand with the proper time.

Wind? “In a game where inches decide fortunes why not know everything you can know.”

He had charts of the different positions at every track he attended. The run-up distance is a crucial in judging actual time. His weight figures demonstrated that 4.4 pounds was worth a length at a mile. It took 6.6 pounds to equal a length at six furlongs.

After a few years of this he granted me the great gift of a copy of all his tables. “Take it and see what you can do with it.”

I wanted to know how he could spot a sore horse in the post parade. “You don’t look like a dope,” he’d say. “After you watch about 10,000 post parades you’ll see it , too.” His math was right about that, too.

A decade later I called him from Canada after authoring a Pick-Six which paid a record six-figure sum up to that time. “You make me proud,” he said. I wept, knowing I could never have gotten to that place without him.

Buddy said that Damascus had the highest numbers he ever recorded. “It’s a funny thing that I’m working for a breeders organization,” he once said. “Because I think these numbers would have great value in evaluating breeding stock.”

Years ago there were fewer ways to bet at most tracks. Jefferson Downs, in a New Orleans suburb, offered an exotic “Twin Double” which involved hitting a daily double twice in a row. Buddy said it was like taking candy from a baby.

Buddy loved people and the line up in front of his office on race day resembled a papal audience. He was also a master of the intentional stiff, providing bogus numbers to an unworthy supplicant. “Won’t see him no more,” he’s say after a few days.

He had a way with everyone from a hotwalker to high-ranking politicians. “Buddy was part of the foundation of the modern industry in Louisiana.” said Fair Grounds president Bryan Krantz. “He was at the table for all the major decisions that enabled us to grow. He’d represent the breeders but everyone knew him, everyone loved him, and everyone trusted him.”

He was named a state steward and served with distinction until his health began to fail. He always took an active interest in young people and was a bug supporter of trainers Tom Amoss, Frank Brothers, Bill Mott, Al Stall and others.

Late in life Buddy went from picking winners to helping losers. He helped rehabilitate some of the most intractable racetrack characters that you could imagine. He would personally escort them to a Catholic retreat house where they would ponder the error of their ways.