It was the normal Sunday morning routine when the three of us piled into the back of my father’s Buick Riviera. My mother always had a large bag filled with cookies or cakes or pastries. We would take the half hour drive over the bridge to Cross Street in South Philly. Dinner at Little Gramps and Grams house was a ritual back then from the time I was born. They lived in a tiny row house on a tiny street with tiny parking spots. The bakery was on one corner and the bar was on the other. It must have been around the time I was 6 or 7 that every detail of those visits became embedded into my brain. The smell of the gravy cooking on the stove, the way the basement staircase cracked beneath my feet, the paint-by-number framed artwork of the Brown Stallion hanging on the living room wall that was painted by my brother who passed away before I was born. I can still hear the adults talking in the kitchen while the three of us were left to sit on the clear vinyl-covered sofa waiting for dinner to be served.
It is hard to imagine that 4 decades have passed along with the passing of Little Gramps, Gram, my Father and my Mother. Those days are gone and all four are gone as well. I often think of those days, always with a smile and with pure love. I think about what an incredible childhood I truly had.
It was a childhood that, at the time, I had no idea what an impact it would have on my later years. One often says that knowing what they know now, they wish they could just go back for one more day and relive that time, at that place, with those people. Just one more day to tell them what happened along the way while they were gone. To tell them all the things they missed. Just one more day.
Little Gramps was born in 1908 and died on Jan 24, 1989. He was 81 years old when he passed away and I am happy to state - that little Italian man lived a very colorful life. He was a master at the craps table and was very well known around town as the best at the game. He was also the quintessential horseman. He knew his horses, better still, he knew how to bet on his horses. It is heart-wrenching to me now that short by only 4 months, he missed seeing the rivalry between Sunday Silence and Easy Goer that year. This dawned on me after watching the broadcast of that documentary last night and the reason for penning this post. And I know as sure as I am sitting here, he would have had Sunday Silence on top in the first two legs and he would have parlayed all of his winnings on Easy Goer’s nose in the Belmont. I just know it to be true. He was that good.
As early as I can remember, my Grandfather would talk about the great Champions that he no doubt made money on. Knowing him, he would never discuss a horse that he lost money on. Citation, Count Fleet, Black Gold and Seattle Slew were his favorites. He would often talk about a filly named Regret as being the one that as a young child he would hear the elders talk about, which caught his imagination and became the one who led to his love of the track. He would show me pictures and photos of horses that, at the time, just seemed like story-telling time. Oh, what was I thinking? I had a gold mine of information, a treasure of knowledge in handicapping and the experience of a real horseplayer who only wanted to teach but I was too naïve or too stupid to realize it.
We would all go to Brandywine to see the Trotters or to Garden State for the real racing. There was my Grandfather, all business, collecting at the windows. I can see him there, with his bow tie and his wad of cash held together with a rubber band. I can see my father sitting with my mother at a nice table, drinking Gold Cadillacs and Martinis. And there I was in pig-tails, picking up trashed tickets from the ground and piling them up for no reason at all. I was there. He was there. He tried to tell me how to read the tote board and how the purse worked and, the big one, how to read a past performance sheet. He would point out the crooked jockeys who would be known to throw races for a piece of the action. He would take me to the paddock to see the horses while he talked with the Groomsmen, getting the lowdown on who was ready to roll and who was not. He was a master horseplayer and he wanted me to learn.
If just for one more day.
I would tell him about Charismatic, Smarty Jones and Barbaro. He would have loved Smarty Jones, the king of his old stomping ground at Parx. I would tell him about Frankel and Zenyatta and Rachel. I would tell him all about Wise Dan, Animal Kingdom and A.P. Indy and his gorgeous son Honor Code. I would tell him all about the Champ, Shared Belief. Everything he missed since he has been gone would thrill him beyond belief. His passion for horse racing was infectious. He was a brilliant handicapper.
I would tell him how after he passed away, when it was too late, I became obsessed. I would tell him that I should have listened closer, asked more questions and stuck by his side as much as I could. I would tell him he was so right about stamina horses but how at the time, I had no clue as to what he was telling me.
I would tell him that I began to study everything I could get my hands on and how I wanted to know everything he knew. That nothing would stop me from becoming a horseplayer like him. The tradition of this magnificent sport still carries on through him and it will continue as long as I am alive as well. It is just hard to imagine though, that one day I will not know who won the Kentucky Derby as well. A crazy and morbid thought but believe it or not, I actually think about stuff like that. Just as I still tell him in my own little way who won and how the race unfolded after each Triple Crown Race, year after year, I do hope that one of the young ones in my family continues to do the same for me.
I love this sport so much. I love the horses. I love the thrill of it all. Unraveling all of the pieces of one single race with odds, numbers, times, bias, track, weather, past performances, pace projections, pedigree, jockeys, trainers, workouts, rumors and tips. Every single detail analyzed to the point of exhaustion for that 2 minute thrill is what I live for. Of course the main focus, the stars of the show, are the horses themselves. Sometimes they just grab your heart and they never let go. Sometimes one comes along and you just wish they were around to see him too. If just for one more day.
My ambition and goal is to cash a Superfecta ticket in every single Graded Stakes race that I bet on. It is as simple as that. No messing around. I have learned to be picky with my races. Just like Little Gramps who never bet just for the sake of betting and who only gambled with confidence. It is the reason for the years dedicated to learning the potential and optimum distances of young horses. It is an obsession to the extent that sometimes I will get up in the middle of the night to double check a colts chart because his name popped in my head out of the blue. It is the reason I will spend 8 straight hours pulling apart one past performance sheet only to turn around the next day and trash everything I worked on and start all over again. It is the reason why I will go into hiding for weeks on end if I miss a horse who came in 4th. I will go back and figure out how and why I missed him and spend more hours on that than I did in the first place. It is the reason why I get pissed off when a trainer puts his horse in the wrong race or even worse, when a trainer has the perfect horse for a major race and he is nowhere to be found. It is the reason why I walk on Cloud Nine when the longshot that my friends laughed at me for even mentioning his name hits that wire first. It is the reason why I get goose bumps when a stamina horse wins a 6f maiden race and I know that we have not seen the best of him yet.
It is the reason for this website. This is for Little Gramps. And that is as honest as it gets.
And somehow, many years ago, I happened to cross paths with someone I have never seen or met in person who goes by the name of “Buckpasser” on the internet. Buckpasser has an unbelievable gift and talent for writing and I began reading his articles about the very horses my Grandfather talked about when I was young. And now all of these years later, Buckpasser is contributing those fantastic articles here on our website. It doesn’t get much better than that.
I have also met another friend, Brian, who has become one of my dearest handicapping partners and who does not realize just how good he is at spotting those quiet runners on the side. 2017 Preakness – Cloud Computing. I will never forget that! It is a wonderful thing to have a knowledgeable horseplayer who allows you to vent and talk things through. Hopefully, through this website, there will be many more friends and alliances to come.
All of this because of that Sunday Silence/Easy Goer documentary!