Off the Pace: Chatting with the old-timers

A regular attendee at any American track on an average day can certainly attest to the number of senior citizens in the stands. Full disclosure: I am in that demographic and so when I state that there is a great deal of experience in that group and many colorful stories, I certainly come at that conclusion with a bit of bias.

Recently I asked a few of the old-timers at Delaware Park to share with me some of their racetrack experiences and betting strategies. We agreed not to disclose their last names.

Witness to four Triple Crowns

Rich was born in New York and made his very first bet at Aqueduct in 1968. Right after he moved to Delaware in 1983, Delaware Park closed for one year. Both before and after his relocation, Rich often attended the running of the Belmont Stakes. In his lifetime, he says he has witnessed that event in person on 27 different occasions beginning with the 1969 race won by Arts and Letters. He was on hand to witness Secretariat, Seattle Slew, Affirmed and American Pharoah when they captured the final jewel of their Triple Crowns.

In his opinion the most impressive horses in his lifetime have been Secretariat, Forego and American Pharoah in that order.

When analyzing a race, Rich concentrates on horses who are in good form and have demonstrated in the past that they can compete in the current class, distance and track condition. He bets both online and on track and watches most races from the stands. He also makes selective simulcast bets.

Smarty fan

Although he made his first bet 46 years ago, Stan has only been a serious bettor for the last eight years. He says handicapping is a comprehensive endeavor with all the complexity of studying law.

Next to Secretariat, Stan was most impressed with Smarty Jones, in part because of the local connections and the attention focused on the horse. 

Stan can often be found in the Terrace Dining Room on live racing days and the DelCap Room for simulcasting. Although he takes his betting seriously, he also treats track visits as a social event. He is on a first name basis with a number of local trainers and owners, some of whom have tapped his expertise when spotting their horses or considering claims.

Stan, like many seniors, bets both on track and online. He feels the track should put a heavier emphasis on marketing their product to capture more on-track handle.

Secretariat and the atom bomb

Mike made his first bet in 1966 at Brandywine Raceway, the local harness track which closed in the late ‘80s. He made his first bet at Delaware Park when he turned 21.

He fondly recalled going to the Belmont Stakes to witness Secretariat. “The train to New York was $5, admission was $2, and the program cost a quarter,” he remembered.

Given the expanse of the oval, it was difficult to view the entire race. “But I will never forget the sound of the crowd, like an atom bomb exploded, as the horses came down the stretch,” he said.

Mike also plays harness races as well as thoroughbreds, and he is a well-known and well-liked bettor at the track.

Thinking small

Brian is distinct from the other bettors featured here. He is slightly younger and attends the track regularly but more infrequently. Although not a senior citizen, he began betting at a young age and has 30 years of handicapping experience. He concentrates on the smaller circuits where he feels the disparity in jockey skills can often point you to a winner.

Calm amid the storm

Geoff sits relatively silently in one of the noisier sections of the track, in the grandstand on the main floor. He also got his initiation into handicapping by going to Brandywine in the 1960s as a youngster finding adults willing to place his bets for him.

His first Delaware Park bets came in the 1970s. Today his harness action is virtually 100% concentrated on The Meadowlands. He plays numerous thoroughbred tracks, but his heaviest bets are saved for the NYRA and southern California tracks.

One of the reasons he stays silent is that he bets large sums of money daily and needs to concentrate. He rarely cheers home a horse and feels shouting is only good form on payoffs that are four figures and higher. His fondest memories are of Niatross (harness) and Secretariat. He loves the traditional, non-jackpot Pick 6 but limits his outlay on them to $144. His biggest strike on that type of bet was a $20k hit at Santa Anita.

Guys in the back

Joe, Larry, and Jack combined have approximately 150 years of combined betting experience. You can often find them in the back row of the VIP room. All three bet using the automated kiosks and eschew online betting. Joe spent many years in the mutuel departments of both Brandywine and Delaware Park and is a dedicated harness bettor. He loves playing 10 cent superfectas.

Larry and Jack concentrate on Delaware Park and the major daytime thoroughbred tracks and utilize jockey/trainer combinations heavily. Jack always comes prepared with his picks for the day noted on paper. He often plays exactas. Their interplay and conversation are just one thread in the fabric of what makes a day at the track an interesting experience.