Politics, Protests, The Police, and the Worst? Racing Season Ever

I was never going to use my blog to talk about politics or religion. I may break my pledge.

Politicizing Horse Racing

I was brought up in a small town. The current House member for the town is a guy named Paul Tonko. I’ll tell you why Tonko  is connected to horseracing below. He’s a couple of years older than I am but we both graduated from the same high school, the well known Wilbur H. Lynch Senior High (Grades 10-12). And I’m not going off on a “who was Wilbur Lynch jag.”

There’s a web site that lists famous people  born in a respective city. I only remember two from my small town. Kirk Douglas and Paul Tonko. I’m not on the list yet. Like most of us who were young in the sixties and seventies, Kirk Douglas skipped town as soon as he could. He was somewhat forced to return once because the town threw an A-1  celebration for him.  Poor Kirk was stuck with carrying the burden of being the most prominent ex-resident of Shitville, NY, USA. I look at it this way. At least we had one bona fide, famous person, which is one more than most small towns

That is until Paul Tonko was elected to Congress. Being a congressman is apparently considered famous. So he and Kirk Douglas are on the same list. That says all I need to say about the value of those lists.

I felt like it wouldn’t be such a bad idea to write a book that probably resonated with most of the people who lived in that small town on the Mohawk River. I have the article from the local paper pimping my book. I can’t wait to send Paul Tonko a copy of the book. I eventually got to know him a little. I think the funniest thing that happened was when I was talking to him in his office and he asked me if I was related to Sue Halvey (her actual first name would inevitably bring strange looks from people). She worked on Tonko’s campaign and even has a picture to verify that. I confessed she was my mother and that brightened Tonko’s mood. (My father had passed away well before she knocked on doors for Paul.)

Where was I? Oh yeah, Paul Tonko. He was the original sponsor of the legislation (H.R. 1754)  to set up a federal commission to regulate horseracing. The current version is at  https://www.congress.gov/bill/116th-congress/house-bill/1754/text

The bill has roused interest in the House and 225 other Congressmen have joined Tonko as co-sponsors . It’s not a landslide but it’s enough to send the bill to the Senate. I have to wonder if Mitch McConnell wilI accede to the Water, Hay and Oats Alliance if for no other reason than it was sponsored primarily by Democrats in the House. After all, isn’t the job of the Senate leader to crap on every bill pushed by the opposing party? Still I suppose Rep. Tonko  deserves some credit for finally getting the House to consider the bill. After all, he’s introduced it in every session since 2015.

I think the key is that to Federal electees, Federal oversight may sound like a  great idea. I’d also bet that maybe 10% of the group voluntarily goes to the track to bet, or has an ADW. How can you vote on a bill when you know very little about the sport it covers? I’m sure in the 21st century being a winning horseplayer gives a Congressional candidate no advantage come election time. More likely it is seen as nefarious.

If you read the bill you’ll see the myriad of potential problems. For example, the Feds won’t be paying for it, nor will the Feds guarantee the debts of the Committee. I think you might see where I’m going with this. It seems like, unless they get a big fat grant from Stronach or CDI, tracks have to pay to be more regulated than they are now, Maybe commissioners will have to pay to be on the Commission.

I don’t remember seeing anything about rectifying the sloppy way in which residual standards were set. I’ve got stories from people who were there when some of the stultifying discussions took place (not to mention outside pressure to get something in place).

The bill also creates space for six people from the current anti-doping commission. Is that a big deal? Last I looked none of the members were recognizable horse people. Also, there are more than slight differences between humans and horses.

Read this paragraph closely. I am totally in favor of an effective, honest and a fair standard setting and testing system. I am not against that kind of regulation in the least. But some experts believe 19 of the 26 residual drug standards are malodorous. And we have to wait for funding from the tracks or will the philanthropists pay for that? Can you imagine a federal commission not funded be the feds? Can you imagine 30% rake on horizontal or vertical bets?

I ask you to look at the requirements that are duplicative of how things are managed now. But I want to know hat’s the role of the stewards and the State Racing Commissions have? I have absolutely no problem making the current system better, considering its increasingly tatterdemalion state.

Details, my boy. It’s all in the details.

I’ve generally lived by the rule that if PETA is happy with something, the horseracing community should be unhappy.

I’m wondering why bettors, owners and trainers haven’t marched on Washington to keep such an unnecessary  bill from getting a vote. Based on current marches, I suppose it wouldn’t do much good, and God knows nobody is interested in having their neck stepped on. I sent  letters expressing why I thought the bill wasn’t any good.  I offered to testify in front of the Congress (I’ve testified in the House and Senate three times, so I’ve got some experience. All I get back is a “thanks for your interest, blah, blah, blah, blah.”). Nobody seems to be listening to me. But I understand that almost none of the 350 million people who live in this fine country has any idea who I am.

And I have to add that as long as I can remember, a lot of the townsfolk my town (with apologies to Thonton Wilder) have spent a day or two or 28 at the Spa. There is even a race named after the town. Grade III, sprint, three year olds. Pretty good for a place where well over a thousand buildings are condemned and ready to fall down.

I have no idea if Tonko’s bill stands a chance once it hits the Senate, but he better make sure  Mitch McConnell’s friends from the horse breeding and racing state of Kentucky don’t decide they don’t like it. Just my opinion.


The other day one of my friends asked me what I thought about the marching that is going on  vandalism style. So I told him a story about something that happened in High School. I hope you get how this was like big national marches.

It was in the spring of 1971 that me and two other guys decided we needed to have a student strike. It was happening in colleges across the nation and we had dreams of making news. We drew up a list of our grievances, presented it to the principal and demanded action. The principal was a really cool guy and thought that it was great to see us get involved in the politics of a high school. When we looked at him, the read we got from him  was, you guys crack me up. We took that as unspoken support for the underprivileged students and we passed the word that in two days the strike was on. After second period, we all walked out of school. Lots of yelling, but no vandalism. Peaceful protest only. We were excited but we weren’t idiots. Eventually most of the hyped up crowd  got bored and just went home or wherever they went after school. But as I found out later, the teachers were really steamed. We never thought about that.

In retrospect there was nothing of great import on our list of changes, but strikes were the fashion of the day and we got most of the students out on the lawn.

The cool principal calls me and the two other guys to his office to negotiate. Then, because he was an adult and more experienced than us, he made us an offer to set up student/teacher committees. We thought that was great, but it wasn’t quite a done deal. The principal needed to tell the school board. Meanwhile I walked home.

My father had already heard about what I had done (I’m sure somebody ratted us out because the phone rang off the hook at my house) and was mad as hell at me. Remember Father Knows Best, a TV show from the 50’s? My father was the exact opposite of Robert Young’s portrayal of a dad. It was useless to talk to him. I was wrong, and that was that. Luckily the principal called and asked for me. He wanted the Triumvirate of the strike leaders to come to school to meet with the school board.

So I’m off to the meeting. We get there and the board members start  yelling and screaming and calling us names. We sat there, never really given a chance to present our bill of rights. I went home and told my father what happened. He went personally to each member, at their house and said something like, if you ever yell and belittle my kid again I’ll beat you like a drum. They all thought he could do it. I  knew he could. He was built like a bull. Big, muscled chest and arms. Well that isn’t an exact quote, but you get the idea.  Rule 1: only a parent can call his kid a fucking moron. If anyone else does it, there is hell to pay.

My father still thought I was wrong though. But things had gone too far to back away because my dad was angry. The next day we met with the principal and we agreed to bring all the kids back and let the student and teacher committee work it out. We would meet for two days. I’ll make this short. The teachers slaughtered us. They insisted on Roberts Rules of Order and we figured, sure. Naturally none of us had a clue what that meant.  They’d make a motion – like, kids must be in their seats before the second bell – get a second, and of course we thought it was reasonable so it passed unanimously.

Unfortunately, when we proposed a motion, they all voted against us. 4 to 4, a tie. Motion loses. Even when we caught on to their plan, we couldn’t win. We told the principal, he disbanded the committee and asked us what we wanted. We started to tell him and said pick the most important thing and I’ll give it to you. Then everything goes back to normal. We tried to put up a defense, but he pulled an ace out of his sleeve. You can try to go back on strike and I’ll make sure you don’t get a diploma, or you can accept my offer. Plus, cool principal said he would throw this in: I’ll give you a pass whenever you need one. I suppose we were so discombobulated we capitulated, shook hands with him, and walked outside to greet the anxious crowd. The other two guys looked at me as the class awaited the result. So I yelled, WE WON. The celebrating was on, and when I had a chance I yelled, BACK TO SCHOOl. Teachers still complained, but we won because we got the class one thing and the teachers got nothing. The principal got something from the school board. A pass out of the high school–after the school year ended.

The epilogue was that I was excused from physics class at least three days a week, ostensibly on business for the principal. I showed up for tests though. Physics was the class before lunch, me and one of the other guys grabbed a pass and we went golfing. By the way I aced the final and  nailed an A. The teacher couldn’t understand it. To be absolutely clear, I did not cheat. I read the textbook the day before and I guess it stuck with me.

I hated HS. But it turned out that college and graduate school were the best six years of my life. I’ll save that for another post.

The Police

Everything you see on the news is negative these days, except for heroic rescues of dogs in semi-frozen ponds. I’m not against police doing their job in the least. Let me make it clear. If someone is trying to illegally enter my house, first thing I’m doing is calling 911, and I expect a quick response. But just because the police have been given a power doesn’t mean every situation requires the use of that power. Remember the saying, if all you have is a hammer, all problems look like a nail?

One of the big differences between the modern police force and the cops a hundred years ago  is the availability of military type equipment. Men and women dressed in heavy riot gear and backed up with a tank-like vehicle are intimidating. Of course, they’re supposed to look intimidating. But we are not al Qaeda. Clearly, if they want our respect the need to make it clear that they only brought out the intimidating squad to handle vandals and robbers, not peaceful protestors. Let’s leave Tianamen Square tactics  behind. We are your neighbors, and our kids go to the same schools that yours do.

Maybe the police should hold up their own signs

It wasn’t all bad. On the news I saw police walking with marchers, and I saw some of them on one knee as the parade passed.

Still, it seems like the pot has boiled over for those who believe they have been kicked around for all the years they and their ancestors have been in the USA. Unfortunately, instead of backing away,  most places ordered officers to ramp up their show of force. Victory by intimidation. The fact that some people, who may have been outsiders, took advantage of the marches by breaking windows and looting, may have acted as a trigger for the police to take a step up. They may not have known exactly who did what, but they were sure it was somebody in the mob.

I don’t know how all this will end, but considering how many protests have been conducted since the 17th century, you think somebody would have had that black swan of an idea, In my lifetime,  the rhetoric has been the same over and over. from the Boston Tea Party to the outrageous actions of Sherriff Jim Clark in Selma, Alabama, to the Vietnam protests, to the protests of women and  BLM, Peaceful assembly is guaranteed to all Americans, and interdiction by the state during a peaceful protest is simply wrong. The 90% of police who understand how to keep protestors and police safe should not have to pay for those who only want to make a show of power.

Are the expectations so  high for a quick resolution  that we will always be two steps behind where we should be? After the long period of time we’ve had to work these problems out, I can only think of two things: we don’t know how to solve the problem or we don’t really care about the problems.

The only thing I know, is that the man with all the power in the military-type get up is sometimes overcome with a desire to let people know whom you better not mess with. Maybe it’s arrogance, maybe it’s just a lack of sensibility, or maybe it’s a message they want to send. Still there is the hint of a light at the end of the tunnel. Perhaps a hundred years ago, a cop could kill an African-American who was  doing nothing more than driving while black and feel like nothing would happen to him. At least now we have video that leads to an indictment.

What makes people say,  this time we will succeed.

Enough of that.

The Worst? Racing season Ever

I’ve been in a rut for 40 years. I don’t know how much I’ve bet in my life, but I’ve collected enough that I never had to eat out of a dumpster or stare at a foreclosure or beg Sears for another month to pay. I’m one of those people who finds success far more joyful than failure, and the only way to do that is to work hard.

When the COVID-19 virus went pandemic, almost everything closed. For racetrackers that meant no betting at almost every track except Gulfstream  and eventually Fonner Park. Currently a number of tracks are running, all without people in the stands. But they still use the track announcer. “Desperately Slow all out and looking for the wire. Chucklehead Chuck coming like a choo-choo train. They  come to the wire and it’s…too close to call.”

To my amazement I didn’t miss it. I actually had time to do things I had been putting off for a while. The grocery store was open, albeit with a lot of empty shelves. I don’t know why, but right before the cry for isolation and hand washing hit us, I had stocked up big on toilet paper, canned goods, paper towels, and meat at Costco (note: their meats are great, but go somewhere else for fruits and veggies.)

The only problem I had was entertaining myself during the day. My normal  entertainment, the races, had closed, except for a few spots that ran without a crowd. I didn’t bet those tracks regularly and I really wasn’t interested in doing the research necessary to be a successful bettor.

I realized that to be successful betting the races, handicapping is not enough. You need patience. I can remember times when I made a nice hit early and by the time I got to the last race I was putting the remainder of my winnings on the last race. It would have been a lot better if I bet the four or five races I liked.

COVID-19 moved the most overrated – I meant well-attended race in America to September. Months and months of preparation washed away with a virus so small a powerful microscope was necessary to identify it.  No Preakness in May. No Belmont in June. You think two weeks from the Travers to the Derby works?

Horses were in their stalls going nuts because somebody messed up the regular routine.  Doug O’Neill actually shipped a claimer to Fonner Park for a race. It lost.

I’m not blaming anybody in America for spreading this pestilence, and if you tell me the Chinese had nothing to do with it I may laugh myself into a stroke.

All that COVID proved is that we were unprepared for germ warfare, and when it descended upon us it was horrendously managed. Information was sparse. Stay inside or die. Wear a mask. Wash your hands until the dryness starts looking like wadis in the desert. We only had Dr. Fauci to calm our fears.

The gyms were closed. That made sense. The golf courses were closed. Starbucks was open because it preforms an essential service.  You could walk your dog, but if another dog walker came at you from the opposite direction you strained to stay at least six feet away from each other. The supermarkets were open, but the number of people in the market was limited. There was a line and as one person left another was let in. I was lucky because old people were given an hour to shop before the young whippersnappers were let in.

Normally busy boulevards looked like Sunday morning at 6:00 am. Resources should have been rushed to cities where a lot of the population is living in apartment buildings. A playground for the virus.

Then, out here in the Western sticks, the bubble started to leak. 76 degrees and sunny was just to much to resist. The news was jumbled. We have an antivirus to kill COVID. Maybe. I don’t know anybody who had it round these parts. Neighbors began yelling across the street at each other. Great weather. Let’s go for a bike ride. I did and got a road rash on my knee when I fell off. They are right. It’s just like riding a bike has always been. Last week the restaurants opened, but they weren’t allowed more than 50% capacity.

More racetracks are opening without fans. It’s like all the screamers and the program whippers, and the finger snappers and the stookpers were out of work.  Store after store closed. I donated food and money to some of the people that worked at my golf course. If we didn’t have to stay so far away from each other we could have shook hands or embraced.

Just my luck that in December I had a piece of bone break off my spine and lodge in the nerve that runs down my left leg. For eight weeks I endured excruciating pain by eating Dilaudid like it was Pez. They tried steroid shots without success. Finally my back surgeon threatened to severe ties with the hospital. They extracted a large piece of bone from the nerve glued me back together and told me to start walking. Prescription: walk, walk walk.

I have to figure out ways to get my legs back. At the moment I weigh about 45 pounds less than I did in November. Mostly I lost muscle, which is one of the reasons I fell off my bike. If I put weight on my left leg it crumbles. Since my left knee is unsupported be the thigh and calf muscles I have to be careful about how I walk. Long way to go, but I’ll get there COVID free.

What the hell. The sun is shining. It’s a little warm, but after the winter we had it is a very welcome thing. I went to work last Monday. I rode around, said hello to everybody and then went home to eat this great green chile I made. Mild so everybody can eat it. I usually add some heat to mine. Let me know if you want the recipe.