PHOTO CREDIT: NYRA

I learned so much in my time working for Harvey Pack, first as a stage manager and later as a co-author. These days I’m thrilled to call him my friend. I look forward to my bimonthly trips to the Upper West Side to have lunch with him and his wife, Joy. One of my favorite Harvey bits from the old Paddock Club was this essay, Rich Man’s Bingo, which he was kind enough to revise and perform on the show in honor of the start of tonight’s New York-bred sale. I post it here because I thought it deserved the treatment — and because Harvey was struggling to get the podcast to play on his computer and I wanted him to see it. Take it away, Harvey!

When I did the Paddock Club at Saratoga, beginning almost 50 years ago, the sales were the thing and they still are. If you’re in Saratoga and you don’t a night at the sales pavilion, you’re wasting your trip.

It’s not just the select sale that’s great; the New York bred sale is also well worth attending. New York-breds have come along way. When I was on TV long ago, the average New York Bred could be outrun by an Olympic Miler. But that has changed radically. These days, the accomplishments of the best New York-breds are on a par with Kentucky-breds: they’re capable of winning Breeders’ Cup races and we even had one win the Kentucky Derby. And the New York-breds have an advantage because of the enhanced purses and bonuses. In the landscape of horse racing, New York-breds are now a bargain.

In the days before the sale, you or anyone else may go to a stall on the grounds where the yearlings are stabled and ask the groom to take out Hip #132 and “walk him down and back.” You won’t know what you’re looking at and neither will the groom but that’s what you’re supposed to say. And then, during that 20-yard walk, you must determine Hip
#132’s future.

On the night of the sales, they won’t let you sit down inside the pavilion if you’re not a bidder, but you can take a walk through the gallery upstairs if it’s not too full of millionaires. No matter how many people are inside, they will let you on the grounds. You can watch on closed circuit TV at the bar or wander around outside, watching the horses being led to and from the sales ring, each well-manicured and looking like an Elgin marble.

Meanwhile, inside the pavilion, the auctioneer and bidders are getting started. A horse will come into the ring, led by the groom, who must stop occasionally to clean up what the horse has disposed of. Then the auctioneer begins by telling you the pedigree and making predictions regarding this animal: at a minimum, he’s going to go one better than Funny Cide and win the Triple Crown.

Let’s say you are a bidder. You and a friend have raised $50,000 to buy a yearling. Now you get an actual seat in the pavillion. Your heart beats faster. You wait impatiently all night for Hip #132’s turn. At long last, Hip #132 is led into the ring. You feel there’s a good chance you can get him for your top price.

Your heart is beating faster still as the auctioneer begins, “This precocious youngster, from a Grade 2 winner, out of a fine stakes-placed mare, has infinite potential.” The bidding begins at $30,000, escalates to $40,000, and finally you jump in at $50,000. The bidding slows down. Hip #132 will soon be yours! The auctioneer speaks again, chiding the bidders, “$50,000 is a low price for a blue-blooded colt with a tremendous future on the racetrack and at stud.”

The bidding resumes. Heatedly. And two minutes later, you and your partner own the $50,000 horse. For $225,000.

There is good news. Neither you, nor your partner, will commit suicide before that first Sarturday in May two years later when you find that not only can Hip #132 not win the Derby, he can’t win a $10,000 Maiden Claimer at Finger Lakes.

But do make sure you go to the New York-bred sale, and if you miss it, make sure you come back next year. You don’t get that many opportunities to see people playing Rich Man’s Bingo.

 

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