Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Black and White kind of guy

As most of you know who know me, I am a black and white kind of guy. I am opinionated and speak my mind. That is me. That has always been me and will always continue to be me. I come by that honestly. My parents were like that as well. But, no one in my family was more like that than my grandmother, Rose,  my mothers mother.
My Grandmother Rose (sitting in the front with the white dress), we called her Bubbie Rose..with my Aunts and Uncles,  her brothers and sisters. Shirley,  Mel and Jack.
 She always used to say that she called a spade a spade.
Back when I started to go to the horse races, I noticed that almost all racehorses were bay in color. A bay horse is basically a light brown horse. A dark bay is basically a dark brown horse.

Artsplace,  a very striking bay horse and also one of the greatest race horses and stallions of all time.
 But there are exceptions. I recall two very vivid exceptions from those early days of attending the races.
Even though many of my family,  on my mothers side were into the horse races, I was never interested in it growing up. I grew up in Montreal and the route from my house to my grandmother, Eva,  my fathers mother passed by Blue Bonnets, with its flashing sign by the side of the road..I never went in.

This is not the exact sign. They tore that down when they renamed the track, which is now closed. It had more of a Broadway show look back then.
 I was more interested in the Orange Julep, which we stopped at frequently for a julep and some fries. It was just a few blocks from Blue Bonnets.

The orange Julep,  which is still there in Montreal.  We used to go there and you would order from those little booths and then drive around back and get your order. Best Orange drink anywhere. Cannot be duplicated.
We used to go to my grandmothers every day so I got lots of chances to see that sign. I was always captivated by that sign with its creative light show. It had a Broadway feel to it. I never went in, but I always thought about what was behind that sign. What went on there? I never found out, and now it is gone. Likely,  for good.
 When I was about 18, my best friend, Mark Jadd took me out to dinner. To this point I still had never been to the horse races. After dinner he kept mentioning that he wanted to go.  I resisted strongly, all night,  but he kept pushing and I gave in. It was a beautiful hot summer night and I will say I did end up enjoying it very much.

My friends Eric Rubel..to my right..and Mark Jadd..to my left..at high school graduation.
 After that night,  I was hooked...for life. I guess it was in my blood but I never knew it until that night.
About the fifth or sixth time I attended the races it was a very hot summer night. I took my grandmother, who had always loved the races. That was a tradition in our family. My great grandfather, her father had always gone to the races. Even when he was older and in a nursing home, well into his nineties, he would sneak out and go to Greenwood. My father would have to go and find him, and he always knew where to look. When my great grandfather died, in his suit coat pocket were hundreds of losing betting tickets. He also always wore a suit.  He was born and lived in a time when men did that when they went out. He also had the fedora hat.

My great grandfather (Zaida) Hymie..in the brown suit in the center shortly before he passed away.Roughly 1980.
 My grandmother and mother both grew up in the Woodstock area of Ontario, which was a hotbed for live racing of horses. I had never been into it up to that point, but now that I was I decided to take her. We did that many times afterwards over the years. It was something we could do together, and we did probably thirty times until she died about 10 years later. One day we actually took the long drive to Dresden, which was three hours away and spent the afternoon watching the races at the old style track. That is a great memory,  to this day. I cashed a lot of tickets that day as well and bought her lunch.  It was a great day and a great memory.
It was not uncommon to see crowds like this at Woodstock Raceway back in the 1940's and 1950's
 That first night we went together, we arrived too late for the first race. Being an old time racing veteran, my grandmother wanted to bet the daily double. In her day,  everyone bet the daily double. They still had it at the track,  but most modern day betters didn't play it anymore. They were into the more exotic bets like exactors and triactors. She gave me a bet for the daily double, but of course the first race had already run, so that wasn't possible. The second race horses were just coming onto the track. It was a hot,  very bright shiny night. Being the heart of the summer, the sun had not set yet and it was shining hard onto the track. It was a six horse field, and a very good bunch of horses. I remember thinking that I liked 3 horses to finish top 2, but could not separate them on the program. As the number 6 horse passed,  I knew that he was the one. His name was Triple S,  and he was as black as the darkest night in the middle of the nowhere. He was simply striking. I have always loved black horses since that night.
Triple S was dark black and shiny like this horse.
 My grandmother gave me her daily double bet, and I didn't tell her that she couldn't bet it. I took her money, and mine..and I bet Triple S to win with the other two horses to come second.  Either would do as long as Triple S won and one of the others came second. All of those horses were 5 to 1, so the payoff would be very good if it came in. I also bet Triple S to win and place for myself,  and as they approached the top of the stretch all three were in contention. As they neared the wire, Triple S just got up to win.  As usual, my grandmother was screaming at the horses. She loved to do that. Even if her horse was dead last with no shot, she would always shout at him to "come on,  get going". She was the same way at the baseball game.  My cousins and I used to say that we didn't want to sit next to my grandmother at the baseball game, because she would get so excited that she would spill her beer on us jumping up and down. And in all the commotion,  she would elbow and bang us around and we would go home with bruises. But we always loved going with her anyway. We did though all try to get the fourth seat, which was the one that didn't have to sit right next to her. If one of us went to get her her beer, the other would steal that seat while we were gone. Those were fun times.
Exhibition Stadium..where we saw many games with my Grandmother.
 My grandmother had picked one of the horses that I chose for second to win, so she thought she had lost. As it turns out, one of my other two horses did finish second, so we ended up making a profit of 150 bucks on that race, which was a lot of money to us two dollar bettors. The rest of the night also went great and we cashed more tickets and came home with 200 dollars.  My grandmother being my grandmother,  she wanted me to keep all the money, but I insisted she keep half. From that night on, whenever we went to the races, she always said she pulled out that hundred that I won her and we should "bet from that". She would always give it to me at the start of the night and not let me bet my own money...which I did anyways on the side. She didn't need to know that, and she died never knowing that.
Fan Hanover winning a big stakes race at Greenwood Raceway, where I took my grandmother most of the time to watch the races.
 Being that I was a big racing fan by then,  I also went with other friends and by myself. Most of those times involved going on Friday nights and Saturday afternoons. I went Fridays by myself and Saturday's with my friends. On the Friday nights I got to make some new friends at the track and I would always sit with them.
It seemed every Friday night a horse named Transtar would race. As black as Triple S was, Transtar was pure white.  Not grey, like many horses, but totally white. For a racehorse that is almost unheard of. And he was a good horse too. Not the best horse at the track,  but among the better ones.
The guys that I sat with on Friday nights hated Transtar. He would never win. He was always second or third when he was in contention. I had followed him since that first time I noticed him. It was always dark by the time  he raced and the track lights shined off his white coat. This one night,  he was 15-1 and everyone said he had no chance. But I decided to bet him anyway. Of course, he did win that night,  and it was his only win all year. For whatever reason, I always liked him but never bet him after that night. It was a feeling that it was meant to be that night. And..he didn't win by much that night either.

Transtar was white, very white,  just as this horse is.
 One of the guys I met on those Friday nights was a guy named Vince Li. Vince was pure Chinese.  He had come from Hong Kong to Toronto just about 15 years previous and had made a good life for himself. He was a bank manager and a very smart guy.  He also knew his horses. We struck up a friendship and I used to go to the track a lot with him. As it turns out,  he only lived about 5 minutes from my house. I thought I knew a lot about horses until I met him. It turns out I knew almost nothing.  He was truly an insider and I got to meet a lot or real trainers, drivers and owners because of him. We used to go to two tracks in one day and make a complete day of it.
I didn't have a great car in those days, so Vince let me drive his brand new Toyota Camry when we went on longer trips to farther tracks. It was a very fast car and it was also white. When I got my first good car after I started working, I got the equivalent of a Camry, which was a Chevy Lumina. Mine was dark black. I have always loved black cars and a popular song at that time was Black Cars by Gino Vanelli. 

 When I met Vince I was just about to graduate University and get my first job. Vince also owned horses and had some very good ones. They won lots of races and I got to go into the winners circle and take pictures with him. I had been going for 6 or 7 years to that point and had never done that. When I got that first job and had saved up enough money I decided to buy a horse with Vince.
We had settled on buying a yearling, a young horse but could not find one that met our budget and approval.  At that first sale we went to, we tried to buy a young filly, by a hot young sire named Willow Wiper. The fillies name was Arresting. She went for $20,000 and we only wanted to pay $15,000.  So we let her go.

 Two years later when we bought our first horse together, we bought a filly named Come By Chance.  She was a steady good horse. Not spectacular, but she always made money and raced well. She was second in our first two races and had exceeded even our expectations. But as close as she was, she just never seemed to win, much like Transtar. Many nights we went with high hopes for a win,  only to be second or third.
One time,  we seemed to be a sure winner and right to the wire it looked that way only to be beaten by a nose in a very long photo. Finally,  one weeknight,  after work I went to watch her race. She looked ok enough to win, but I did not get my hopes up. As they were heading to the finish, she was ahead but barely ahead and in a group of 5 or 6 horses. As they hit the finish, she just barely held on. My first win as an owner. All my friends that I had made at the track over the years were sitting near me and they all congratulated me. One of horses in that race was Arresting, the filly that we didn't end up buying at the yearling sale. It would seem that was one of my greatest moments as an owner. But it wasn't.

Come By Chance, her first win for us. Vince Li is in the dark suit,  just beside the driver.
 To this point, I had never taken my grandmother Rose to the track to watch my horse race. It was now summer again and she only liked to go in the warmer weather.  We decided to go on a Thursday night and as it happened my horse was racing again. She was 9-1 and we didn't expect a win at all. She took so long to get that first win and she didn't seem to win often so we were just hoping for a good showing and to make some money.
It was bright and sunny when we got to the track but dark by the time the race went off. The horse didn't look like she was doing well as she was usually a frontrunner and this time she was racing from behind.  For whatever reason, the driver, Trevor Ritchie must have figured out that was a better racing style for her as she was in position at the top of the stretch and then just rocketed by the whole field in one shot and won easy, by many lengths. After that race she was in a racing accident and was never the same race horse, but that night was her best race for us.
My grandmother, by this time, was not that mobile. So, getting her to the winners circle in time for the picture was going to be tricky. Vince looked at me and told me they would wait. He knew how much it meant to me..and to her. He was good like that. Vince took care of his friends and family. While he and his wife, Rosita, made their way to the winners circle, I took my grandmothers hand and led her there.
In all those years of going to the racetrack my grandmother had never owned a horse and never been in the winners circle. I know how much that night meant to her to be able to finally do that, with her grandson's horse. I have many great memories from my years of racing, but that is still my favorite moment.
Come By Chance was a shiny bay horse. Triple S was a dark shiny black horse. Transtar was a beautiful majestic, pure, white horse. They all looked quite different but they all brought me great memories.
I learned a lot from my racing days,  both as a fan, and owner and a trainer.

 In the end, it doesn't matter what color a horse is..or a person is. A horse is a horse and a person is a person.
It doesn't matter if you are black or white. Or Chinese.  Or older. Or younger. Good times are good times.
I never really knew a Chinese person before I met Vince Li, but a few years later I met and married my wife, who is also Chinese and also from Hong Kong.

In my black and white world I have learned that all kinds of people have learned to live to together.

"Ebony and Ivory live together in perfect harmony".

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