Harvey Pack: Racing Superfan

[image url="http://cdn.bloodhorse.com/images/content/hpack_large.jpg"]Harvey Pack[/image]

If there were a picture next to the word “horseplayer” in the dictionary, odds are it would be the familiar visage of Harvey Pack, the legendary and curmudgeonly face and voice of racing to generations of New York racetrack denizens.

One of the most recognizable and distinctive personalities in New York Thoroughbred racing circles since the early 1970s, the cantankerous Pack now reflects on over a half-century of indelible, unmatched racing memories and treasured stories in a new book written with author Peter Thomas Fornatale titled May the Horse be with You: Pack at the Track.

In May the Horse be with You, Pack regales fans with Runyon-esque tales from his seven decades as a racing fan, highlighted by the numerous characters – from millionaires to busted-out bettors, to a varied group of wagering compadres – that he was fortunate (and unfortunate) enough to meet. Whether it’s a heavy-duty punter that risks big money every day, or just a casual $2 player, it’s the enduring comradeship associated with being a horseplayer that hooked Pack (and so many others) for life.

From his groundbreaking “Pack at the Track” radio show on WNBC radio to his popular Paddock Club race rundowns at NYRA to his long tenure as host of Cablevision’s “Thoroughbred Action” and “Inside Racing” television programs, Pack connected to the New York horseplayer. Today, he remains a fixture during the six-week Saratoga Race Course summer meeting as the entertaining host of Daily Racing Form’s Siro’s handicapping seminars.

As Pack best puts it, he lived every horseplayer’s dream. “It’s a sad, but true, fact: most people do work. I’m one of the lucky ones because I never worked. I remember taking my brother-in-law to Monmouth with me one day years ago, in the middle of the week, and he kept saying to me: ‘Why aren’t these people at their jobs?’ I told him, ‘This is their job.”

Ozone Park, NY:
Mr. Pack, you are a legend in NY Racing; we all miss you as the host of Thoroughbred Action and Inside Racing. My one question is, how can racing make the Belmont Stakes a must race whether a Triple Crown is on the line or not?

They can't. I have always said that, without the Kentucky Derby, the whole Triple Crown would fall apart, and I stick with that. It's unfortunate that the Belmont - the 'Test of the Champion' - has to wait until after the Derby and the Preakness to find out if it's important enough in that year's racing calendar. I think it would help all 3 races if it if they would be spaced further apart.

Omaha, NE:
Harvey, what do you see in the future for Thoroughbred racing?. Will the sport grow, or will it continue in the current pattern?. Thanks from MK in Omaha.

I'm a well known cynic and, unfortunately, I see it continuing in its present pattern. The good news is that, for those of us who still love it, the racing experience is better than ever.

Las Vegas, NV:
Gosh, Harvey, you are my favorite.  I moved from NY years ago, and I miss you. You are great for the game, and I love this game. But please tell me why is jockey Randy Romero not in the Hall of Fame?  You are an outspoken person. Tell me why?!!

I never answer for the Hall of Fame. I agree with you on Randy. He should be in it. I think this year Johnny Sellers made it as an old timer, so there may still be hope in the future for a rider as accomplished as Randy.

Naples, FL:
I have been a racing fan for over 50 years. In my opinion, the sport is not what it once was. Like baseball and other sports, drugs in racing have caused many of us to play more golf! How much of an impact has Lasix made upon horse racing?

I’ve been around the same 50 years, and I‘ve heard of trainers using illegal substances for all of those 50 years. We always suspected drugs being used back then, and I don’t think it’s any different today. Just for the record, do you really think Seabiscuit ran on hay, oats, and water?

Green Bay, WI:
I love listening to your webcast prior to the Saratoga races. You have wonderful guests, and they are very insightful. And you are a fabulous host. You seem to never be positive about your race selections and, of course, never make them. Do you go over to Saratoga every day and play the races? What kind of bets do you like to make? Do you win more than you lose?

I don’t go as often as I used to. I now go to my house and bet on television. I bet every day. I’m a very small bettor, and that’s why I’m still able to bet every day.

Austin, TX:
With the recent allegations of doping some of his horses with cobra venom (Patrick Biancone) and the suspensions of leading trainers Steve Asumussen and Todd Pletcher for medication infractions in the last year, what are horse bettors to believe on fairness within the horse racing game these days? Where is the outrage from horse writers and followers of the sport like Mr. Pack? Why are you not calling for lifetime bans when these trainers get caught red-handed instead of being able to continue calling the shots from home with only a few months probation? Don't horse bettors deserve better?

You’ve written the question and my answer. I agree with everything you’ve said, and I ‘d love to see it happen. The problem is still that different states have different laws and the appeals process works in favor of the trainers.

Saratoga Springs, NY:
I first want to thank you for being such an incredible part of New York racing. As a kid, I was inspired by you and everything that was so overwhelming about summer racing at the Spa. I am now here every day as an assistant trainer, thanks to you and all who inspired me. Briefly, what is your take on Polytrack, and do you feel it will end up as a positive or negative for horse racing that has been based on years of breeding for the natural dirt and turf surfaces?

I have the same confusion with the new track surfaces as my friend Andy Beyer has expressed in print. I’m sure it’s probably better for the horses. But down the line, what will it do for our records and our speed figures, shipping from Polytracks to dirt tracks? It’ll be just another way to coerce us with confusion.

French Camp, CA:
When did you start saying 'may the horse be with you' and did you use a catch phrase before that? I believe you have one of the best handicapping shows on the air.  What was your greatest day at the races from a betting standpoint?

’May The Horse Be With You’ began the day I started Thoroughbred Action. I stole it from Star Wars’ ‘May The Force Be With You.’ I’ve had a lot of great days at the races. A memorable one was hitting a $5,000 trifecta at a small track, not in the New York metropolitan area, and wondering how would I make it to the car with the cash.

Washougal, WA:
Dear Harvey. That is not a salutation, it's an adjective. I cannot believe you are still alive. I quit galloping horses around 1985 in NY. I rarely made it across the street to the races, but I could keep up with the horses because of your recap show every evening. Your humor, love of the game, and astute comments really were the show. After I left the track, I missed a lot of things about NY and often thought about you ... "I wish a had a Harvey Pack show to keep me up on what's going on .... I"d watch it every night". I'm glad you're still in the game. You and Mike Lupica will always be my main media guys. Nancy

And I too am glad I'm still alive!

Caldwell, NJ:
Harvey: It was you who introduced me to horse racing some twenty years ago or so when I was a youngster who sat in front of the TV after dinner on weeknights, watching replays of the daily card at Aqueduct or Belmont on NY's cable TV channel, Sportschannel NY. Back then, I'd always pick the horse with "SCR" next to the name in the odds column (thinking it meant something special); yet, I always wondered why my pick never finished. Needless to say, I've come a long way since then. Anyway, with the early (premature) retirement of many of the great horses these days, which often takes away from the fans' enjoyment of the sport, can you (or have you already) derive a plan to keep horses racing as four (or maybe five) year olds? After all, it's a shame to already know that Street Sense will be retired after this year. "May the Horse be With You..."

John Gaines came up with the plan and, unfortunately, it hasn’t worked. It was called the Breeders’ Cup. The cost of insurance forces many owners to retire the stallions too early for us but not too early for them.

North Andover MA:
"Nooooooooobody picked 6 today" is one of my favorite tag lines of all time. Could you please recount a big Pick6 hit or near miss for us?

The best one is in the book, May The Horse Be With You. It involves a man who, when the announcer said that there was one winner on the track, went up to a guy to boast about hitting it and, with 14,000 in attendance, this jerk picked the guy who actually did hit it!

Lexington, KY:
Harvey, your humor has brought so much enjoyment to me over the years, thank you. In all your years, did you ever receive a "tip" that paid out big?

Oddly enough, the only one that actually worked was from trainer Bruce Levine, and he told me a week in advance that he was running a horse that was very ready and when it ran it was. One of my rules in the book is Rule No. 7: If you hear a tip from one person, maybe make a small bet; if you hear the same tip from three or more people, book it.

New York, NY:
Does the McDonald's in Saratoga have a special table they reserve for you after the races?

Just when because I say ‘This last race will determine whether you eat here at Siro’s or meet me at later at McDonald’s' doesn’t mean I eat at McDonald's every night, I often go to Pizza Hut.

Del Mar, CA:
Have you ever been out here? What did you think?

I’ve been to Del Mar for racing once and once for simulcasting. Saratoga has better racing, but Del Mar is a lovely spot and I wouldn’t mind spending a summer there.

Brooklyn, NY:
What is your opinion of jockeys? Why are they not promoted more?

Probably because the best jockey can only win about 20% of his races and, since people bet on horses, they often turn on the riders. We’ve tried promoting jockeys, but it never really caught on. But never boo somebody who, when they go to work, is followed by an ambulance.

Raleigh NC:
Was there ever a horse that you always bet on no matter when you saw it, like many people would always bet on Secretariat or Affirmed?

Quite honestly, no. If you really like a horse as good as Secretariat or Affirmed, the return is too small. I’d rather just watch them and appreciate them than bothering to wager on them.

New York, NY:
Harvey, I've been going to the track since I was around 10 years old, and I remember going to see your paddock club shows on the weekends. They were Great! How did your relationship with little Andy begin? Is he truly as arrogant, as it appears?

Yes, he is. It doesn't mean I don't like him. I do. In my book I recall that, as a 10-year-old, he followed Andy Beyer around the track like a puppy dog. Fortunately, he never got taller and is still known as little Andy.

Wynnewood, PA:
Hi Harvey; Admired and enjoyed you for years. I've been a fan and occasional participant since early 1961, you even longer. To this day, Buckpasser was the best I've seen; his daughter, Numbered Account, perhaps the best filly. What's your opinion?

I, too, was a big Buckpasser fan. For the record, Buckpasser's diagram is in the National Museum of Racing as the epitome of the perfect Thoroughbred racehorse.

Mt. Sterling, KY:
Harvey, may the horse be with you. Is the story (true) I heard about you buying a corned beef sandwich at a Korean Deli for your son when all he wanted was one from the Carnegie Deli?

As far as I know, it's untrue because I would have dragged him to the Carnegie Deli.

Watervliet, NY:
How significant is track bias in your handicapping?

I believe in track bias, but people have a tendency to jump to conclusions. I had a clocker friend thats if the first two races were won on the lead, he claimed it to be speed-favoring, which is a fallacy. Where it will be with the Polytrack, I don't know.

Hoboken, NJ:
Harvey, what do you think should happen in NY relative to winter racing? Should Aqueduct remain open "as is" or should they take a break and let the Florida, Louisiana, etc. circuits be the primary focus?

I believe in winter racing. Horses don't mind cold weather; they mind hot weather. If you close the track in the winter, you make virtually 2,000 people homeless.

Tamarac, FL:
Hi, Harvey. I have been a big fan of yours for many, many years. I have just a few questions for you. What was the best racehorse you ever saw? Did you ever call races? If yes, what tracks? And what is your favorite race track? Thanks, Harvey, "May the Horse be with You!"

Citation was my favorite racehorse. I recreated races on the radio but, no, I never called a race. Saratoga is my favorite racetrack.

Versailles, KY:
Harvey: I used to live in New York back in the late 1980s and early 1990s. When Belmont week came around, I recall you used to show the entire replay of the '78 classic of Affirmed and Alydar on your show. Was that your favorite Belmont of all-time?


Westfield, N.J.:
Harvey: I used to love it when you had the late, great Hall of Fame trainer P.G. Johnson on your show. Give us a great P.G. Johnson story.

He was one of the smartest and most articulate people I ever knew. He did the Breeders' Cup Preview Show with me every year and was terrific.

Newark, DE:
Do you have a guess at how much you have either won or lost betting the horses? And should I continue to bet them?

I have never estimated it, but it's not disastrous, I can assure you.

Pismo Beach, CA:
"Horse Racing without handicappers is like a hotdog without the dog." Can you describe handicapping in the 1960s vs. today ? Thank you, Coco.

Good question. In the 1960s, you only had basic stats. The stats today have equalized the game. Most people have enough information to make intelligent decisions. It was easier to find an overlay in the 1960s.

Mt. Gretna, PA:
Hi. Harvey. Do you rely on stallion standings and do you follow certain stallions you like when handicapping maidens with no past performance?. Continued success to you.

I have a rule. Never bet a horse on pedigree only the first time out. Of course, I look at the stallion but remember a stallion can cover 50-60 mares a year. A dam throws but one every year.

Glenolden, PA:
Hi, Harvey; long time, no see. Hope you are in good health. What would be the best scenario, in your opinion, for reviving New York Racing? Stay well! Your favorite bugler/pick 6 king, Mark.

I don't think NY racing is in the same bad shape as you think it is. If NYRA continues with the franchise and gets slot machine revenues, it will continue to be the best. Whether that will help the industry, I have no idea.

East Elmhurst, NY:
In all of your years involved in horse racing, where did you love working at the most?

My best years were with NYRA, primarily from 1977 until the arrival of Kenny Noe.

Atlanta, GA:
One thing we've seen over the past ten years is how much the bounce factor of race horses must be factored into handicapping now. It seems that, if a horse has been idle from racing for 8 weeks or longer and has a grueling return rac the horse almost always throws in a clunker his next outing (second start off a layoff). Why don't more trainers deal with this bounce factor in their training for the second race, and how does Mr. Pack handicap this situation when picking horses?

As one who used the Ragozin Sheets for a long time, I believe in the 'bounce' theory. If it ran a big race and then goes off as a favorite, let it go. If it ran a big race and returns as a price, throw it in.

Atlanta, GA:
Now that we've lost some of the greatest jockeys of all time in the last few years (Jerry Bailey, Pat Day, Eddie D, Jose Santos, Laffit Pincay & Gary Stevens to just name a few), how does Mr. Pack feel about the current crop of jockeys and whom does he feel is equal to the greats mention above riding right now if any?

I think the current crop is quite good. Prado, Gomez, and many others, are very good. If a rider is capable of making a living in New York or California, that's good enough for me.

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