“The Real Wedding Toast”
ll start out with a little bit of background. I grew in Toms River, NJ, roughly 30 miles from Monmouth Park. My Dad took Steve and me to our first day of races 17 years ago. This day of races was the Haskell Invitational. Steve and I fell in love with horse racing on that day. Watching these beautiful animals walk around the paddock, running over to the rail to get a full look of the post parade, the smell, the feel, the look, those things have never changed. Steve has been my rock in horse racing all of this time.
Steve and I are very different players. Steve is a combination guru player, or so I like to call him. Man, he could go 0-11 on any day in the combination box, but in race 12 he hits and, boy, does it pay. Steve is the guy you see running down the rail with his horses. I’m not sure who was faster the day Verrazano won the Haskell in 2013, Steve or Verrazano. The kid was moving to follow his favorite horse – Steve may have gotten him in a photo finish.
Steve has attended hundreds of days of races and spent hours of phone time with me talking about horse racing. He always listens to me talk about my horse plays and he provides his insight and I provide him with mine. It’s all so valuable because we see and play the races so differently. I wouldn’t change the relationship for a thing. He’s talked me down in tournaments, emphasized my game in other tournaments and has really been a huge help in me blossoming into the young handicapper I am today. Steve and I have never broken the Haskell tradition and have gone every year since that first one. Some old people attend, some new people attend, but there is Steve and I every single year on the green painted benches with two Wawa Italian subs, orange Gatorade, Bud Light, and some Bombay Sapphire. You’ll understand later on in this story why I’ve started out with so much on Steve.
As for me, I’m a big Pick 4, 5 and 6 player. I always found such value in investing money in a pool for a certain value, instead of using that exact same amount of money on every single race. Not only is the price cheaper in my eyes, but you have more opportunity and more ROR as I like to call it – Risk on Reward. I also am a big believer in trainer/jockey, trainer/owner, owner/jockey owner/trainer/jockey combinations. They don’t always hit but statistics are key when you are crunching final numbers.
I am also a rare breed when it comes to the day of the races. I do all my handicapping before the day and usually over several days times. I bring my own old school staples yellow pad. I refuse to bring the book, or “cheat sheets” the day of – it’s me, the yellow pad and my notes on the day of, that’s all. I make my own power point system, especially for tournaments, drawing out any possible scenario or opportunity I see that a horse can win. That’s how I build my pool tickets and also how I pick the winner of the races for tournaments; #1 power points down to no points and so forth.
Fast forward 16 years and 11 months since our first race to June 6th 2015. Wouldn’t you know, my buddy Steve is now getting married. Some people celebrate their bachelor party at a bar, others a strip club, some Vegas, destination event, not Steve. Steve merely asks if we can spend the day at Monmouth Park. For both the love of horse racing and Steve, of course, I abide. My buddy Mac is in for the ride as well. Mac is great to have around. He likes going, doesn’t really get the sport but has faith in both Steve and I to carry him into the green by day’s end. Win or lose, the kid never falters. You’re laughing or smiling the whole time with his one-liners and the day could never go bad. Whether you are going for serious, fun or moral support at the track, you want to have Mac around.
We finalized the bachelor party plans on Monday, and Thursday rolls around when all the post positions are released. Everyone wanted to see what post Pharoah drew for the Belmont but I was taking a look at the rest of the card over Thursday and Friday. Man, there were some live dogs on this card, especially early on. Usually when it looks too good to be true, it is, but in my gut I’m on to something here. I text Steve Friday night and say, “hey bud, I know it’s early but is there any way we can get there for the first race? I have put together a $240 Pick 5 ticket and I think it has a great chance of hitting.” Steve says, “of course, you really feel good about it?” I say, “yeah, great.”
Another thing you should know about me (as it applies to the story), while I am a psychologist, it is much easier to apply the skills I’ve learned over 12 years of training on others, rather than myself. To this day, before a game, horse racing tournament, horse racing day, big sports game of my favorite team, I still cannot sleep! My mind is thinking over all the scenarios. Did I look at this factor, did I document that, is that on paper, did I cover that race? Before you know it, I’m asleep for two hours and up with seven hours until departure. This time was no different.
So, here I am at 3:17 A.M with more than seven hours until I pick up Mac and all my handicapping is done. I figure I’ll go out and lay on the couch and see if TVG is covering anything. Sure enough, the day before the Belmont Stakes TVG is running rerun coverage this late. Paul Lo Duca is on and he just so happens to be discussing the 5th race of the Belmont card, the last leg of my Pick 5. He’s talking about how not to throw Wedding Toast completely out of the 5th race – Untapable (the heavy favorite), he said, could be beat if Wedding Toast gets a good break out of the gate, as the last two races were bad stumbles but the horse was still game after. I checked the form, there’s no sign of it, but sure enough the race replays agree with Paul. I check the times, factor in a stumble and I have Untapable beat by Wedding Toast. I add it to my notes and store it for later.
I get to Mac’s and he’s running out of the door with flip flops in hand, in his business like polo and khakis, as always. I get to Steve’s and believe it or not the kid is still sleeping… on his own bachelor day! We wake up him up via phone – to this day I still don’t know how he heard the call with his phone on vibrate. To try and save time, we go get the subs from the always sure Wawa first as everything else is packed and swing back to grab him. He’s ready to go this time and we are really cutting it close now, to the point of not making it.
We eventually end up making great time and sprint into the clubhouse and there’s 2 minutes to post time! I quickly see that 3 of the 6 horses have been scratched out of the 1st race and I had one of them, leaving 2 of the horses I had on my sheet of 3. I made the cardinal sin and did not play the entire race of a mere 3 horses as I look down at my sheet and I see the note I wrote about Wedding Toast, the statistics, the Paul Lo Duca comments and hey, it’s a pre wedding day for Steve today. I’ve never been one to play a pool ticket without a solo, but I had to add Wedding Toast here. With that being said, to save money I do indeed go 2 of 3 in Race 1.
Race 1: Nonna’s Boy is the only horse I didn’t have on my sheet. He’s usually a closer but in a 3 horse race you never know. He gets out to an astounding lead and it’s growing. I turn to Steve and say, “man, this is not good,” and he shakes his head in agreement. We’ve seen too many of these before, there’s a difference between a lead and a LEAD. They make the turn and both the heavy favorite Stanford and Nonna’s Boy stumble twice on the stretch. Japan picks up ground and he picked it up quickly, passing Nonna’s Boy and barely necking out Stanford to get me a small price instead of the favorite on top. Japan – 2/1
Race 2: After the save of what looked like a sequence that was going to be over early, we all had to crack a Bud Light. I put in my phone alarm for Race 2, as I helped the boys handicap the Monmouth card. The alarm hits and we head up to the TV to watch. I’m only 3 deep in this race of 7 and I felt this would be my most difficult race of the Pick 5, as I completely left out the favorite Wisecracker. I thought the horse was so overrated and overmatched. One of my value plays of the day, Tommy Macho, was on my ticket along with Tiz Shea D as I love the Tiz horses and Lezcano – I thought was bound for a big day. The 3rd favorite Smart Transition closed out my ticket. Tommy Macho and Tiz Shea D got out to an early lead and sat 1 and 2 the entire race. Smart Transition sat mid pack and rallied late, the 3 went down to the wire. Tommy Macho passed Tiz Shea D in the stretch and never looked back. The race was never in question for me, as they finished 1,2,3 and I moved on. Tommy Macho – 9/1
Race 3: We head back to our bench spot and the boys are going over the materials for the first Monmouth Race. It comes and goes, as always a typical small Monmouth field ends with a favorite victory. I head to the bathroom and come back to the bench and Steve says, “hey Ols’, I’m looking at your notes we are thinking about putting together a pick 4 ticket. Why in the world did you put the 27-1 morning line March in and leave off the 1/1 favorite Competitive Edge?” I take a look at my notes and saw that the trainer/jockey/owner combination of March was producing 37% winners. The actual horse’s statistics were deceiving compared to the outside statistics in this position, and so I went on to explain to them why the favorite had been left off my ticket.
A beautiful part of being a handicapper is having a virtual stable and seeing horses over and over. Competitive Edge has burnt me more than any horse in the game, I can’t think of another. I told them both he always falters especially as a big favorite. So I head into this race 4 horses deep in a 6 horse field, no favorite. I also leave off Cinco Charlie. Ready for Rye goes out for the lead quickly, while Cinco Charlie and March sit right there, throughout the entire race it stays the same until they hit the turn. March goes out to first in the stretch and really blew Cinco Charlie away by about two full horse lengths, but midway through Cinco Charlie fought all the way back and it looked like March was long gone. I looked away, again as a handicapper after you see that exchange you know the duel is over, but somehow, the horse fights back. March gets a late burst and pushes and pushes and pushes him and gets him by a nose. I screamed so loud the parking attendant lady heard me, I promise you that. Everyone gathered around, I knew he got him. It was the slowest 3 seconds of my entire life. I swear they stuck that live feed in slow motion for me, he had him. I walked to the bathroom casually, didn’t look at a TV, came back and it was official. March got him by a nose at 11/1.
Race 4: The drama for Race 4 was minimal. I had the entire field of 10 covered because I could not get a feel for the race at all. I thought there were a lot of live dogs, no real favorite and the board would end up agreeing with me, as I believe at post time the favorite was 4/1. At this point, crowds of 10-20 were gathered around this tiny 15 inch TV at Monmouth Park inside. If you haven’t been to Monmouth, it is notorious for these 15 inch box TV’s from 1985 and you can find all of us Belmont degenerates there always. At this point, we’re hoping for the highest odds possible to continue to eliminate the members of a $1-million Pick 5 pool. A pack of five dominated the race, the bottom five were never seen on the TV. The 5 consisted of the 4 highest odds and another 11/1. Channel Maker, the 11/1, actually went 5 wide, not smoothly but he must have heard me screaming from New Jersey as my voice led him to the wire first.
Race 5: At this point and time, you forget the names of the horses. You forget why you are there besides to win a Pick 5. You look at your ticket; I have 5 and 2, that’s all you know at that point. I’m not going to lie, I’m sweating it out. I already need a new shirt and it’s not even 4:00 yet. We still have a long day to go. The Pick 5 Payouts appear: #5 Pays $6,856 #2 Pays $11,349.00. There are only 4 other horses in the field and with 10 minutes left they are 26/1, 21/1, 12/1 and 45/1. So I quickly run to the ATM and withdraw $800 and put $200 on each of them to win. Knowing if any of them win over my Pick 5 ticket I am still cooking with some nice cash. I get all the bets in and get back to the TV where the boys and the group of 10-20 wish me the best of luck.
Remember that slow motion replay of March earlier? This seemed like 2 hours of slow motion. The #2 horse breaks out of the gate beautifully, goes to the lead, opens up into the turn, still no other horse, hits the stretch, and my only words are LEAVE NO DOUBT! I couldn’t believe it, this #2 horse blew away everyone. The form says he asked? If the jockey asked anything, it was for this #2 horse to slow down.
Still in shock, I walked all of Monmouth Park before I refound the boys and the 15 inch TV. Steve says “dude, do you know what that horse’s name was?” I said, “man I don’t even know right now.” To which he responds, “Wedding Toast.” How fitting? And with that, Steve got an early wedding gift and Mac got one for keeping the anxiety level at a 1. Wedding Toast gets it done a month early. And people say I’m the crazy one for not sleeping before an event. That craziness landed me $11,349.