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Wednesday, January 17, 2007

The Form Is Your Friend

- I was at the Manhattan offices of the Daily Racing Form yesterday. I went out to lunch with the webmaster, who picked up the tab out of the proceeds of the big Aqueduct Pick Six she hit last Wednesday. Then I got the office tour. They just did some moving and reshuffling there, so it seemed, especially on this day, just like any other office, and a rather disheveled one at that, other than the giant framed DRF covers greeting you in the reception area where you can find a reading selection ranging from Vanity Fair to Steve Crist's Betting On Myself. No one was watching the second from Philly Park on TV, and I didn't see Mike Watchmaker, Andy Beyer, or Dave Litfin hanging around the water cooler.

But, of course, there were piles and piles of Daily Racing Forms lying around. I felt like I did as a kid when I went to the Hershey's factory. "Pick a Form, any Form." I grabbed Wednesday's edition featuring no less than eight tracks including Beulah and Delta Downs. Now I know where to go the next time the edition at my local store is missing Keeneland.

Nowadays, we take for granted the fact that we have easy access to the Form, especially if you have a computer. I've written before about what, for me, are the pros and cons of intense pre-race day study versus just winging it at the track; but there wasn't always a choice. I do recall when one bought the Form (or the Morning Telegraph) when you got to the track, because it just wasn't readily available beforehand. Then a group of us learned that the next day's paper was available after 9 PM at the security gate at the Belmont backstretch entrance off Hempstead Avenue; so we would regularly make the 15 minute drive there. We tried to keep that a closely-guarded secret, as it seemed to give us an edge over those who didn't know.

It was a special feeling to get back and break open the fresh Form, knowing that most other people didn't have it. My memory is fuzzy as to when the next day's edition started to be available at the track at the end of the day. Now there are times, such as opening days at Saratoga or the Santa Anita winter meet, that you can access the pp's online nearly a week before the card. Of course, getting the print edition off-track in advance can still be a challenge, and I'm sure you all have your favorite newsstands that you can rely on (even if they're sometimes still hidden behind the counter requiring a verbal request, while the porno mags are out in full view).

I still get a particular thrill out of buying a fresh print edition and cracking it open for the first time. Each paper comes with that seemingly unlimited promise of the clues to triumph and glory. I thought it to be perfectly appropriate when it came in a hermetically sealed plastic wrapping; a feature whose recent elimination I lament. Back again to Marc Cramer's Scared Money (recently reissued by DRF Press), and a passage in which he describes the brightening of a difficult night at the jazz club:

At that moment Big Ed came in, pulled up a chair, and set his Racing Form on the table. The red DRF logo immediately raised my spirits. After the last set, I would unwind by scanning the Form in search of hidden nuances, the same way I play the keyboard, beginning with the melody and basic harmony, then searching for that contrapuntal magic that digs deeper into the song.
That's a great analogy; like music, anyone can hear, or in this case, see their own unique riffs and patterns in the myriad of facts and figures and interpret them as they wish. And though the Form has undergone tremendous change over the years, not only in content - remember when the eastern edition was a broadsheet and only the weird (to us) California edition came in tabloid form? - the allure and intrigue of the content inside has remained a constant.

It hasn't been a completely smooth ride through the years. During the short but glorious existence of the Racing Times in the early 90's, the Form became a stodgy pariah in comparison. On the days that I couldn't get the Times and was "stuck" with the Form, I felt like I would now if the Form was sold out and I had to use the track programs. And I remember once flirting with competing past performances from Sports Eye, until the Form paid them to knock it off, as it essentially did with the Racing Times when they purchased its assets and assimilated many of its features. Now, it's not quite the only game in town, and I do occasionally refer to the BRIS pp's for supplemental information. But basically it's a no-brainer for me, like a trusty old friend that never lets you down. (Except when the local edition doesn't have Keeneland.)


Stalusk said...

I agree with your comments about a fresh formguide for the day or days ahead, there is always the anticipation that a champion is somewhere amongst the plethora of race meetings making his/her debut.

Here in Australia, many newsagent outlets have the racing form AMONGST the porno mags.

throwaway said...

Fantastic post, Alan. This is L.A.T.G. at its best.

When I was a junior high school kid sneaking into the local OTB, I recall waiting for the night edition of the NY Daily News -- I think it was called the "night owl" -- in order to get an advanced peak at the next day's entries. I remember the anticipation of the News' delivery truck pulling up, and the excitement of cracking open the paper. Similar sentiments to those you've expressed, I think, on a smaller level.

Anonymous said...

Great insight.
The Racing Times Days were before my time but I did read all about it in Betting on Myself. The buring issue for me is that like the DRF/Times issue the sport is not big enough to support HRTV and TVG. The industry needs to sort this out and bring the best of both programs together to make one great broadcast for our sport. Even Canada (where i live) has their own version. Competition is great but only when demand supports it. Time for an industry solution.
Andrew Young