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Sunday, June 10, 2007

Rags to Reich

- My grandfather died yesterday, some 104 years, two weeks, and four days after his birth. Louis Reich had a remarkable life, having survived a massive heart attack some four decades ago. Though he had become quite frail physically the last few years, he lived on in full possession of his mental faculties until felled by a stroke two weeks ago. We were told during the week that his body was in the process of shutting down, and his passing came as no surprise and as somewhat of a relief. It was extremely difficult seeing him lying in bed incapacitated and unable to respond these last two weeks. We can only hope that he was having wonderful dreams that will persist on for him for all eternity.

The timing of his passing was such, with the funeral scheduled for Sunday morning, that there was little else for me to do but to forge on to Belmont day anyway. It felt a bit strange, especially considering that my grandfather had, earlier in my life, been strongly opposed to my track habits; gifts of money were always accompanied by a growling warning of "Not for the horses!" I have to admit that I didn't always quite adhere strictly to the letter of that admonition. But over the years, as he realized how much enjoyment it has brought me and, especially, that my gambling was well under control, he grudgingly accepted it. Not too long ago, speaking of money he would leave after his departure from this world, he said to me "for the horses," because he knew how much I love the game and he wanted me to be happy. He was a kind and generous man, the latter sometimes to a fault, sending money secretly to certain black sheep members of the family who did not really earn the support. He had no enemies in the world that I know of.

I regret that Pops never took to the racetrack, and thought it odd that a man who built a small fortune on a stock brokerage business would shun a game which has a number of similarities. As a younger man, he had experiences with loved ones who couldn't handle their horseplaying habits that forever turned him against it. Not only would I have loved to have shared some days at the races with him, but I saw him grow very bored late in his life. I'll always remember something that Harvey Pack once said back when he did the recap show for NYRA; he related how his own father had assured him that as long as he had racing, he'd never be bored for a day in his life.

And yesterday at Belmont was an ample demonstration of why that is true, and why I'll never be bored as my grandfather was, as long as I'm able to pick up a Racing Form. (And given the family genes - my grandfather leaves behind an older sister! - some tell me that could be for a while, knock on wood.) The weather may have been cloudy, and the attendance figure may have been a big disappointment. But the track still crackled with excitement, and, especially, with joy. I would dare you to find one single person amongst the 46,000 who was not having a great time, win or lose (and we know most of them were losing). The scene around the paddock as the horses for the Belmont prepared for the race was electric, with each entry drawing applause and cries of encouragement.

And the race I'm sure you saw for yourselves. I know I wrote that I would pass the race and just watch; but the way the betting turned out, with far too much wagered on Imawildandcrazyguy and Tiago, thus leaving Rags to Riches 4-1, I saw an opportunity and nailed the triple for $131. And I have to say that I was in so much of a fog throughout the day, that it wasn't until after the race that I realized that Rags to Riches was the ultimate hunch bet! After all, my grandfather (whose last name was pronounced rich) was a partial namesake with the filly. And he had had his own rags to riches portion of his life, picking up the pieces from the Great Depression, after his partners had hurled themselves out of office windows, and starting up from scratch again. Reich and Company was a successful Wall Street firm for more than 50 years before he sold it in the '80s.

So as it turned out, Lou Reich passed on at a time which, just barely, allowed me to still experience a horse race for the ages; one which will forever be etched on my 'greatest race I've ever seen' list. (And I was fortunate enough to view it from a seat right on the finish line, thanks a million to Jose Guerra at Warstone.) And if that wasn't enough in itself (and it would have been), I actually cashed a ticket on a horse that bears part of his name and life story. It seems as if my old Pops was smiling down with approval after all. Thanks man, I love you too, rest in peace.

I'll be spending the next few days with my family, mourning the passing of my grandfather but, mostly, celebrating his life. So I'll take a little time off from here. Please check out the other wonderfully talented bloggers of the TBA for more on the big day (and I posed for a couple of pictures with those members who were at the track, so you may even find my mug on one of them somewhere). I'll speak to you again in a few days. Peace.


Fran Jurga said...

So many of us are fans today because of the influence of an older relative who took us along to the races.

Still others are there in spite of family mores that condemned gambling.

I am sure your grandfather would have appreciated what transpired on the track at Belmont yesterday. It was about sport, on a higher plane, more than it was about gambling.

If my math is correct, your grandfather was alive when Tanya won the Belmont in 1905? That's impressive!

SantaBarbarian said...

I am so terribly sorry for your loss.

My grandfather was the one who loved the ponies in my family. Poppa was the one who showed me the joy in the sport.

I will never forget, one day we were in the kitchen, just Poppa and I. I couldn't have been more than 4. The Racing Form was spread out on the table and we were going over the numbers with a fine tooth comb. (I think the first thing that I learned to read was the Form). He was hunched over, voicing his opinions to me and then, perhaps bccause of a "too" evil glint in my eye, he slowly straightened up, took my shoulders in both his hands and, looking me straight in the eye said "don't you ever tell your Grandmother we do this."

Again, my heart goes out to you and your family. And, although, he might have told you he didn't care for the ponies, I am sure that his spirit was with you yesterday, enjoying your passion alongside you.

Anonymous said...

Sorry to hear of the passing of your grandfather, Alan. But after reading your tribute, it sounds like he leaves you with a whole lot to smile about.

And of course, it's encouraging to hear that if genetics has any say in it, "Left at the Gate" will be the John Henry of horse racing blogs.

My thoughts are with you, bro.


Anonymous said...

Alan, my condolences, he sounds like a great man.

My now deceased dad generated my interest in racing, first at The Spa every summer, then at The Big A when I hit my teens. He loved the track, but was totally against my investment in the sport, warning me that it was a "Rich Man's Game".

I still wish he could have lived long enough to get into a winners circle photo with me. We struggled without a victory the first few years, when he was able to attend the races and came to the paddock, but we just could not win a race.

Years later, I cried thinking of him all the way home after my first Stakes victory at the Big A. I drink his drink every Belmont and Wood Memorial Day, and did so yesterday in his honor.

My mom, now 84, was not a fan at first but became one along the way, sharing to this day all of my fun moments at the races.

Harvey Pack's comment is oh so true, when nothing else is worth watching on TV my mom will watch the races at home on Ch 71 and occasionally phone me with a bet.

She hit the Triple Crown, plus the KY Oaks this year!

Had R2R yesterday of course. Hit the exacta in all three triple crown races! I called her after the race and she was so excited!

She is getting up in age, but will never be bored with this hobby.

Anonymous said...

Alan, sorry for your loss, Grampa sounded like quite a man who lived a long and fruitful life. You and your family will miss him and from time-time-to-time you'll be reminded of him, unexpectedly, and it will bring back nice memories. I know because I, too, had such a grandfather who made a diference in my life. /S/ Green Mtn Punter

Michael said...

Along with everyone else, I would like to offer you and your family my sincere condolenses.

Anonymous said...

May God comfort and console you.

Jim L said...


Condolences to you and your family.

Better Talk Now and Rags to Riches = courage. And the same can be said for Meribel, another terrific filly.

Nellie said...

I e-mailed you privately, but reading these comments ... it's funny how the sport seems to be in the genes. My Dad is the one who got me hooked, and I always look forward to the time we spend together because I know we'll wind up talking horses. I'm hopeful that when Presque Isle Downs opens, it'll translate to real life.

One of my great joys was seeing him (terrified of horses) connect with the ex-racehorse I owned and helping me research his sire - when he visited the barn with me for the first time, Windsor sensed his fear and went right up and stuck his tongue in his hand! They were fast friends. Something tells me that if he weren't once 'Tea Mug', that wouldn't have happened. My exposure to racing came through learning all about Mugatea with my Dad.

Reading the other shared memories, I can almost see the smiles present when they were typed. It's a tribute to sport that those types of experiences can inspire that.

Anonymous said...

The post was a fine tribute to your grandfather as well as R2R. I'm sorry for your loss.

Anonymous said...

Your love for Pops is very moving, more so than the wonderful win of the great filly Rags to Riches.

Anonymous said...

I'm very sorry for the loss of your grandfather. It sounds like he had a very productive life, and was a great influence, even though you didn't agree on gambling. You have the right idea celebrating his life. My condolences.

Kevin7673 said...

Thanks for sharing your memories of your grandfather. Each year when the Belmont Stakes rolls around, we will all talk about the year the filly beat the boys. And you will have one more reason to remember the influence that your grandfather had on your life. I hope that you and your family are at peace as you celebrate his life.

Anonymous said...

Sorry for your loss...and always remember to box the exacta.

Anonymous said...

Alan, so sorry for your loss. Your post is very touching. We are lucky to have you, blogger, in general. Your writing is so enthusiastic, personally invested, and smart.

Hawken said...

I am very sorry for your loss. Thank you for being so open with your readers - your story certainly stirred memories of my grandfather and of the little quirks that made our relationship special.