Beautiful Bowie on backroad of my mind

November 28, 2000 8:09 AM
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BEAUTIFUL BOWIE! Midway between Baltimore and Washington, D.C., tucked safely in the Maryland pine woods, sat Bowie Race Course. In the world of famous racetracks, Bowie was a social outcast. It operated in the dead of winter. Heavy snow was a frequent visitor. Only dyed-in-the-wool horseplayers showed up. The swells turned their noses up at Bowie as they went south to the royal palm trees of Hialeah, Gulfstream and Calder. That was all right for most Bowie classmates. It may not have sat well with the dips of the day, but for the guys and gals trying to pick a winner it was the place to be.

Despite its lack of luster, Bowie shined on high for a special breed of horse and horseplayer.

Were they a motley set? Indeed! At an earlier time, I’m certain Damon Runyon would not have missed the local color. Characters were everywhere. Stories, stories and more stories were written. Little did any of us know an era was on its death bed. The copy out of the press box at Bowie had little to do with great horses. Instead, there was one yarn after another about the likes of Mr. Diz, The Duck, Benny the Bite, Long Shot Lou, Bundles and on and on. One of the great columnists of the era, John Steadman, was then sports editor of the former Baltimore News American. He immortalized Diz. He wrote story after story about the many anecdotes of the high-strung horseplayer who stuttered only when he needed money to bet on a hot horse.

I am happy to report that Steadman is still banging out great copy, now for the Baltimore Sun. He was a Bowie regular who knew where to find something good to write about.

I served my internship at Bowie learning how to get off the sports pages and into other sections of the newspaper with human interest yarns. I had a big edge. Horseplayers were everywhere in the area. Racing was the cat’s pajamas. Players loved a good story. It was an era when editors gave ink to horse racing and crowds came calling. The average Joe wasn’t really interested in how fast the horse came in the last quarter. What spurred his interest were stories about trainers who had a few peculiarities to getting their three-legged horses to operate on all four. As I recall, one such character was a trainer named Dick Gottsman. He had his share of winners. But some of his tales got more ink than a horse setting a track record.

My assignment at the time was under the direction of Muggins Feldman. He was publicity director at Beautiful Bowie. Muggs would send me out to the barn area in the early a.m. to gather notes. That’s how I unearthed a Dick Gottsman horse that was in love with a rooster. The horse was cantankerous. Then his groom discovered the secret of the stable’s pet, a red rooster. Red was moved into the stall. Calm prevailed.

Gottsman, as I recall, had no aversions to winning a bet. Whenever the need arose, he would drop down the horse in company and cash a bet. It usually worked, but the horse was often claimed by a trainer who knew nothing about the red rooster.

Needless to say, the horse couldn’t get out of his own way for his new trainer. One of the trainers was Pat Mitchell. His claim to fame was, if the horse couldn’t win he didn’t want him. The horse he got from Gottsman fell into that category. Gottsman saw Mitchell one day and asked how the horse was doing.

"No damn good. I can’t even get him out of the stall, let alone win a race. Do you want him back?" Mitchell said.

I’ll bet there was a twinkle in Gottsman’s eyes as he finally agreed to take the horse back.

You know the rest of the story. The rooster was let into the horse’s stall and Gottsman kept winning races.

Those were the days. Whoever thought they’d end? Certainly none of the characters. Although The Duck is still around at 8???, nearly all the others are gone. So is Beautiful Bowie. Developers came in. The calvary post disappeared and so did a winter haven for horse players. Its potbelly stoves and well-worn fixtures finished up the track. So is the romance of racing. Now the game hardly finds the light of day, let alone, any ink.

Good night, Beautiful Bowie.