Belmont Stakes and a sacred 31-length victory

Jun 4, 2013 3:02 AM

I was there. And, to quote Maurice Chevalier from the movie Gigi for the first time in this publication, “ah, yes, I remember it well…”

As an extremely wet-behind-the-ears 22-year-old, a college buddy of mine, the late Bob Seefeld, suggested we head to the big race that sunny June 9, 1973 for the afternoon and then to Yonkers Raceway that night.

The 40 years since that day have rocketed by. It’s all true, what you have read about that day. The enormous roar as the big red horse was ridden out to a 31-length victory. The crowd was on its feet the entire race and the grandstand did shake and vibrate.

No one at the track heard the famous race call as Secretariat was moving “like a tremendous machine.” It was too loud for that.

Unlike other sporting events I have witnessed over the years, the historical accounts of that day, the nuts and bolts if you will, are exceptionally accurate.

I did not bet on Secretariat; the odds-on price turned me away. I wasn’t bright enough to buy a ticket to save for posterity.

Horse racing remains part of the fabric of America because of the horses, certainly, but also because of the people who love it.

Bob Seefeld was one of those people.

Bob remains well known in Las Vegas betting circles because he was one of the first to attempt making money with the $100,000 show bet when Las Vegas began pari-mutuel betting.

Bob would fire on races with short fields and big favorites. Bob and his associates certainly cashed more often than they lost. But, eventually they did lose. I will leave the math of this kind of “bridge-jumping” to you. Needless to say, you have to win roughly 20 times to overcome one loss, depending on whether the show price is $2.10 or $2.20.

I never saw Bob engage in any other kind of gambling except playing the horses. No craps, “21,” or keno for Bob. He studied each race carefully as his father had taught him at Philadelphia-area tracks and always advised to give every horse equal consideration before making a selection. That’s still good advice.

In addition to the $100,000 show bets, Bob often made nice scores in the early Breeders’ Cup future book at the late and lamented Frontier race book. He certainly knew how to position himself for the big races.

Another of Bob’s quirks was his unwillingness to pay for parking at the track. We did find a place to park for free near Belmont Park that day 40 years ago. However, we nearly became road kill crossing the four-lane highway next to the track. Neither he nor I ever ran that fast again.

We also parked for free that night at Yonkers Raceway but we didn’t have to dodge 60-mile-an-hour cars to get to the track.

Except for playing the horses, Bob was notoriously cheap. He would invite friends and strangers alike to comped meals all over Las Vegas so his guests would take care of the tip. He often drank the non-dairy coffee creamer on restaurant tables to avoid having to pay for milk. He would take the most indirect routes when flying to rack up extra frequent flyer miles. He would always try to get “bumped” from flights on busy routes so he could get free tickets.

He was the only person I ever met who was happy if the airlines lost his luggage. He was ready to make a claim for purported Brooks Brothers dress shirts that really were from K-Mart.

I never saw Bob make two rolls of bathroom tissue out of a two-ply roll. However, if he did, it would not have shocked me.

After the stock market nose-dived on “Black Monday” in October of 1987, Bob was distraught. I think he was equally upset when Bedside Promise, a horse on which he had a big future book position, dropped dead a few days later.

I wouldn’t be in Las Vegas writing this if it weren’t for Bob Seefeld, but that’s a story for another day.

When the horses enter the gate for Saturday’s 145th Belmont Stakes, I will fondly remember Secretariat’s incredible win all those years ago and the guy who brought me there. He loved horse racing with his heart and soul. It is a pleasant memory, indeed.

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