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Book Review

May The Horse Be With You: Pack at the Track
By Harvey Pack with Peter Thomas Fornatale
DRF Press, August 2007, 176 pages hardcover

Long-time followers of the New York racing circuit will undoubtedly have heard of Harvey Pack. An entertaining personality both on TV and radio, he has been and continues to be an influence on the New York racing community, including his current gig as host of the DRF handicapping seminars at Siro's in Saratoga Springs. In this, his first book and his autobiography, the Manhattan native talks about his illustrious career in racing media that spans over 50 years. He said, “Things (in horse racing) started to go downhill about the time I went to work for the racetrack. I hope that's just a coincidence.”

Each chapter is titled with one of his 13 rules of the game. He tells a few tales from his career, loosely related to that rule. In the down-to-earth yet irreverent style reminiscent of Damon Runyon that has become his trademark, Pack intersperses his stories with wisecracks about politics and life in general. An example is his explanation of how Sunday racing was legalized in New York: "At the time you could buy a law for $50. Of course things have changed. Now it's $500." His lifelong dream was to never hold a real job, and by working in the racing industry, he never considered this as “work” as he was always enjoying himself. During this time, he ran into many interesting characters, such as Photo Dan who booked 'saver” bets on close finishes when he already knew the result of the photo. Marketing types hired by NYRA to help boost attendance came up with some dismal failures, and Pack pulled no punches exposing them. One hosted a handicapping contest pitting turfwriters against psychics, and another suggested that Aqueduct be renamed Silks and that an 8-story parking garage be built to make room for a riding academy. To show that some things never change, rock concerts at Belmont also failed miserably, with crowds of pot-smoking college kids preventing regulars from getting to the track.

While employed in marketing at NYRA, he was instrumental in implementing many things that fans take for granted today. The predominant style of the simulcast feeds of most tracks, with entertaining hosts giving handicapping selections between races, was started by Pack years ago, as well as NYRA's recap show with race replays that appears on local TV, currently on Fox Sports New York. Pack takes credit for convincing then-NYRA president Jerry McKeon to attract Breeders' Cup and New Jersey announcer Tom Durkin to their circuit to replace the still popular but aging Marshall Cassidy. Pack felt that Cassidy didn't generate enough excitement. Clearly the move worked, as Durkin still calls the races at NYRA to this day. Like any bettor, Pack isn't perfect and he uses his mistakes to further entertain the reader. When he heard about the Breeders' Cup concept of John Gaines, he dismissed it, saying "It'll never work. I said the same thing about ATM's and renting movies." Then when ironically hired by NBC to work the first BC, he was asked if a camera should be installed near the weigh scale in case of an objection. Pack said, “Don't be ridiculous. There won't be any objections”. That first year there were inquiries in the second race and again in the Classic. When he left NBC he hosted the international simulcast feed for the Breeders' Cup.

Fans of Harvey Pack and of New York racing in general will thoroughly enjoy his memoirs, covering his involvement in the NYRA scene for the last 50 years. Pack and fellow New Yorker Thomas Fornatale show us that life in the horse racing business can be very entertaining, not just because of what happens on the track and at the betting windows but also what happens behind the scenes. Pack has been a popular fixture in the New York racing media for years, and after reading his story, the reader will understand why.

May The Horse Be With You has a list price of $24.95 and is available from Amazon.com for $16.47.

Rating:     4.5/5

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