Dream Job at 47 Years Old
“Congratulations Johnny, you’re the new handicapper of our paper!”
That’s what I heard from the sports editor of the Minneapolis Star Tribune when I answered my phone that bright and sunny afternoon, two days before the 2011 Kentucky Derby.
The same paper where Steve Davidowitz got his start and now they were going to hire me – an ex-pro wrestler, health club and beer line cleaning owner.
I knew the old adage “be careful what you wish for,” didn’t apply here. I had been handicapping races for 20 years and had shown a profit each year since 2008. I have been fortunate to hit some nice Pick 4’s and a few healthy paying Pick 6’s along the way.
I always believed the best handicappers were middle-aged because of the many years of ups and downs one must go through to become a decent horseplayer. I’m in my prime, is what I’m saying.
To back-up just a bit, that March I read in the paper that the handicapper for the Star Tribune had left his position to take a job with Fox Sports. Well, obviously, there was a light bulb above my head.
I asked my friend, a reporter there, if the position had been filled. She said “no” and put in a good word for me. I sent the sports editor an email saying I would love to interview for the job, along with my credentials.
Three weeks later, I got an email from the editor saying he would like to meet me. So, we met at a coffee shop and talked about horse racing and sports.
Three weeks later, he called again and said there were a few of us left for the job and he wanted us each to write about any three races with our top selections. I knew he didn’t care if our selections won and that it was more about how well we wrote about the races.
Obviously, I had never done this before but I read thousands of PP’s to know how it went. I chose my three races and sent them away, choosing Santa Anita as my track.I must’ve held my own because now we can fast forward to the bright sunny day on the porch.
After I was told that I got the job, he told me to send in my mugshot, short bio, and my column with selections for Kentucky Derby by noon tomorrow.
“No problem,” I said. I had my wife take my mugshot (Twitter profile picture/see above) and we celebrated with some Sam Adams and maybe a bottle of wine.
The next morning I got my bio and selections done and sent them away. I liked Nehro with his closing style on what I felt was going to be a hot contested pace. I also wrote about four other runners who I thought could win the race.
My bet for the paper was $20 Across The Board on #19 Nehro along with some exacta plays. Total $100.
I got up early on that first Saturday in May and went to the front stoop to get the paper, just like in Mayberry. There I was with my first column and my photo. The phone rang most of the morning with basically “WTF!”
I didn’t tell many people so it came as a shock to friends and family. One friend called me “Mr Magoo” because he said I continually just walk in to things like this.
I was extremely nervous before the race but nothing a Bloody Mary couldn’t solve. Like any job, the new kid on the block better be promising and look good out of the gate and I knew many novice players would take the paper to Canterbury Park and place my bets.
Well, as we all watched that day, Nehro got caught by late flying Animal Kingdom and held on for second. Good enough for me!
Anyone playing my ticket in the paper would of won $158. Not the greatest day but at least readers were cashing tickets and not making confetti. A great relief to me and a winning ticket for the readers.
This May starts my third year writing selections for Canterbury Park, The Triple Crown, and The Breeders in the Mpls StarTribune. Not a bad summer gig!
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