After I'd talked with Harvey Pack for a few minutes about his new book, May the Horse Be With You (Pack at the Track), he pretended to get cranky.
"It's a short book," he said. "If I tell you any more of the stories in it, I'll have given it all away."
He had a point. May the Horse Be With You includes many of the stories Harvey has been dining out on (at Siro's in Saratoga Springs and elsewhere) for years. That's fine with me. I like having the old chestnuts collected in one place.
Part of Harvey Pack's charm is that as a talker and a writer, he can convince you that although he was employed by the New York Racing Association for many years, he never worked a day in his life. How, he wonders, can going to the race track and telling funny stories about horses, jockeys, trainers, owners, and bettors be work? And as an entertainer, Harvey Pack has learned to give the audience what it wants. When he's regaling railbirds and tourists at the track, he tells everybody that he's losing, even when he's winning. He says it makes them feel better.
But there is an undercurrent of sadness in this funny little book. Pack readily concedes that the casinos have lured the bettors away from the track. Except for August in Saratoga, Kentucky Derby Day, the Breeders Cup Races and a few other marquee moments, horse racing today doesn't much resemble the sport that regularly drew huge crowds and made the front of the sport section. Maybe it's partly because the good old days will never come again that reading Pack's stories about better times at the track is such fun.
This program aired on August 23, 2007. The audio for this program is not available.