June 5, 1999. Official Lone Star Park handicapper Chuck Badone hardly noticed the dispirited journalists, as he bounded into the press room, waving his ticket on Lemon Drop Kid who, at 30-1 in the Belmont Stakes, had just spoiled Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Charismatic’s bid for the Triple Crown.
Badone, who died in 2004 at the age of 67, had a palpable passion for his work and over 40 years of experience. In addition to Lone Star Park, he had served as a handicapper for Turf Paradise, Monmouth Park, and the Daily Racing Form; taught college level courses on the art of handicapping; and wrote the classic text for race fans, “Winning Horseracing Handicapping: Secrets of a Successful Horseracing Handicapper.”
At the time of the 1999 Belmont Stakes, I was co-editor of Lone Star Today, Lone Star Park’s daily race program modeled after the Daily Racing Form, and I also produced a daily tip sheet called Ladies Choice. The schedule was grueling, with five days of racing, nine to eleven races a day, fields of up to 14 horses. But I could never indulge in self-pity without thinking of Chuck Badone and his contribution to the program – written commentary on every horse in each of the day’s races, usually between 100 to 120 comments every day with morning line odds.
It was up to me to proofread Chuck’s comments, a job that afforded me an opportunity to learn from a master of handicapping, as well as enjoy a wordsmith in his field. While it was not unusual for him to write 50 words on the merits and risks of individual entries, it was Chuck’s succinct and sometimes humorous summaries that stand out in my memory.
A 30-1 shot in a claiming race for older horses drew this comment: “Form is as bad as you can get. Will take up sales of aluminum siding if he wins.”
In another race, with a similar entry, he wrote: “I don’t care if the jockey’s name is Jesus [it was], this horse doesn’t have a prayer.”
Yet another: “Will need to improve about 40 lengths to threaten.”
And another: “Play on him is very risky, if not suicidal.”
And: “Won’t have to be much, but evidence seems to say that he isn’t.”
Chuck could also nail the prospects of possible (as opposed to probable) top finishers in his summaries:
“With the drop and a bit more improvement, he could be in the thick of things.”
“Neither a stand-out or a throw-out.”
And my all-time favorite, which applies to much more than just racing: “Iffy, but not hopeless.”