Thursday, December 25, 2008

Barney was The Man

Barney Dworkin, pictued above with a customer in his Saugus MA shoe store, was the first person that ever brought me to a dog track (Wonderland Park 1967).

Barney Dworkin loved Wonderland Greyhound Park but didn't like to go there by himself. In March 1967 I was working in a shoe store in The New England Shopping Center on Route 1 in Saugus, MA. Barney managed a store a few doors down and we met frequently during each business day. One day he invited me to head over to Wonderland after work. It was the first of many visits for me to greyhound tracks from New Hampshire to Colorado.

But Barney wasn't just a chauffer. He became my mentor and what I used to call my "first Jewish friend". That wasn't a racist remark as much as it was evidence of my upbringing in an Irish/Italian Catholic little town. I admired Barney's business acumen, sense of humor, respect for others and especially his family life. He invited me to his home from dinner with his wife and children as often as he invited me to Wonderland.

I never saw him again after 1967 and don't know what happened to him. Nevertheless, he had a significant impact on my life in a very short period of time.

Barney was a superb greyhound handicapper, although I couldn't know it as a neophyte. It took me years of experience to appreciate how well grounded in the sport I had become as a result of Barney's eagerness to share his knowlege. Following are the lessons that I took in from Barney Dworkin:

1) Barney taught me how to read a racing program. He went over every detail with me and explained the reasons why each piece of information was important (or not).

2) He taught me about box bias in greyhound racing. He explained that the #1 and #8 dogs had an advantage simply because there was only one dog on either side that could bump them. And, since the shortest distance around the track was near the rail, the #1 had the biggest advantage of all. He explained the different distances and how the box bias shifted based on each distance. For the longest distances, box bias obviously had less impact on the race. Barney knew this and wanted to make sure that I understood it also.

3) Barney knew the importance of early speed. He always tried to predict the leader at the first turn and then look for comments like "faded", "caught", "tiring". He would try to visulaize the running of the race in his mind ahead of time.

4) As for posted weights, Barney felt weight was mostly meaninless because the vets would scratch a dog that was significantly above or below its established running weight. However, there were two situations where weight mattered to him. One was "weight losers" and the other was races run in the rain and mud. He kept track of the dogs from week to week and had a list of dogs who ran at lighter weights than their ususal weight in the late races. To him, this meant the dogs might be fidgety in the holding cage at the track and well worn out by race time. He would watch for a known weight loser running in the first or second race and be all over them in the double. I saw him hit a few big tickets that way. As for the bad weather, he just felt the heaviest dogs (over 80 lbs.) could handle the slipping and sliding and bumping in the mud better than the lighter dogs. So he gave the heavy dogs an edge in those conditions.

5) Also regarding rainy conditions, he noted that sometimes puddles formed along the rail. He would look for puddles and toss out the inside dogs when present. He also felt the closers had less of a chance in the mud for the same reasons as in horse racing...the behind runners get mud kicked in their eyes. "There are no goggles in dog racing," he would say.

6) When a dog was scratched, Barney would look closely at the two dogs in the neighboring boxes to the scratched entry. So, for example, if the #3 was scratched, he would look closely at the #2 and #4 and there would have to be a good reason to leave them out of the trifecta. Sometimes, if the odds were right, he would bet on those two dogs in the quiniella as a "spot play".

7) Barney had an interesting angle relating to early speed and the concept behind comment 6 above. He would watch for a flash and fade early speed dog that would likely race to the turn and eventually fall back. He would treat that race as though the speedster's box was empty, figuring that one of the adjacent pups could fire out in the early racer's slip stream and then blow by him when he faded. In other words, it was like a fullback clearing a path for the running back. Or, if you don't like football, think lead-out in a bicycle sprint. I was never quite able to put it that angle into practice, but I did see Barney do it a few times.

8) Barney was not a heavy bettor. That was his self-limiting style of money management. It was also his agreement with his wife, which he honored religiously. He rarely played more than $10 on a single race. He felt that anything can go wrong in one race and that a good handicapper will hit often enough to make a profit. He was strongly negative on betting against yourself so he would play a single quiniella or double, perhaps $2 or $5 on the nose. Occasionally, he would box three dogs in a trifecta.

9) We talked about class, including the grading requirements and the highest class won by each dog. Barney looked for double class droppers but wouldn't bet them until they showed some sign of coming back into form. And, of course, he had his own methods for evaluating a dog's current form. Suprisingly, he didn't pay much attention to average running times because, in his opiniion, there were too many variables that impacted a dog's running time on a aprticular day. And, while he was good at math, he didn't want to spend his handicapping time making math calculations.

10) Finally, Barney felt there were subtle differences during night races as compared to day racing. He felt that anything from shadows to tiredness to eating habits to bad eyesight on the part of some dogs could make a difference in performance and results. Years later I did a lot of research on this subject (day vs. night results at the same track) and found that, as usual, Barney was absolutely correct. I still use this factor in my handicapping.

I know that these are fundamentals to experienced greyhound fans but, for me, I am certainly grateful that I had a good teacher right out of the box.

Barney Dworkin also taught me how to properly trim a shoe store window, but that's another story for another time! May God Bless you Barney, wherever you are. Merry Christmas. I mean, Happy Hanukkah.

This post originally appeared in my greyhound racing blog.