Horses and Bookies

by Jule Spohn


Before I begin, I must say that I have never been to a track but perhaps one of these days I'll get there. The extent of my gambling is buying my weekly New York Mega and Lotto $1 tickets twice a week.

Now, having said that, I remember very well when I was growing up here in Newark in the 1940's and 50's all of the horse racing lovers and some of the "bookie joints."

My mother and father both "played the ponies." Every night at five o'clock, during dinner time, my parents would have the radio on the kitchen table turned on and they would be listening to the racing results for the day. My father never cursed in front of my mother or me but when one of his horses would loose he would hit the table and say: "SON OF A PUP."

Every morning I would have to run down to the candy store and get them the "Daily Racing Form" (or whatever it was called) and another racing paper - Racing Telegram?. They would sit there and try to figure out which horse would win and then go out and "place their bets." There was a real "science" to how they figured it out - condition of the track, weather, jockey's weight, etc.

There was a barber shop right across the street from us on South Orange Ave between 11th and 12th Streets. When I was a kid I had long, curly, blond hair. Still have a photo of me with that. When I was about three years old, my mother told me, she took me across the street to get my "first hair cut." The barber said to her: "I haven't cut hair in over 20 years." The barber shop had three barber chairs in the front of the place and behind them was a frosted "glass" wall. Behind that wall were all of the bookies and phones.

On the corner of South Orange Ave and South 10th Street was a bar called "DANNY'S WONDER BAR" and on the walls of this place were beautiful photo's and mural's of many of the greatest racing horses of the day. I used to love to go in there with my parents and just look at these majestic animals.

Back in the 40's and 50's most of the people in my neighborhood did not have TV's. Every Saturday afternoon my father and uncles would hang out in many of the local bars in my area and watch the races. I loved being there in the bars with these men and listening to not only the race but the shouting and screaming of the men as the race was under way and their horses either won or lost.

Back in the 1940's and 50's my mother and her two sisters, my Aunts Margaret and Anna, all TIGHE sisters, worked for Prudential going all the way back to the 1920's. Every year in the summer the Pru would close for a day and they would run a train out of Newark's Penn Station down to Asbury Park called the "PRUDENTIAL EXCURSION" and my mother, aunts, and I would go to do Asbury Park for the day. This was one of the highlights of my childhood year after year. There were many times over the years when my mother would leave me with my Aunts there in Asbury Park and she and some of her lady friends would take a train over to Monmouth Park for the day and then meet us back in Asbury Park in time for dinner. I can also remember, very clearly, that at one point my mother didn't go to Monmouth but had given one of her lady friend's some money to bet on a horse for her. The horse won but but when the woman came back to Asbury Park that night she told my mother that she had forgotten to place the bet for my mother. Needless to say, my mother went nuts and called this woman some "unkind" words - which even surprised me at that time.

How many of you remember the names of some of the great racing horses and the jockey's who rode them such as: Citation, Bold Ruler, Northern Dancer, Seattle Slew, Seabiscuit, Man O' War, and the Grand Daddy of them all "SECRETARIAT'" etc.? And how many of you remember the "bookies" and "bookie joints" in your neighborhood? - no names please - just the facts, Mamm.

I still love to watch the major races - Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes, and the Belmont Stakes - every year. Who knows, perhaps one of these days I might make it down to Monmouth Park, Churchill Downs, or some of the other tracks.


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