Just two days before the start of last year's Breeders' Cup, the racing world was shaken by news that beloved NBC Sports analyst Bob Neumeier had suffered a stroke.
After more than five hours of brain surgery, the veteran Boston sportscaster made a remarkable recovery and within three months, he was winning a charity handicapping challenge and by late April, he was back to on-air duties.
I recently caught up with Neumeier to talk about where the game is today, wagering on the Breeders' Cup, and some other interesting thoughts and commentary on how he successfully approaches and differentiates covering racing from a fan, broadcaster, and handicapper's prospective.
What first got you interested in horse racing?
I rode on the coattails of my late father. He was a mutuel clerk on weekends at Suffolk Downs. He also enjoyed time at the variety of “fairs” in the Boston area —-Weymouth, Marshfield, Brockton, Great Barrington, among others, and so it was natural for me to accompany him to these locales. When I was a kid, I also read “Picking Winners” by Andrew Beyer and that helped give me the impetus that handicapping was an analytical exercise. I still believe that to be true.
You've made what seems like a remarkable recovery from a stroke last October. How are you feeling?
I have mixed feelings about my stroke suffered about a year ago. On the one hand, I know I am extremely lucky that most of my faculties are intact and I can work, handicap, read, etc. Others are not so fortunate. On the other hand, I still suffer from headaches, fatigue, nausea, and a frozen shoulder but taken in perspective—the doctors, nurses, rehab people, my wife, friends, and colleagues have really given me a boost.
Any revelations to come out of that experience?
I hope I don't take people and things for granted anymore. I fight that all the time but human nature tells me that this is a natural occurrence. I also feel closer to my wife, Michele Ucci, who has been extraordinary in this turn of events.
On the handicapping front, you've had a couple of nice milestones since then. Winning the NHC Charity Challenge in January to benefit Old Friends and taking down a Pick 6 at Del Mar. What did those events mean to you?
In terms of winnings, taking home the Charity Challenge was extremely lucky. Like all phases of handicapping, it boils down to good fortune, skill, industry and a combination thereof. As for the recent Pick 6 score, the money is nice – it helps defray the cost of all my losers. Since I am a “get-rich-quick” kind of player, that hit and others before it tell me that my betting philosophy is on track (no pun intended). But make no mistake, it's a difficult game for many reasons so I don't take good fortune for granted.
Can racing make any kind of comeback in your hometown of Boston?
I think racing may be doomed in Boston. Maybe the future casino parlors will resurrect the sport. I hope so. Nevertheless, my early days at Suffolk Downs with my father are meaningful. Today and moving forward, improvements are unlikely. But I've been wrong before. About 10,000 times (maybe more).
Many industry insiders believe horse racing needs a “less is more” mentality, focusing on creating more racing events and major racing days in America instead of concentrating on your five-day-a-week, six month a year grind that a lot of racetracks have. Do you agree?
The totality of racing dates seem to suit the needs of the players. They dictate. Certainly, racing operators can be guilty of greed and avarice with too many dates and too high a takeout rate. It's up to the consumer to strike their own balance.
What are your thoughts about Keeneland hosting the Breeders' Cup for the first time this year?
I think Keeneland hosting the Breeders” Cup is fantastic. I've been to many of these events both as a fan, a TV commentator, and as a player. When local fans care about the event…i.e. Kentucky…..it's a great boost. The Keeneland facility is terrific in its own right, so the BC can only benefit from this experience.
How do you approach the Breeders' Cup from a betting standpoint?
I view the Breeders' Cup as an opportunity for the bettors to unearth longshot opportunities, both in individual pools and horizontal wagers. However, the BC is like other major betting events — it's tempting to get caught up in the magnitude of the races and wager beyond our means. I try to temper my wagering, sometimes easier said, than done.
Can you share with some of the readership your preferred handicapping routine and insights. Are you a speed figure guy? Trip handicapper? Or is there some other methodology you've adopted over the years?
As a player, the odds board dictates everything. As a rule, I am a slave to numbers, so the Ragozin Sheets are a good place for me to start. Unfortunately, they also drive the tote board. But I have no particular rules in place. I use as many tools as possible and hope for the best. But by nature, I am a contrarian bettor so the more horses and concepts are hyped by writers, broadcasters, etc, the more I love to pounce against the flow. More importantly, I listen to NO ONE!…..owners, trainers, jocks, touts, and broadcasters.
And finally, what are your thoughts on Triple Crown winner American Pharoah and what he's done for horse racing and attracting new fans? What do you think of the potential showdown of American Pharoah and the champion mare Beholder in this year's Breeders' Cup Classic?
As for American Pharaoh, its a case of mixed emotions. As I said on NBC Sports, the fan in me wants him to win, the reporter in me says, lets-see-what-happens, and the bettor in me says—-stay away. As for the latter, I personally made a big score when AP lost in The Travers on the Pick 4 to Keen Ice, another example of the contrarian approach. But that does not take away from what he has meant to the sport, which is important to many people. I understand all of that. The saga of AP is like anything in life—-whatever impacts you is important. Be well.
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