Father's Day is Sunday, when homage is paid to caring and loving paternal members of the family throughout the land. Following is a remembrance of my father that appeared September 1999 in Gaming Today, a weekly publication in Las Vegas:
My dad died last week.
He had a long and healthy life, until the last three months, when at 87, a dormant form of leukemia finally erupted. He died quickly and peacefully, thank God, but long before he went, he taught me almost everything I know about horse racing and handicapping.
I remember waiting outside Atlantic City Race Course as a child, my fingers probing through a chain link fence as I strained to hear Tommy Daly's fractured call, while my dad and his friends were inside playing the ponies.
This was long before tracks allowed children, before the days of Beyers, “bounces” and bute.
My dad was a comedian. He went by the stage name of Ken Barry (not to be confused with Ken Berry of ‘F Troop' fame). Barry was a world traveler, visiting countries from Africa to Yugoslavia, with stops in Hong Kong, Japan, Russia and Spain.
Oddly, he never played Vegas, but he performed with major stars such as Sammy Davis Jr., Sergio Franchi, Frank Sinatra Jr., Johnny Mathis, Jerry Vale, Phyllis Maguire, Al Martino, Tammy Wynette, Buddy Greco and many others.
He was a trouper to the end, doing 21 shows on the senior citizen circuit in Florida last winter. He regarded himself as a modern-day Will Rogers. His material was original and topical, never dirty or risqué.
He was an avid bridge player, lived and died with the Phillies, and played the horses all his life.
He was once asked if he ever intended to retire. He gave the reply of colleagues Milton Berle, George Burns and Bob Hope: ‘Retire? Retire to what?'
It was Ken Barry who taught me to observe horses in the post parade and warm-ups; to study odds moves on the tote board; to look for significant jockey changes and post position changes; and not to overlook horses coming in from an obscure circuit to run with the big boys.
Those observations still apply today.
A few years ago, my dad left his home in South Jersey, where playing the horses at Garden State and Philadelphia Park had turned into a bingo game, to enjoy some major league racing at Santa Anita.
He asked me if I liked anything the day he went to the track. I gave him a horse that won and paid $51.
I couldn't wait to talk with him that night about his big score. A $51 winner. The kid did his dad proud.
Did you play it? I asked him eagerly.
Nah, came the honest response. I hooked him up in an exacta.
Ken Barry's best horse story typifies a gambler's mentality:
Two friends meet at the track an hour before the first race.
The first one asks the second if he can borrow $20.
“You can't be broke already,” the second guy says. “It's an hour before the first race.”
“Nah,” the first guy says. “I got money to bet. I need money to eat.”
Dad, thanks for the laughs.
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