Frank Carulli lives, breathes, eats and sleeps gambling, so it should not be a surprise that he will be taking his talents to Las Vegas next month.
“It is something I have always wanted to do from the first time I ever walked into Circus Circus sports book in the late 80's,” Carulli said. “I said if I ever got the chance ‘I am coming'. Financially I can pull it off for now. Housing is dirt cheap and my health has been a little bad the last couple years, so I figure let's have fun first and I'll reassess the situation in two years.”
If Carulli has his way, the last two days he ever has to work are tomorrow and Saturday, the final two days of the Pimlico Race Course spring meeting. The 51-year-old will officially retire as the Maryland Jockey Club's racing analyst and handicapper Friday, June 28.
“I have been gambling since grade school, peddling football cards for a quarter each so it is deeply imbedded in my blood and it never left,” added Carulli. “I grew up watching Penn National with my father and we had a betting account. I really targeted this job ever since watching Fred Lipkin from my living room as a kid.”
Carulli arrived in Maryland in January 2002 after a 5 ½ year stint as publicity director and racing analyst at Charles Town.
In addition to analyzing each race and conducting interviews after stakes races on in-house and simulcast TV, Carulli was asked to set the morning line for each race every live racing day. He became one of the best in the business, with his morning line favorite being the actual betting choice more than a 70% of the time during his 11 ½ year tenure, including 11 of his 12 Preakness morning line selections.
“I am most proud of my linemaking skills,” said Carulli, who was a sports writer in Northern Virginia after graduating from Penn State before getting into the racing industry. “Before I took this job, I was working for Charles Town where I didn't do odds and had an interview with the Daily Racing Form to be an oddsmaker and I blew the test. Here I am now, knowing how badly I did there.”
“Frank doesn't consider doing the morning line a 9 to 5 job, where you just submit numbers and move on,” said longtime Maryland Jockey Club announcer Dave Rodman. “He took pride in doing the best job from favorite all the way down the line. He puts the time and effort into it. He understands the game and the mentality of the horse playing crowd. He tried to factor in not only what horses look like on paper but why the public would make that horse the favorite, factoring in riders and key races. When he had doubts about his own line he was not afraid to ask others for opinions, which is rare for someone in his position. His dedication really stood out to me, especially how he used to stress out about the Preakness line as soon as the horses crossed the line at the Kentucky Derby. He was always thinking.”
Of course, most of Carulli's top memories during his tenure in Maryland revolve around the Preakness Stakes (G1), the middle jewel of thoroughbred racing's Triple Crown.
“I will never forget Dave's call of Afleet Alex (2005). How much the best was he?,” Carulli said. “The atmosphere here for Smarty Jones (2004) stood out beyond words. It was unbelievable and of course Barbaro (2006). I watched the race from the press box and the hush that fell over the crowd is something I will never forget. It was like watching a silent movie. I think the Preakness should have a museum. It is the greatest race in the country for what has happened in it, not just the great horses but the drama and everything else.”
Two of his other favorites are Mr. O'Brien, a runner Carulli correctly predicted would win the 2005 Dixie Handicap (G2) at 11-1 odds, and Eclipse Award winner Xtra Heat.
“One of my first stakes interviews was with the connections of Xtra Heat (2002 Barbara Fritchie) and I was blown away by the number of people surrounding the winners' circle,” Carulli said. “They were about 50 deep. Then the next year she won the same race in the fog. When they brought her back to the paddock for the win photo, it was like a movie. There were flash cameras going off from the apron when she and (jockey) Rick Wilson came back. That was fascinating.”
Carulli was involved in the process of finding his on-air replacement Gabby Gaudet and has been mentoring her during the current meet.
“Gabby is going to surprise a lot of people with how well she is going to do,” Carulli said. “You don't have to tell her to do anything twice. Her on-air demeanor has improved each week. I think the hardest thing is going to be keeping her here.”
Equibase chart caller Keith Feustle, who has been co-hosting the Pimlico and Laurel pre-race show with Rodman for nearly two years, will take over Carulli's morning line duties. Feustle has been establishing the morning line at Colonial Downs since 2003.
“He is fabulous, one of the best out there,” said Carulli. “You can't put into perspective as to how difficult it has been at Colonial, which is super difficult because it is all big fields on the turf. The adjustment for him is going to be super easy going from those to a more balanced race card. He is one of the best linemakers in the business, for sure.”
Carulli's work ethic is legendary but so is his appetite for action. Following each racing day, he can be found wagering on Latin American racing in the Pimlico or Laurel Park press box, which is how he earned the nickname El Presidente.
“He is definitely one of the more memorable people I have ever met,” Rodman said. “His love of gambling is what makes him such a colorful personality. He watches races from his own personal gym. Some of my favorite times are when he is on his treadmill after our race card and at the same time talking about a bad ride at San Isidro.”
WHEN IN VEGAS
Carulli will be leaving Maryland July 1 with stops in Cincinnati, Kansas City and Denver to watch baseball games. Once in Vegas, he plans on spending his time wagering.
“It will not be horse racing. Sports betting will be the bulk of it with halftime lines at the front of the line,” Carulli added. “Table games will be a large part of it, blackjack and craps. I am a decent poker player but decent might not be good enough out there so we'll see. I am a realist and know the money could go quickly, so I need to sharpen my skills because that is what I would like to do. That and sports betting, which I love.”
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