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Black Monday

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Just when we should be celebrating Opening Day at Del Mar, with Saratoga right around the corner, Life reared its head and spoiled the whole thing. The shocking news of the death of track announcer and friend Luke Kruytbosch at age 47 hit me like a ton of bricks. We weren’t best buddies but we saw each other a couple of times a year and stayed in occasional contact throughout the season. The annual “Stay Hungry” trip, comprised of press box buddies and assorted misfits, was not complete without a stop at Turf Paradise and beers with Luke at the Backside Bar after the races. I know it’s an overused cliche, but I don’t think Luke had an enemy in the world. How could you not like this guy? A large teddy bear of a man, with that booming, infectious laugh, he knew and genuinely liked everyone in the game. And I don’t mean just the heavy hitters, I mean the parking lot attendants, backside workers and clean-up crews. He probably knew the name of every so-called “little guy” at every track he worked. I wrote in a Mar. 22, 2007 blog post that Luke Kruytbosch was one of the nicest and most patient guys on the planet. The “patient” part was seen first-hand one night when an overzealous Luke fan who’d had one (or five) too many kept peppering him with questions, imitating his calls and making a general idiot out of himself. Luke hung in there gamely, patiently answering questions, even going so far as to invite the guy up to his booth to watch him call a race sometime. I finally couldn’t take it anymore so I shuffled off and called Luke on his cell phone, trying to give him a much-needed reprieve.

When you get news like this, it’s only natural to reflect back on time spent or conversations with that person. And my sadness only increased when I realized our group didn’t get a chance to spend time with Luke last March in Arizona. Instead of the usual drinking and post-race debauchery, we rushed out of the track to make it back to ASU for a good NIT basketball game. We had great seats and saw a terrific game (ASU vs. Florida). A few of our guys even cashed sizeable wagers on Florida. We whooped it up and talked about how much we had enjoyed the atmosphere and how great it had been to do something “different”, instead of the usual excessive intake of adult beverages and dice games at the ramshackle Backside Bar. Had any of us known we wouldn’t see Luke again, we would have bypassed the meaningless hoops game in a second.

Besides being a top-notch announcer who called 10 Kentucky Derbies, Luke was a friend and mentor to many young, up-and-coming race callers. I know for a fact that he was extremely instrumental in helping guys like Bill Downes and John Lies get their starts. I once ran into Luke at a Breeders’ Cup press party and joked that I didn’t know whether to shake his hand or kiss his ring. Like the Pope or a Mafia Godfather, he was the guy other track announcers went to for advice or career advancement. Tonight after the races, owner Mike Pegram (a close friend of Luke) hosts a big party at his Del Mar home. You can bet your bottom dollar we will toasting and telling Luke stories late into the night.

Right after getting the tragic news about Luke, I got a call from Bob Mieszerski, telling me that he had been laid off as part of the L A Times cost-cutting measures. The Times cut 150 jobs, and Mieszerski and racing writer Larry Stewart were two of the victims. Mieszerski is an extremely talented handicapper and writer who has been in the newspaper business since he was 21 years old. Blessed with an incredible memory and great feel for the game, I consider him one of my main handicapping mentors. While obviously nothing can compare to the tragedy of death, losing one’s job after a 30-year career has to rank second. Mieszerski deserved better—being notified two days before the start of Del Mar showed a complete lack of class by the Times, which will now have no horse racing coverage in the country’s second-largest market. With the Breeders’ Cup coming to Santa Anita this fall, could the timing have been any worse? Let’s hope Bob lands on his feet quickly, making the Times’ loss some other publication’s gain.

Excuse me if I’m not in my usual fired-up-for-Del Mar state of mind. There are some things a lot more important than horse racing.

Comments

2 Responses to “Black Monday”

  1. gbettinelli on July 16th, 2008 6:27 pm

    Hey Bob, great post and you speak for all of us in the game and those around it. Really makes you take a step back and think about what really matters most.

    If anything is put together in memory of Luke, please let me know.

    Best, Val

  2. hremonthly on July 17th, 2008 12:36 pm

    Hi Bob:

    I am really sad to hear about how the Times treated Mieszerski.

    With no coverage of Del Mars biggest opening day in the LA Times, I was extremely disappointed. It look like independent publishing (in pint and online) with some kind of creative financing is the only solution to get back the coverage this sport deserves.

    I will be in touch with you soon,

    Richard Garcia
    HRE Monthly

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