Dave

dave

 

As today marks the third anniversary of Dave Ricciardi’s death, I am reposting a blog I wrote a couple of years ago. 

 

I am on the other side of the paddock, under the shed, looking at the odds. The smell of pizza from inside the grandstand found me outside. The announcer lets us know the horses are on the track. Under my feet are thousands of tiny gray pebbles. I am 10-years-old and the sound of someone whipping themselves with a program is getting louder.

I hear him talking. He’s calling the race. Naturally, his horse is on top. I look to my left and there he is, coming toward me with that huge smile on his face. This is life as a child at Saratoga Race Course. No pressures. No stress. No responsibilities. Life is good, and it is easy.

“Who ya got?” I ask.
“Cordero. He’s on the class of the race,” he says. He motions his arms like he is riding to the wire. “How ‘bout you, lovey?”
“Maple’s horse. Strong closer.” I cluck twice and whip my leg with a rolled up program.

That’s my pal, Dave.

We met as small boys – maybe around eight or nine – and were inseparable during the racing season at the Spa. We were huge racing fans, loved to bet, loved to footrace against each other in the backyard.

When we raced I hardly ever beat him. The little-you-know-what was as fast as a leopard.

Simply put, each day at the races with Dave was a great day, period. They were the very best of an already blessed childhood.

But we had different heroes, different handicapping strategies. He thought Angel Cordero, Jr. was bigger than the Beatles and I worshiped the ground Eddie Maple rode on. When we played the horses he loved sprinters and favorites. I loved the grass horses at a price.

When I think back on my childhood, he was one of the most important figures in it. The shorts and t-shirt wearing son of the hardest working Mom and Dad you’d ever want to meet, he was from a predominantly blue collar town in upstate New York.

I thought he was funny as hell, smart as a whip, and a pretty good handicapper. I was from a different place. A typical northern New Jersey suburban town dressed in my private school uniform. I was neither as funny, nor as quick as he. I tried, but he was faster.

I had it great as a kid. I felt privileged because my father’s work would rent us the house we stayed in for the whole race meet.  On top of that, we lived well.

But as different as Dave and I may have been at times, we both loved reading the Daily Racing Form and playing the horses.  It was the foundation on which our relationship was built, and to us both, it was solid ground.

One of my favorite things about him was my nickname: “Lovey.” He took it from my parents who called all their kids that. Before either of us knew it, it was all he called me and all I answered to.

When I was a teen I was afraid to make bets at the window before I turned 18. If I had gotten caught and my father found out, that was the end of me. I never took the chance.

But Dave? He was at the windows by the time he was 15 years old. Hell, he had a mustache by the time he was 12 and I didn’t shave until after college. I never would have gotten away with it.

He played a big role in key moments of my adolescence. It was with him I smoked for the first time – the bad stuff and the good stuff (I’ll let you decide which was which). He would occasionally sneak a beer or two for us, also.

As time moved forward and the years passed by, my Dad no longer covered racing. I stopped spending the entire month of August in Saratoga and we lost touch. These two kids, once inseparable, smoking, drinking and gambling as teenagers, built different lives over the years.

Fast forward to this year’s Kentucky Derby.

Two days after American Pharaoh won I went online to look Dave up. I always do that after the Derby. Every year I hope to find him. Hope to connect and see how he is; see if he is still that crazy kid I knew as a boy. It baffled me that I could never find him on social media. Ever. All my searches came up empty.

Except this year. This year my search yielded a result.

His obituary.

I swear I went cold. I immediately thought of us racing each other under the trees. I gulped, and clicked the link hoping beyond hope it wasn’t going to be him.

But, it was, and I saw that it was dated June 2014.

He was 45 years old.

I found his sister online and she confirmed it. She gave me their Mom’s number and we spoke that night.

Dave died the night before the 2014 Belmont Stakes. He was on his bed with the Form on his lap, looking at the next day’s races. It was his Mom who found him. His heart stopped working, she said. About 16 years prior, she found her husband on their couch the same way; from the same thing. It’s a sin for her to have gone through that twice, let alone once.

Granted, it may have happened 14 months ago, but because I only heard in May, it’s fresh. It feels like I just lost him. And with the horses running at Saratoga again, I think about him all the time.

Writing this was the only way I know how to honor him. I suppose it is a eulogy of sorts.

Throughout my adult life when I’d visit the Spa I hoped to run into him. I made sure to hit all the places we used to hang out. The shed. The Clubhouse. The paddock. The backyard. Get together and talk, bet a few races, and maybe revisit a simpler time.

Either way, it doesn’t look like I am making it up there this season. Time, money and work haven’t been kind of late.

So, instead of hopping on the NY State thruway, I’ll close my eyes and take a walk down memory lane. To Union Avenue in Saratoga Springs, NY. Our life at the track had no pressures. No stress. No responsibilities. Life was good, and it was easy.

“Who ya got?” I ask.
“Cordero. He’s on the class of the race,” he says. He motions his arms like he is riding to the wire. “How ‘bout you, lovey?”
“Maple’s horse. Strong closer.” I cluck twice and whip my leg with a rolled up program.
There’s 10 minutes to post, our bets have been made. We have time to kill.
“You wanna go race?”
He laughs. “Lovey, haven’t you been beaten enough today?”

There’s that smile again. I chuckle and we head to the backyard, by the Big Red Spring. We tighten our laces; roll up our programs, and talk a little trash.

I’m in the one hole, he is on the outside. We break. Three turns around the trees and it’s anyone’s race. One lap to go and we turn for home. Out of the corner of my eye I see him whipping and driving. He puts a neck in front. Just as we near the wire I make one final surge up the rail …

It was a tight finish. The judges called for a photo.  Turns out he did it again. Dave held sway, and won.

Damn it!

I missed him by a nose…

…and today, I miss him with all my heart.

#                      #                      #

June 6, 2017: I miss him even more today then when I wrote this.  May you rest, my old friend, in an easeful peace.

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