NBC Looks to True Horse Player for a Leader of the Pack
Harvey Pack, a member of NBC’s nine-person broadcasting team covering Saturday’s Breeders’ Cup at Santa Anita, is, first and foremost, a horse player.
“Whatever the true horse player chooses to do in real life, he makes sure that it affords him time to go to the track,” Pack said between races at Santa Anita Wednesday.
Pack, 59, who rarely bets more than $100 on a race, has been in love with horse racing almost all his life.
“My father was a degenerate, and I say that affectionately,” Pack said. “He went to the track five days a week until he was 87, then cut back to two days a week. I knew then he wouldn’t live much longer. He died at 88.”
For 17 years, Pack wrote about television for King Features, a newspaper syndication service. He arranged interviews and wrote his stories around a schedule that included almost daily trips to the track.
Later, he found work that not only allowed him to go to the track but required it. For two years in the early 1970s, he worked for New York radio station WNBC, broadcasting re-creations of the races at the New York Racing Assn. tracks. His show was called “Pack at the Track.”
Then in 1974, he got an even better job for a horse player. He was named director of promotions for the NYRA, a position he still holds. It involves greeting patrons at Harvey Pack’s Paddock Club, handicapping races and, in recent years, being the host of a nightly racing show on pay/cable TV.
Pack’s work on cable TV led to his being hired by NBC in 1984, when the network televised the first Breeders’ Cup.
Speaking of ideal jobs, NBC is giving Pack $100 to bet on the seven Breeders’ Cup races Saturday.
“The dream of every horse player is betting with OPM,” Pack said. “You know what OPM stands for? Other people’s money.
“But you’d think NBC could afford more than $100. Like maybe $10 million. Boy, would I have fun then.”
Pack will warn viewers that “following Pack’s picks may be dangerous to your wealth.”
During Saturday’s four-hour telecast, which will begin at 11 a.m., with first post set for 11:14, Pack is also scheduled to be seen doing a taped interview with trainer Gary Jones and, in a live segment, explaining why the word chalk is used when referring to the favorite.
So why is it?
“In the old days, and we’re talking 40 years ago, bookmakers were allowed at the tracks. They still are in England.
“The bookmakers listed the odds on a board, and would chalk over them whenever they changed. Since the odds on the favorite changed the most, that horse would have the most chalk by his name. That’s where the term chalk came from.”
One of Pack’s favorite stories concerns what happened to him in 1953, while he was in the Army. He was stationed at Fort Dix in New Jersey, which is located near Monmouth, Garden State and Atlantic City tracks.
Word somehow spread that Pack had been a professional handicapper, which wasn’t true. A handicapper, yes; a pro, no.
Anyway, a colonel summoned Pack to his office. Turns out, he was a horse player, too. But he couldn’t get away to the track. So he sent a captain and Pack to the track every day to place bets for him, with Pack making the selections.
“I’d go to the track on weekdays and then get a weekend pass and meet my friends at Belmont,” Pack said. “When I told them I was going to the track every day, they couldn’t believe it. They thought when I went into the Army I’d be fighting in Korea, or something like that, not going to the track.”
Pack said that during that time, he saw one of his betting friends at Belmont, a fellow named Warren. “A real bum, and a loser,” Pack said. But somehow Warren had managed to buy part ownership in a horse. He told Pack that the horse was being held back, and later told him the day that the horse would be turned loose. On that day, the horse went off as a 20-1 shot.
“I only had $1, which is about all I ever had,” Pack said. “I decided to ask the captain for a loan. But all he did was give me $1 and said we’d split a ticket on the horse. Well, the horse won and paid $60, and all I got was $30. On the way back to the base, I could have killed that captain.”
New addition: Jockey Chris McCarron, who suffered a broken leg in a spill at Santa Anita two weeks ago, will join the Breeders’ Cup broadcasting team, doing commentary from a wheelchair.
Dick Enberg will be the host of the coverage, with former Santa Anita race caller Dave Johnson serving as co-host. Besides McCarron and Pack, the analysts will be Tom Hammond, Jay Randolph, Sharon Smith and Brough Scott. The race caller will be Tom Durkin of the Meadowlands in New Jersey and Hialeah in Florida.
John Gonzalez, producer of the coverage, said: “We’ve learned that there really isn’t much time to fill. We were over-prepared for the first Breeders’ Cup. We had a lot of canned features we just didn’t have time to use. There is 33 minutes between races, and once you analyze a race that has just concluded and set up the next one, there’s no more time.”
Gonzalez gave umbrellas to his crew at last year’s Breeders’ Cup at Aqueduct because of the bad weather in New York. This year, he’s planning to give out sunglasses. Smog glasses may be more appropriate.
Between the second and third Breeders’ Cup races at Santa Anita, NBC will break away and go to Fair Hill Race Course in Elkton, Md., to cover the first Breeders’ Cup Steeplechase. Don Criqui and Richard Pitman will report. . . . The Breeders’ Cup will be reviewed in a special show on Channel 56 Saturday night at 8:30. Howard Koch and Walter Matthau are the hosts. . . . The Hollywood Park season, opening Wednesday, will be previewed in another special show on Channel 56 at 8 p.m. on Monday. . . . Both Channel 56 and Prime Ticket will carry the re-calls from Hollywood Park. . . . Because of the time it takes to prepare for the Breeders’ Cup, Enberg will not work Sunday’s Raider-Denver game, which will be televised locally by NBC. The announcers will be Charlie Jones and Merlin Olsen. . . . The 10 a.m. NFL game Sunday on CBS will be Dallas vs. New York Giants, with Pat Summerall and John Madden reporting. . . . ABC is planning to use some new, super slo-mo ground-level cameras during Monday night’s game between the Rams and the Chicago Bears. Just what television needs, more ground-level shots.
Prime Ticket will televise USC’s game at Arizona Saturday live at 5:30 p.m., PST. . . . Replaced by a tape machine? Cruel, cruel world. Prime Ticket has decided to drop sideline reporter Jeff Severson and use the money it will save in salary for an extra tape machine. Now, if only ABC would do the same and replace sideline reporter Al Trautwig with a tape machine. . . . Incredibly, Saturday’s Washington-Arizona State game will not be televised. CBS is televising Florida State-Miami nationally. . . . CBS will televise Stanford at UCLA at 11:30 a.m. Saturday, Nov. 8. ABC will not decide on its Nov. 8 game until this weekend. It will be either Miami of Florida vs. Pittsburgh, or Maryland at Penn State. The ESPN game Nov. 8 will be LSU-Alabama. . . . The Clippers’ season opener tonight at Sacramento will be televised by Channel 5 at 7:30, with the new team of Dave Diles and Norm Nixon reporting. . . . The Lakers’ opener at Houston Saturday will be televised nationally by CBS at 12:30 p.m. PST. . . . WTBS will begin its NBA coverage with Washington at Boston tonight at 5:05.
ABC’s live coverage of Sunday’s New York City Marathon will begin at 7:30 a.m., PST. The announcers will be Jim Lampley, Marty Liquori, Kathrine Switzer, Diana Nyad, Larry Rawson and Lynn Swann. . . . Social note: ABC and Chicago White Sox announcer Don Drysdale will marry former UCLA basketball star Ann Meyers Saturday at Rancho Mirage. They have been going together for several years. Said Enberg, Drysdale’s former broadcasting partner: “What, he’s getting married on Breeders’ Cup Day!”. . . . ESPN tried some new things Thursday night when it televised Fresno State and Cal State Fullerton. The cable network wired Fresno assistant coach Bill Dole in the press box so viewers could eavesdrop, and also had Fresno’s backup quarterback, Dave Telford, wired so he could tell viewers what plays the Bulldogs would run just before the snap. . . . ESPN will begin its college basketball coverage next Wednesday with a game between the Soviet national team and the University of Arizona.