Many of the owners with horses in Laurel's International Turf Festival were born to great wealth or inherited prominent thoroughbred stables. But none of them could have had a more marvelous, enviable upbringing than Rich Bomze.
He spent much of his youth hanging around a Manhattan office populated by ace handicappers, wise guys and assorted racetrack degenerates. With mentors who were some of the game's most famous experts, Bomze bet his first winning horse when he was 11. On Saturdays and summer vacations he would pore over racing forms and compile "horses to watch" lists for 30 racetracks that would be published in a national newspaper.
"I grew up loving the statistical side of handicapping," Bomze said, and he has never lost the passion. In fact, he won't be at Laurel to see his horse, Fourstardave, run in the $250,000 Laurel Dash Sunday because he has to monitor all of the day's pro-football action and get to work on his football selections for the next week.
Bomze's late father, Henry, founded American Turf Monthly magazine and the Racing Star Weekly newspaper, which publish systems, tips, horses-to-watch lists and other information directed at hard-core bettors. They would do occasional touting, too. Bomze would be waiting to get the first copy of the Morning Telegraph that rolled off the presses so he could make a selection that would be sent to clients by Western Union.
Bomze went to work full-time for his father's business after he graduated from Duke, but after a few years he saw a trend coming and he announced to his father, "Racing is passe; sports betting is coming." He started his first newspaper geared toward sports betting in 1971, and four years later launched his current publication, "Sports Reporter," along with a telephone selection service. In a field filled with charlatans and fly-by-night operators, Bomze is a solid, studious analyst, and he believes sports offers better opportunities than horse racing for most modern-day bettors.
"Horse racing has become a game like the stock market, where a few insiders have a big edge," Bomze said. "You have to spend time and put in a lot of effort to know the horses' trips. The days are gone when a guy could go out to the track two or three times a week and win. But in sports handicapping you can still find some huge edges. The point spreads are practically made by computer, and if you know, for example, that San Francisco on artificial turf on the road is 15-0, you've got an edge." Bomze's picks for Sunday: Green Bay over Miami and Kansas City over Dallas.
But if he prefers now to bet on football, Bomze still maintains his old passion for the horses and he indulges it by owning them. One of the first horses he bought was a colt he named Sports Reporter, and the animal developed into one of the best steeplechasers in Ireland and the United States. Sports Reporter also taught him about the pitfalls of the business, for he died after a fall in a race where he was a 1-20 favorite, but Bomze was hooked: "Everything I earn is poured into horses," he said. The main returns from his investment have come from Fourstardave.
Named for one of Bomze's colleagues at the Sports Reporter, a football handicapper who promulgates "four-star" specials, the colt was good enough to win the Grade II St. Paul Derby as a 3 year old, but trainer Leo O'Brien said, "I always thought grass would be his game."
What do Bomze's handicapping skills tell him about the Laurel Dash? Can Fourstardave handle rivals like the top California sprinter Oraibi, the Irish invader Corwyn Bay and the Florida speedster Glitterman? Bomze admits he is utterly incapable of objectivity when his own horses are concerned. "I bet my horses even when I know they don't have a shot. Even my bookie says, 'Richie, Richie, when are you going to learn?' "