Odds On Racing's Personality of the Month: July 2004
Bob "Hollywood" Heyden
Harness Racing's & The Meadowland's Top Statistician
July 1, 2004
by Kimberly A. Rinker
Harness racing’s "Man of Stats" is none other than Bob "Hollywood" Heyden. The long-time racing fan and indefatigable statistician began following harness racing in 1972 and as a teenager began to serious consider a career in racing. He has since turned into one of harness racing’s most knowledgeable press people, and has a full-time stint in the Meadowland’s Media department. Bob has turned what could have been a routine career into a spectacular and well-respected position that only he is privy to.
"I got into the business officially in 1983, working at Sports Eye," Bob recalled. "Steve Katz was influential in that."
"My job is the only one--no one else is doing it," Bob said. "I always wanted to be different, somewhat unique. If the herd is heading that-a-way, you can be positive I'm not with them. No two days are the same, and my job builds upon itself. The stakes races get more prestigious, the people, etc. I’ve never liked routine, and HATE to be doing the same thing all the time."
Bob says that one of the most unusual occurrences in harness racing was an event, that interestingly enough, he didn’t get to cover.
"The 1989 Hambletonian Dead heat was something that I missed," Bob recalled. "I had an emergency appendectomy three days before--and it was the final show of three years of LIVE MSG shows that I had done. Four hours every Saturday-LIVE, and I loved it. I did them with Bruce Beck. I wound up watching the race from the hospital. I had a surface wound and a gangrenous tip of the appendix so it wasn't a fun time. But, to this day, I cannot possibly fathom what in the world all the fuss was about over who won, as Park Avenue Joe clearly had a better summary. Isn't that one of the reasons you have it in the first place?"
"The most memorable race that I covered had to be the 1979 Meadowlands Pace, and Sonsam's unreal effort. Remember that he won from post 10? He was three deep from the half, circled the best three-year-olds in the world, opened four lengths on them and set an all age track record of 1:53.2. The horse he beat would eventually be the Three Year Old of the Year--Hot Hitter."
Bob said other special races of memory include the "first race ever at the Meadowlands with Quick Baron. You had a strong feeling this place was going to be something special. Precious Bunny’s 1991 Meadowland’s Pace win over Artsplace. Most people thought Artsplace was invincible, but Precious Bunny was a truly great horse with a move you couldn't believe when he got wound up--and he used it to the half that night."
‘I’ve always wanted to do something right--and the way I thought it should be," Bob noted. "You can never really give someone TOO much information. It's like the Racing Form--take what you want and need out of it. I've always been fascinated by odd items. Things you would not normally know or find out. Too many people today leave stories dormant, or are too lazy to uncover them. I remember a lady who paddocked horses from time-to-time eight or nine years ago and I asked her why I didn't see her more often. She told me she only did this when she could as she was a cross-country trucker."
"Or the girl who used to paddock after leaving a career on the table with the FBI. Or the horse-Ushouldofshotum, who wouldn't let anyone catch him for years out in the field, so he didn't start racing until much later on. That kind of stuff. Statistics too. You can make what you want of them, but when you find out that a horse named Animal House raced at the Meadowlands for three years, won only once, and then find that it was the SAME NIGHT that John Belushi died, that's interesting, to me at least."
Has Bob ever considered another career in harness racing?
"I've considered different positions, but they would all come down to what I do now anyway," he said. "For instance, I don't think you can be a good announcer unless you are an avid fan of the sport. Tom Durkin is the perfect example of that. Harness racing is a lot different than most jobs. I don't think you can do it justice if you don't have a passion for it. At the Meadowlands, I think there's too much disinterest because it is a state-run track, and too many people look at this as a job, not something they set out to do. And it shows."
"I leave the announcing to guys like Sam McKee, who is a total fan of the sport and brings that right front and center to what he does," Bob added. "Same with the TV--working with guys like that make it so much better for the rest of us. As I get older, I have ZERO tolerance for "B-Sers," laziness, and apathy.
Bob’s favorite drivers?
"Luc Ouellette would be one of my favorites," Bob said. "He has always kept the sport in mind with everything he does. He doesn't wake up in the morning EXPECTING things. Two of the best gentlemen the sport has ever known just happen to be the number one and number two all-time money earners, John Campbell and Mike Lachance. Harness racing is very lucky they have accommodation at this level. Journeymen-type drivers very much interest me. The guys like Jay Randall who basically apply their trade and all tracks within a 100 mile radius, and are there for 60-1 shots and only one drive. That kind of thing. Stephane Bouchard has always impressed me, and I go way back with Dave Palone. How about this? I keow Dave long before he was a driver.
I love guys who have risen to the top--or near it--in their profession and are not creeps, or prima donnas. Good eggs. They did NOT forget you when."
Bob says that if he wasn’t involved in harness racing that he would prefer to have a career as a baseball writer.
"That may have been my calling," Bob recalled. "I tried in 1979 to get a job with the Bergen Record here, but I was just like anyone else. You start out doing just the same thing, and it's an assembly line. There was rally no chance to stand out. I didn't like the way you all get lumped together. I was discouraged and kind of forgot it for a while. I did do some quizzes and things like that for Sport Magazine a few times. I KNOW I could have been a top baseball writer. Ironically, in 1985 I got a call from the Bergen Record. They must have seen me on TV as that was my second year of doing the show on MSG. They offered me the job of covering the Mets full-time, but I was doing what I wanted to do and could not give it up now. A day late and a dollar short."
Bob’s favorite word: "Versatility, that or Flexibility. The ability or desire to do different things."
Bob’s least favorite word: "Delegator. People who love to tell everyone ELSE what to do, often things they should be doing."
Bob’s favorite color: "Blue, the same as my eyes!"
Bob’s favorite TV Show: "I love TV Land and the older shows, like Dick Van Dyke---that show was so far ahead of its time. In terms of my favorite movies, it’s a tie between ‘The Major And The Minor’ (Ray Milland-Ginger Rogers), ‘To Kill A Mockingbird,’ and ‘The Sting.’"
Bob’s favorite animal: It’s a tie between cats and dogs Never met one of either I didn't like."
Bob’s favorite sport: "Football is the best to watch and relax."
Bob’s favorite food: "Chicken, and my least favorite is fish."
Bob’s idea of a perfect day? "Hambletonian Day, I wish I was there for every one of them. Love the whole thing, everything about it. A couple of years ago I saw Steve Condren come out of the drivers room about 45 minutes before the first race to just look at everything going on, on Hambo Day. He gets it. You just want to be a little part of it, be there, and not miss anything. It's such a focal point of the year."
Has Bob ever considered a stint in the sulky or a day in the jog cart, conditioned the horses that he admires so much?
"Not a lot actually," Bob replied. "I don't have any desire to get in the bike or train. Owning maybe. I'm fascinated by the fact you can go to Harrisburg or Kentucky and take out $37,000 and leave there with a Bunny Lake. THAT is something most anyone would like to do. Concerning driving, I actually think that there's TOO much amateur racing going on. I--and several drivers steadfastly agree--that it does diminish what THEY do a bit. Name me one other sport that you can theoretically watch on TV at age 40 or so, and say ‘I want to get out there.’ In harness racing, if you have the money, patience and a few well-spotted friends in the industry, you can get a chance to drive. It just looks too easy to some people, but you know what, the very best in ANY sport make it look easier than it actually is."
Bob says he has several owners that he considers his favorite people in the sport.
"Bill Matz is first of my favorite owners," Bob said. "Here's a guy who not only backs up what he likes and wants with money--but he also is not bashful about getting a young Patrick Lachance to handle all his horses in New Jersey, at a time when not many owners would invest real dollars in an unproven and younger guy. THEN, he insists that Pat drive the horses too, and his patience have now gotten to the point where Patrick 100% belongs at the Meadowlands in BOTH the trainer and driver colonies."
"Anyone who goes against the 'conventional thinking' is OK with me," Bob added. "Perfect World and Peter Pan-- they back up their interest in the business with money--the very thing that keeps it going. David Scharf is a class guy, a gentleman, as Dan Plesac calls him, the "Littlest Big Man" in the business. Craig Lipka is always right in the mix and someone who not only totally cares about the business, but someone who has some of the best ideas about improving things that I've ever heard. These guys are so bright that they should be put on a "Search" committee or a panel to find out what can be done to further aid the sport. THESE are the kinds of people who can help immensely. Ask yourself this question--do you think they got to where they are in the outside business world by accident?"
"Some folks I prefer to think of as very ‘individualistic,'" Bob continued. "As themselves. Not influenced by the outside world. Lou Guida did things his way, was innovative and didn't particularly care what anyone thought. He was one of the first to buy younger and proven horses in the late 1980s early 1990s, and make them better. Jake And Elwood is an example of that. He was a trendsetter in most anything he did, and it didn't sit well with a lot of folks. I think a lot of people thought he was kind of the George Steinbrenner of the sport. But they both had something very much in common--guys at that level make SURE to surround themselves with the right people. And they did. And do."
Bob’s favorite horse, and overall favorite personality in harness racing?
"There was a horse called Bye Bye T," Bob remembered. "He raced in the Cane Pace in 1974 I believe. I just loved the way this horse tried, and he later raced at the Meadowlands for Clint Galbraith and Mike Gagliardi. It was one of the first times when I actually followed a horse throughout his career all the time. Instrument Landing would be up there too for a horse who consistently answered the call every week."
"My overall favorite person has to be Stanley Dancer. Twenty or so years ago I got to know Stanley and his wife Jody, and to this day I still can't believe what a total gentleman the man is, was, and always will be. That is something sorely lacking today. The older horsemen were more complete, more appreciative, did more and they were more of a fraternity than today. Today is more of a specialization age, guys who work with young horses, or trotters, or who only drive. That is why a guy like Ray Remmen should be admired more. Training and driving--at this level--for as long as he did--when basically he was on an island all alone. Back to Stanley Dancer, however. To this day--and I keep in touch all the time--he THANKS ME for calling him every time. You don't teach this kind of class."