Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Writing of Horses: An Interview with Peter Monaco

Writing of Horses: An Interview with Peter Monaco
by Gina McKnight
Archived from the June 2019 Issue of Florida Equine Athlete
No duplication without permission.

“A true horseman just jumps in and does, instead of stepping back and thinking of what to do.” Peter Monaco

From Arizona, meet freelance writer Peter Monaco. Peter is the one usually conducting the interview. He writes for The Desert Valley Times, The Spectrum, and Bet Chicago. His columns are informative and fun, writing “…on horses, horse racing and the good and bad people involved in the sport.” He has interviewed jockeys including: Donna Brothers, Zac Purton, Terry Houghton, Frankie Lovato, Jimmy Duggan, Alex Birzer, Clint Goodrich, Ryan Curatolo, David Cohen and Cheryl White. With a rough start at a young age with horses, he has never lost his passion for the sport.

Welcome, Peter!

G.M. Peter! It’s great to connect with you. Thank you! I enjoy reading your monthly columns. Tell us about your horse history. When was your first encounter with a horse?
P.M. I was actually betting on horses for a couple of years before I ever rode one and my first ride was a complete nightmare. I was 13, and spending a week at a dude-ranch type place with my parents in upstate N.Y. It was early spring and it was the first day the horses were getting out for the season. We set out with a group of a dozen on a five-mile trail ride but about half-way through the course the horses smelled home and had quite enough of the tour. Twelve horses bolted, bucked and parted with their riders, who were mostly children, and I received the worst of it. My horse took me for a wild and crazy ride of terror for a half-mile, before tossing me over a cliff. I rolled a few hundred yards down the mountain, while getting rather close-up views of large rocks and then bouncing off several trees. There were a few kids missing and it took the searchers over an hour to find me. I was unconscious and bleeding pretty bad from a large gash just below my eye that took 17 staples and a bunch of stitches to close. I also had a few broken bones, some eye damage and an impressive concussion. I was lucky to have survived but I was very messed up for quite a while. I never blamed the horse, or anybody else and have ridden several times since then, but I prefer to watch and wager on horses now, instead of riding them.

G.M. That was a harrowing ride! How did you get into horse racing? How did it all start for you?
P.M. That's a great story in itself. My grandfather was born in 1906, in Queens and when he was about ten-years-old, a friend turned him on to a really cool way to make a few pennies. There was a particular barn near the back entrance of Jamaica Racetrack where the jockeys held late-night poker games almost every evening. Local kids would scour the hay in the mornings for any treasures left behind from the party. The regular bounty would consist of deposit bottles, small change and packs of cigarettes but occasionally they'd run into a watch, a dollar bill or a gold chain. While my grandfather thoroughly enjoyed the hay combing, he often wondered what tremendous event had transpired the previous evening that would cause you to leave your watch or money behind.

His curiosity got the better of him one night and he found his way to the barn in the wee hours. He crept into the hay and just watched and listened as the extremely drunk jockeys gambled, argued, fought, cried, screamed and even bled, all in a two hour show. There was no TV back then, and granddad thought this was the greatest entertainment on earth.

After a few weeks of watching these entertaining little fellows play cards, he noticed most of the arguments were about who was going to win on what horse in a particular race. At first, he didn't pay it much attention but after witnessing the riders splitting up large amounts of cash after their "predictions," he started writing down the information and selling it for small change to local horse players and Italian guys in really nice suits. The small change turned into hundred dollar bills and several years later, my grandfather became a bookie around the corner from Aqueduct Racetrack and his business was successful for many years in Ozone Park, N.Y.

I was the only other family member that showed any interest in horse racing and my grandfather loved it. I would often sit with him while he handicapped and he would inform me of his progress and any hot horses when he took a cigarette break. We would watch the races together when they were on TV, but most of the time we would listen to the race call every half hour on the radio. He first took me to Aqueduct when I was ten years old and I knew right then and there, horse racing was something special. We spent the next fifteen years hitting the N.Y. tracks together until his death during his 80th year. He taught me a lot.

G.M. What intrigues you most about horse racing? What makes it so special?
P.M. It's just everything. The paperwork, the cash, the action. I remember my first time at the track, thinking the experience was like a cross between a circus, a carnival and the zoo. And this was surely not a Met or Yankee game, this was some very serious stuff. You either rode home on the top of the world or had thoughts of just jumping off the Aqueduct roof and avoiding the traffic. Horse racing is really just slightly controlled chaos during a perfect storm, of sorts. The whole concept is just genius. You have access to the racing form in advance of a contest where you try to handicap a field of 1000 lb. animals that tend to run at about 40 mph while a very little man carrying a very big whip, guides his journey from above. You then get to wager on what will be the outcome of all that craziness and chaos. Extreme joy can be found at the racetrack, as well as great despair and even death, and the highs and lows of this game are unmatched. There is absolutely nothing in this world that can be compared to Thoroughbred horse racing and there never will be. When you're at the track and you hear the horses roar past you while kicking up divots of turf or dirt twenty feet into the air and you feel the thunder beneath your feet and you feel your heart pounding and you forget to breath for a moment, that is the full experience of horse racing.

G.M. When did you begin to write about horse racing?
P.M. I've been writing about horses, horse racing and just about everything else for as long as I can remember but I never presented anything for publication until three years ago. I lived in Mesquite, NV., a gambling town with a few casinos. The local paper used to have a horse racing column but the writer died and I thought the newspaper really needed a horse column again and felt I could do a decent job. A month before the 2016 Kentucky Derby, I went down to The Desert Valley Times office with typed-up paperwork, stories and handwritten notes and I presented my case. The interview went just as I expected; they laughed their butts off. But after they were done laughing, the editor read my stuff and hired me and I've been writing for the newspaper for over three years now.

I'm amazed at some of the people I've met and the friends I've made from all over the world. It's been quite a journey for this caveman and I'm liking it.

G.M. As a freelance writer covering horse racing, describe the process.
P.M. Ha! It's certainly not an organized one! I have paperwork and statistics all over the place and cocktail napkins with scribbled race notes on them blowing around my car. It drives my wife crazy.

However, when I handicap a race, I need three hours of total quiet time to work my magic on a nine-race program and an hour or two to put my selections on paper and map out my wagers. During this time I am in the zone and anything but disorganized. The same would be true for watching a race. I try to zone in and pay attention to any small incidents that might occur during the race that might turn into a larger factor and affect the race later on. Things usually become much clearer later in the evening while sitting down with the charts and watching replays while comparing my notes and selections to the results. I can sometimes pinpoint why a horse won easily or put in a poor performance. When my notes are complete for the day, it's time to get out the racing form for tomorrow's card and start the process all over again. Beside some eye-strain and a few near heart attacks from close finishes, I love every minute of it. The entire process of handicapping, wagering and covering the races and then getting paid to write about your day, leaves me with quite a warm and cozy feeling.

G.M. Do you have any advice for novice writers looking to break into freelance writing?
P.M. That's a tough one, as I'm a total novice myself. But I can advise new writers to just be yourself. Don't copy any one's style and tell the story the way you would tell it to your family around the dinner table or your friends around a bonfire. Your unique words and personal style will set you apart from the others. People can hear your voice through your words and can easily pick up when you're not sincere. Be sincere.

G.M. Do you have an opinion about the 2019 Kentucky Derby?
P.M. It was just plain messy. A messy race run on a messy track with messy results from a messy steward's desk but at the end of the day I believe the officials got it right. You can't come over 4-5 paths and float out a few horses and then slide back inside and bother another horse on the rail and expect to be left up as the winner. No matter who's fault you think it was, or whatever you believe caused it, or who the best horse was, the bottom line is this rider was not in control of his horse and his mount bothered several other horses. Therefore, Maximum Security HAD to be disqualified.

G.M. What does horsemanship mean to you?
P.M. To me, that would mean a true horseman or horsewoman who has a depth of knowledge and experience way beyond the average horse person. A real horseman will pay fine attention to the slightest detail and would notice a new twitch that just appeared on their horse and keep him from running until he's checked out. Someone who has natural horse sense and a superior level of insight. A true horseman just jumps in and does, instead of stepping back and thinking of what to do.

Connect with Peter…

Gina McKnight is a freelance writer from Ohio.  www.gmcknight.com


Unknown said...

Love the stories!

Richard Bevan said...

Respect for Peter and his stories
Good Stuff 👍

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