As many of you know, Cary Fotias passed away last week. Cary was a friend of mine. In fact, I might not have a career without him. I attended Cary’s memorial service Wednesday night and it was a fitting tribute. So many touching stories were shared by people who knew him from the different worlds he inhabited: his family, bridge, horse racing. Together they created a mosaic of a great man’s life. I sit here Thursday morning, intimidated by the assignment of trying to capture who Cary was through just my experience of him. It won’t match the great colorful range of stories told last night, but I hope it’s one more piece of the mosaic.
I first met Cary ten years ago through a mutual friend, Bill Hohauser. Hohauser was one of Cary’s bridge degenerate friends. He thought I would quickly become one of Cary’s horse racing degenerate friends. Smart guy, that Hohauser. Over time, Cary and I became personal friends as well, meeting up occasionally at Belmont, seeing each other at the Saratoga contest, heading out to Astoria with Susan and Cary’s wonderful wife, Mary, for a fantastic Greek feast.
Minutes into first meeting Cary, I knew I wanted to interview him. I had done few interviews at that point, but I just knew I could get stuff from Cary. You meet a lot of guys at the racetrack who can talk, and who fancy themselves experts in the sport. Cary was different. He was the loudest, brashest talker of them all — but he also really knew his stuff. And best of all, Cary also listened — though maybe not so much during one of his famous rants. But when the time came, he would really listen. Because not only was he the loudest and brashest horseplayer out there, he was also the most friendly and kind.
Like so many people at the track, his opinions were strong and he was convinced he was right, but unlike so many, he truly enjoyed the exchange of ideas. He had a warmth in him that always kept his arguments on the right side of the line. He came close–a couple of his debates with Andy Serling on the old Siro’s show were legendary–but things never got ugly because Cary never took himself, or the game too seriously — he was too busy enjoying life.
Eventually, I did interview Cary and it went really well. He had all kinds of stories: About using the Kelso-Class Calculator to make bets at Detroit Race Course back in ’68. His journey through the best handicapping books: Ainslie, Fabricand, Beyer. His discovery of the Sheet methodology back at the Inside Track OTB parlor in the mid 1980s. Founding his own company, Equiform, where he took the cutting edge work of pace handicappers and combined it with the form cycle/condition approach of the Sheet guys. He was passionate about his work as a horseplayer advocate via the NTRA players’ panel and later HANA. Cary was a champion of lower takeout and a reform of the tax code that punishes you for cashing a ticket now and again. Oh, and there was a lot of stuff in there about the full puissance of the 1961 Detroit Tigers.
Some big players can watch a race with $1,000 or more on, they hit the wire, you don’t know whether they won or lost. Just another bet in a series of bets. Not so Cary. Of all the professional bettors I’ve met, Cary rooted the hardest for his horses. It’s not that he was prone to tilt — he certainly understood that it’s all one long game. I think he just considered yelling at the screen one of the perquisites of being in the business. I loved it.
The guy was so interesting that I became convinced I could do a book that consisted entirely of interviews with professional gamblers and the traits that united them. I enlisted Frank Scatoni’s help and we sold SIX SECRETS OF SUCCESSFUL BETTORS to The Daily Racing Form. As I’ve written many times before, the process of doing that book was like getting a PhD in betting. I’ve been writing about — and betting successfully on — horse racing and sports ever since. In a sense, that’s all because of Cary.
And Cary had a lot to teach as well. He was an intellectual without being a snob; didactic without being pedantic. I actually remember the very first thought experiment he gave me, right during that first interview. He said, “If somebody put a gun to your head and forced you to bet $10,000 on a roulette wheel over a 24-hour period, and you had to win to survive, what would you do?” I stared at him, afraid to answer. He assured me, “There is a right answer.” I thought about it, but then he took pity on me and gave me the answer, “You’d bet it all on the first spin. Over time, the house take will grind you out. Your best chance to survive is just to go all in.” Not only was Cary mathematically correct but there’s a real lesson in those words. Cary Fotias was a man who lived life all in.
PLAY OF THE DAY:
I’m going to try to get back on the good foot with a simple $100 win bet on #5 PRESUMPTIVE in Race 8. I believe there should be enough speed to set up his late run and think he’s fast enough and in form. Nothing too clever here, just seems a likely winner who will be an OK price.
MEET TO DATE RESULTS: Up $70.