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Jul 08, 2005

Daily Racing Best Bets

By: JOHN PIESEN


Sportswriters rarely can be bothered becoming fans of coaches or managers

 (or players for that matter), but I happily made an exception for Hank Stram.

Stram passed yesterday at age 82, and I stopped this morning to mourn his passing.

Pro football always has been my second favorite sports passion (after horseracing),

 and I particularly loved the fledgeling AFL back in the '60s. I rarely missed a

Titans game at the old Polo Grounds, and the highlights of the AFL season were

 always the Kansas City--Oakland games, starting Sundays at 4:00 Eastern on NBC.

As I recall, Curt Gowdy and Al DeRogatis called the games. Len Dawson and

 Daryl (the Mad Bomber) Lamonica were the QBS, Stram and John Madden the

coaches, and every game seemed to come down to the wire.

More often than not, KC pulled out the game on some sort of trick play called by

 the innovative Stram. And the camera loved Stram. He knew whenever the

camera was on him, and he played it to the hilt.

Stram was a showman as well as a coach and it was obvious he enjoyed every

minute on the field. And off the field.

In recent years, Stram was a regular on the New Orleans AM station WLW, and,

 when in Hot Springs, I could often pick up the station on the car radio.

One time, Stram said something on the air that has stuck with me to this day:

"Worrying," he said, "is like sitting in a rocking chair. It gives you something to

 do...but it doesn't get you anywhere."

Ain't that the truth...

Word of Stram's passing also took me back to January, 1970, and Super Bowl IV.

At the time, I was night sports editor of the Newark Evening News, known as The

 New York Times of New Jersey. On the Friday night before the Super Bowl, all

the copy from our three guys on the scene was the same, namely:
Minnesota is a cinch. Kansas City doesn't stand a chance.

Well, it so happens I disagreed completely. That said, I sat down and wrote a

 think piece about the game. I said that it was a field goal game that could go

either way, and that KC had the edge in coaching, kicking and receiving. And I

closed with the following prediction:
KC 17, Minnesota 14.

I told my boss what I did, and he wasn't very sympathetic.

"Piesen," he said, "you're off the wall. Minnesota will blow 'em out, and, besides,

we have three people down there writing that. It would make no sense to run

your piece."

And so my piece was, as we say in the trade, spiked.

As it turned out, I was wrong. It wasn't a field goal game at all. The Chiefs

won, 23-7, and it would have been a lot more if Stram didn't call off the dogs in the second half.

But here's the kicker...

My lead for the piece -- which never made it -- ran something like: "There's no

 way Minnesota should be a 13-point favorite. This should be a pick 'em game."

You'll never believe what happened next?


The paper ran my piece on MONDAY...with a few changes. Instead of "there's no

 way Minnesota should be a 13-point favorite" it read "there's no way Minnesota

SHOULD HAVE BEEN a 13-point favorite..."

Obviously, I was ripped far and wide for second-guessing. And not a soul believed

 me when I told them that actually I had written the piece on Friday, night.

Small wonder the Newark Evening News was out of business within a year.

Changing (but not quite) the subject...

I have made a nice living making racing selections since 1978, and I've been

 told a lot of good thing by folks who followed my picks in the New York Post,

 Daily Racing Form, and now on the web on johnpiesen.com and vegasracemasters.com.

I've had several hot streaks over the years, but this last week sticks out.

 Picking for my two websites, I nailed 11 winners out of 19 races. Two of

 the winners paid $12, one paid $13, and one paid $18.

The $18 winner needs some explanation.

I've always been close to the folks at the Perkins barn, and one of the

owners, Gene Cox of Fort Smith, Ark., has been a personal friend for years.

When I was down in Hot Springs last winter, Cox told me had a 3-year-old

 named Congee Beach with Ben Perkins Jr. ready to pop at Monmouth. We

spoke again over the weekend, and he confirmed that "they" like the horse.

I gave Congee Beach out Monday on the web, figuring I'd get $6, at most

 $7. Instead, the horse went off 8-1, a humongous price for a Perkins firster.

For sure, Congee Beach (named for an Australian resort) was dead on

 the board. But he sure wasn't dead on the racetrack. He broke on top and

led all the way, although he was life and death to hold off the cavalry.

I just hope some of my readers nailed him.

And, speaking of Monmouth, old friend Juan Serey returns Wednesday at

Monmouth with three horses, all of them live. They are Heir d'Twine in

race one, Cypress Cove in race three, and Takeiteasyedye in race four.

Of the three, Serey likes Takeiteasyedye the best.

For those not keeping score at home, I broke the Serey comeback story in

 this space a month back, and it's nice to see that the mainstream media

caught up this week.



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