04/10/2015 8:59AM

Fornatale: Paying tribute to Keith Gee


When I showed up at the 2014 National Handicapping Championship, I had just started working for Daily Racing Form and didn’t know a lot of people in the contest world. One player came up to me right away and introduced himself. He was familiar with my work and complimented me, making me feel instantly at ease. He was Keith Gee.

Gee, who died April 4 at age 56, was the executive director of the Louisiana Horsemen's Benevolent and Protection Association. He was a lifelong resident of Metairie, La., and was a big sports fan – a Saints and Pelicans season ticketholder. Racing always held a place near to his heart; he attended Saratoga for opening weekend every year and was a regular on the contest scene.

Former NHC champion Michael Beychok wrote a tribute to Gee on his blog. Beychok’s memories of Gee are inextricably intertwined with horse racing. “Keith Gee loved the racetrack,” Beychok wrote. “Seems like every time I was at the track, he was there, from the time I was a teenager to the last time I saw him last November, playing horses and competing against other horseplayers, trying to qualify for the NHC one more time.”

Beychok also acknowledged Gee’s efforts at the HBPA. “He fought fiercely and successfully on their behalf the past few years to get the Fair Grounds management to improve the backside conditions and the turf course,” Beychok said. “He was a large part of why this year’s Fair Grounds meet was so successful.”

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Judy Wagner, who knew Gee from her work on the Louisiana Racing Commission as well as the tournament world, pointed out that Gee’s reach extended beyond racing and into the local community.

“I admired him for his commitment to coaching and mentoring youth in local baseball leagues,” said the 2001 NHC champion. “Keith left the world a better place because he participated in life with his whole heart, from family to friends to working with youth.  He will be missed.”

Gee, who graduated from Tulane University in 1980, was a big supporter of the NHC. He qualified six times, the first being in 2003 after he first started playing in contests. He also qualified five years in a row from 2010-14.