09/01/2017 11:26AM

Allard creates horse-racing TV show to rope in newbies


“Win, Place, Show,” a new horse-racing reality TV show, is set to debut Tuesday at noon Eastern on TVG. The show uses a contest format where amateur contestants are paired with expert coaches and compete against each other for a cash prize.

“The show has been going even better than I expected,” said co-creator Jimmy “The Hat” Allard. “I was concerned that the contestants, being new to the game, might flop, but we’ve had a couple hit some bombers. I’m very optimistic about how it’s going to look, and I think we’ll show racing in a positive light.”

There has been some tension along the way between the contestants – some of whom initially looked to make selections based on names and silk colors – and the coaches.

“There has been some butting of heads,” Allard said, “but it’s a learning process, and that’s part of the show. The contestants have seen that the more homework you do, the better chance you have of winning.”

Allard came up with the idea for the show as a way to capture the excitement of racing and handicapping in a way similar to the World Series of Poker.

For as long as Allard can recall, he’s been obsessed with horses. As a child, he lived in Samsun, Turkey, and he vividly recalls the clicking of horses’ hooves on the cobblestone streets there, as well as riding in horse carriages and even swimming with horses in the Black Sea.

Later on, while living in western New York, he recalls cutting high school to go to Finger Lakes and later walking hots and mucking stalls for trainer John Kennedy.

After a chance encounter with an actor, Allard was struck with the idea that he was destined to go to Hollywood to make his fortune. He worked in TV for many years out West, getting day work (he estimates that he appeared in 25 episodes of “The Love Boat” as an extra).

A friend took him to Hollywood Park for the first time, and his love of horses was rekindled. It burst into flame the first time he saw Santa Anita. “I walked in and said, ‘Oh my God.’ I couldn’t believe the scope of the place, with the mountains in the background, especially compared to Finger Lakes.”

He started going to the races when he could, but then his two interests – acting and racing – merged. There was a guy working at 20th Century Fox named Lippy who learned of Allard’s interest in horses. “He’d tell the assistant director, ‘Hey, Jimmy’s gotta go run an errand for me,’ and send me to wherever they were running.”

Allard saw other funny intersections between his two lives. While working on a show with the late Telly Savalas, he noticed the star leaving in the middle of the day by helicopter. “He was flying over to Hollywood to watch [his runner] Telly’s Pop run from the helicopter.”

Another time, he was working on an episode of “Quincy, M.E.” when shooting was halted because Jack Klugman was nowhere to be found. “The assistant director kept knocking on his door, with no response, and then he asked, ‘What’s he doing in there?’ ” Allard said. “Someone else said, ‘I’ll tell you what he’s doing in there – he’s reading the Racing Form!”

Eventually, Allard tired of the grind of extra and stand-in work and got a job at a place called Horse and Jockey Information Service, where he worked his way up. “I wasn’t good at it, I was unbelievable at it,” Allard said. “I’ve been doing the same thing for 32 years, handicapping and consulting about gambling and horse ownership. When it comes to Thoroughbred racing, I’ll match my knowledge with anybody in the world.”

In his travels in racing, he became friendly with the late trainer Bobby Frankel and spent many mornings at his shed rows in California, learning a ton along the way. “He did it the right way, training with compassion and love,” he said. “The difference between a good trainer and a great one is attention to detail and the ability to recognize each horse’s individual idiosyncrasies and to build a training program for each one around that.”

For Allard, “Win, Place, Show” brings together so many of the important threads in his life: television, a love of horses, and the thrill of picking winners. “This game is built around two groups: the ones putting up money to buy horses and the people risking their money to bet on them,” he said. “We need to do more to facilitate the experience for both of those groups. In the end, we’re not really in the entertainment business, we’re in the business of gambling.”