04/10/2014 10:04AM

Derick Giwner: Sports Eye hits 50-year mark


There will be no major celebration. No announcement will be heard on the local news in New York, or for that matter, even in the popular harness outlets. This happens to be the 50th year—in one form or another—of Sports Eye.

The New York-based Sports Eye, which became Harness Eye in 2004 and ultimately DRF Harness Eye, has been providing racing information to readers on the east coast since the Lyndon B. Johnson administration and well before man set foot on the moon.

According to founder Jack Cohen, the decision to start the newspaper in 1964 was made within 10 days and the first edition sold for a mere 25 cents. He recalls printing 25,000 copies to start, with the paper hitting a zenith of 40,000 copies at one point. Originally printed each Saturday and listed as a Monday-Wednesday edition, the paper contained entries and results, along with selections and sports data.

“We printed graded entries for Monday to Wednesday harness and eventually we added a mid-week version covering Thursday to Saturday. There was no Sunday racing back then,” said Cohen, recalling the early years.

Known as the bible for harness players, the paper has expanded over the years from a 12-page tabloid to the 96-plus page output of today. Sports Eye revolutionized the game as the only place to get detailed information about previous races. In the days before simulcasting and ADWs, when the only way to see what happened was to be at the track, Sports Eye had you covered.

  Sports Eye edition from 1969.

“At one time we had 25-30 people at the track covering harness racing,” said the now 82-year-old retired Cohen. “We were the only place that was printing the (racing) comments.”

Past performances began to adorn Sports Eye in the late 1970s, with Belmont Park (yes, a Thoroughbred track), Yonkers and Roosevelt Raceways among the offerings. Along with the charts and second-to-none editorial content, the paper was a must buy for any handicapper.

"Sports Eye revolutionized harness racing chart calling by introducing accurate, unbiased commentaries on how every horse in each race actually performed, making it possible to not be at the track yet still know what happened," said former staffer Bob Marks. "It was an invaluable handicapping tool and the harness equivalent to the The Morning Telegraph and Daily Racing Form." 

Sports Eye, the newspaper and the company, sports a long list of former employees who those in and out of the racing industry would recognize. WFAN’s Mike Francesa is a former alumnus, along with Brad Thomas, Bob Marks, “Hollywood” Heyden, Geoff Stein, Clyde Hirt and many more. According to Cohen, the newspaper began with Harry Lee as editor, with Jack Rubin, Jay Bergman and yours truly as others who have held the reins.

Sports Eye, and now DRF Harness Eye, was and always will be a newspaper for handicappers. It is a resource for any player to turn in order to find the hard data from a race, but more importantly, it remains the only publication (and now online, too) that still to this date offers those extra insights—race commentary—that can only be gathered by watching the races. DRF Harness past performances now provide race commentary for Meadowlands, Yonkers, Monticello, Woodbine/Mohawk, Philadelphia, Balmoral, Freehold, and we just recently added Pocono (plus more is on the way). That is a far cry from the late 1970s version, which featured only a couple of tracks.

Sonsam and Hot Hitter highlighted the 1979 Meadowlands Pace.

I’m proud to have worked for Sports Eye/DRF for over 17 years. My goal is to provide the best handicapping information and the most up-to-date news possible, whether through the newspaper or via the internet. The world has changed from the days when everyone carried a newspaper and you had to wait 24 hours to find out what happened yesterday. So whether you still follow our selections and handicap via the newspaper, or you stay updated via our @DRFHarness Twitter account and read past performances on your iPad, I look forward to piloting DRF Harness Eye and the DRF Harness brand into the second half of our first century.

If you have any fond memories from the last 50 years about Sports Eye, I would love to hear them. Please feel free to share them below or on our Facebook page.

Happy Birthday Sports Eye, and many thanks to all the great people and customers that have carried us through the first 50 years!