08/11/2011 12:50PM

Q&A: Andy Serling

Barbara D. Livingston

The co-host of the New York Racing Association’s simulcast wagering show, he also co-hosts the prerace "Talkin’ Horses" handicapping segment as well as the "National Racing Report" and "Trips and Traps."

Birthdate: June 11, 1962, in Princeton, N.J.

Family: Single

Got into racing because . . . My dad loved the track, and once he took me to Saratoga Race Track I knew I was home, and I never left.

How tall are you? Not as short as some people think, but not as tall as a regular adult.

You are known as “Little Andy,” owing to your friendship with Andy Beyer. Tell us about how that friendship began and how it has evolved over the years? I met Andy in the summer of 1975, and while my life was already ruined, meeting a successful degenerate like the great Beyer only hastened the process. After several rough years when my frenzied obnoxiousness put a strain on our relationship, Andy and I got close again in the mid-1990s when I was at Gulfstream every day, and while still obnoxious, I was a good enough handicapper for Beyer to overlook that character flaw. I could argue that the genesis of "Talkin’ Horses" started in the winter of 1994, when Beyer and I would meet daily at Gulfstream to go over the card. Eventually, we had to move from one spot to another as more people began coincidentally showing up in the seats around us. In all seriousness, Beyer has been a great supporter of mine and a very good friend.

Who else would you count as your racing and handicapping mentors? Probably anybody I have been around since I was a teenager. In all seriousness, I have gleaned nuggets from most people I have been fortunate to have been around. I was lucky enough to have spent time with many serious players from New York that have dispersed in the simulcast era. I honestly don’t think any one person helped me and don’t want to slight anyone, but many people have helped me over the years. Even if you see racing very differently than any one player, that person can always teach you something.

You worked on Wall Street for years. When you see the market drop 600 points in a day, like it did Monday, do you feel like, “There but for the grace of God go I?” Not really. I was done with Wall Street for the last few years I was there; I just refused to admit it. I love both the racetrack and my job there, whether the market soars or collapses. Plus, I always did better when the market went down. Horseplayers aren’t always the most optimistic types.

What made you finally give up on Wall Street and commit yourself to getting a full-time job in racing? I lost a bunch of money in one of the first mortgage real-estate investment trusts to collapse and walked away, never to look back. I thought to myself, “It’s time to do what you love.”

How did you make the switch to working for NYRA? I called Charlie Hayward about coming to work for him at NYRA. We got together and realized that we shared the same vision of how handicapping was best presented to our customers. While everyone I work with at NYRA is and has been great, I am especially grateful to Charlie for giving me this chance.

What are the factors you consider most essential when handicapping a race? How a race figures to be run is essential to me. Finding the best horses suited to the expected dynamics is more important, sometimes, than finding the best horse or horses. I also look for horses that, because of recent race situations, weren’t able to run at their best, where in today’s race that may not be the case. And vice-versa − horses that are not as good as recent running lines make them look.

What are the factors you consider most overrated? Jockeys. Not because I think riders are unimportant, but because in a place like New York we have the luxury of so many good riders that it rarely makes a significant difference. I would also say recent finishing position. Results are frequently situational and thus overrated. Horses run well or poorly for reasons that are frequently not overly related to their talents.”
How aggressively do you back up your plays at the windows? Not as aggressively as I once did, but I still put a fair amount through the windows − certainly over six figures by year’s end. Nobody should tell people to bet horses, especially ones with high odds, unless they are willing to risk their own money on them.

What’s your biggest single-race score? “I was involved in one pick six that paid more than $140,000 and another that paid $156,000. I had a bigger piece of the latter.”

It seems as though NYRA has gotten very aggressive in its television presentation, with you, Jason Blewitt, and Eric Donovan. What are some of the ideas you’ve brought to the table that have been incorporated into its coverage? “Trips and Traps” is the first show we started after I came to work at NYRA. After NYRA took control of what is now called the NYRA Network in the New York City area, we added a twice-weekly show called the “National Racing Report.” On Saturdays, Jason and I handicap stakes races from all over the country, and on Wednesdays, Jason, Richard Migliore, and myself recap all these races, plus any other interesting performances that catch our eyes. The Wednesday show is archived and available through www.nyra.com. I helped start the live chats almost two years ago, and while they used to be every week, now they are every two to three weeks. Last year we added Maggie Wolfendale to the presentation to have someone to discuss the physicality of horses, something I know nothing about.

Your family moved to Saratoga when you were 11, so you’ve spent lots of time here. What are your favorite non-racing things to do here? You could only have asked that to get me in trouble, so I’ll say, visit my mom.

The rest of the year, you live in Manhattan, on the Upper West Side. Are you more a city boy or Saratoga boy? City boy. I love it up here during the summer − it’s the best time and place imaginable − but I prefer a city and the things it offers for the bulk of the year.”

Best horse seen? Seattle Slew.

Hobbies? I’m a huge movie fan, though movies aren’t that great these days, and I also read a lot. I spend a lot of my winter watching the NBA, and I live in fear of a cancellation of this year’s season.

Future ambitions? I guess I should say something about moving forward, but given that I have the greatest job in the world and consider myself as lucky as anyone could possibly be, I will say that I strive to be able to keep doing what I am doing now. That’s enough for me.