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Q&A: Jeff Siegel
An HRTV host and analyst, he is also a horse owner and newspaper handicapper.
Birthdate: Oct. 8, 1950, in Los Angeles, Calif.
Got into racing because . . . "I was strictly a horseplayer and fan of the sport through college, and I never dreamed there would be any place in the industry for me. But things have a way of working out."
So how did you make the transition from being a fan to working in the business? "I always wanted to be a journalist or reporter, and my first job out of college came in the newsroom at KLAC radio when the studios were located across the street from the La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles. There I met and worked with Jim Healy, a very popular sports radio personality who also loved racing. One day, unbeknownst to me, he pulled some strings and got me a job in the publicity department at Hollywood Park. I never asked him to do it; he just made a phone call. 'I know that's what you want to do, so get out of here,' he said. I was always grateful for that break."
Who were your mentors? "I first started going to the races, probably, when I was around 5 years old with my father. He fancied himself as an amateur handicapper, with the emphasis on amateur. Through the years I listened very closely to his methods and theories and then did the opposite. By the time I graduated college I must have read every handicapping book ever published. I always preferred the academic approach, which is why I've always admired Andy Beyer. I would say his works had the greatest influence on whatever expertise I may have."
You are currently working on "Grandstand," "First Call," "Against the Odds," and "Pursuit of the Crown." What are your responsibilities on those HRTV shows? "On 'Grandstand,' which is the name of our daily mid-afternoon live racing show, I'm the analyst/color commentator and consider myself lucky to be paired with Laffit Pincay III, who occupies the host role. We cover live racing as if it were a major sporting event; both Laffit and I realize that we're not the story, the live content is. Hopefully, our viewers appreciate that approach. 'Against the Odds' is a Thursday night handicapping show with Aaron Vercruysse that concentrates on the weekend stakes races. It's fast paced and fun and, hopefully, somewhat educational, as well. Aaron and I also have a new morning show, 'Westrock Coffee's First Call,' which airs live from Clocker's Corner at Santa Anita on the weekends. It's evolving into something akin to ESPN's 'College Football Gameday,' and I'm pleased to say it's been extremely well received. 'Pursuit of the Crown' is our bi-weekly Triple Crown magazine-style show that almost everybody on the staff contributes to in some way."
You are respected as one of the most astute handicappers in the business. What makes a good handicapper? "Most handicappers know all the axioms, all the theories. The successful ones know when and where to apply them. I often hear handicappers speak intelligently about a particular angle, and they sound convincing, but the angle either isn't relevant to the specific situation or it is trumped by another, more applicable angle. It's like asking, 'What makes a good offensive coordinator?' They all can diagram the plays, but the best ones know what will work on third-and-13 against a zone blitz."
How much time does it take for you to handicap a card? "When I was a professional gambler, depending upon how much video I wanted to watch, it could take me several hours. I still spend close to that amount of time, but now I concentrate only on races that occur during my shift, rather than an individual card at one track. Also, I don't have to worry about betting strategy and formulating tickets like in my gambling days. Most of my time is spent on pure research so I can present good, accurate information to the viewers."
What are the areas of handicapping you believe are most important? "Everybody reads the same Racing Form, so you have to go deeper. First and foremost, I believe it's vital for the player to be aware of what works at the track he's playing, whatever track and pace biases might exist, and the strengths and weaknesses of the trainers and jockeys on that circuit. But for me, my edge comes from what I see, rather than what I read. At home I have two satellite dishes and three DVR's, and I record and store every race that is broadcast dating back for at least three months."
What was your biggest score? "Back in 1984 the guys in the Santa Anita press box used to pool our money in a group pick six on a fairly regular basis, and we once hit for almost $800,000 on what I remember to be a four-day carryover. I think I had a quarter of the ticket. We hit a number of those back then − well, not that big, but we were pretty flush for a long time."
Do you still gamble as much as you used to? "Oh, heck no, and I doubt I'll ever go back. I actually was a professional gambler − according to my income tax return − during the 1980s, but it took too much of my energy and time to do the required work to remain successful. And since I proved to myself that I actually could do it, I left the gambling behind and partnered with Barry Irwin to form partnerships with Clover Racing Stable and then Team Valor. Now I'm just trying to create good horse racing television."
You used to be involved with Clover Racing and then Team Valor. What was your biggest thrill: winning the Santa Anita Handicap with Martial Law, winning the Breeders' Cup Turf with Prized, or running second in the Kentucky Derby with Captain Bodgit? "For me, it was the Big Cap, because it was so improbable. We paid a $40,000 supplementary fee to enter a 50-1 shot, and we were actually pretty confident. It wasn't our first Grade 1 win, but it certainly added to the credibility that allowed our stable to grow in the coming years. So you might say Martial Law, indirectly, helped make all of our future success possible."
Best horse seen? "I only saw Secretariat on television, so if you're talking strictly live and in person, Spectacular Bid. I think Bill Shoemaker thought the same thing."
Best jockey seen? "First, it was Shoemaker when I was growing up in the 50s and 60s, and then Laffit Pincay Jr. when he began to dominate in the 70s. They had two completely different styles, but in my mind they were the best of their generation. I've got to mention Eddie Delahoussaye, too. I can't tell you how many big races he won for our stable."
Best trainer seen? "I suppose I'd be safe in saying Charlie Whittingham, but I learned so much from Bobby Frankel and Gary Jones that for me they would be right up there at the top, too."
Hobbies? "I don't have any time for what would normally be called hobbies, although my work for the UCLA Sports Information Department must be considered as some kind of outlet."
You attended Cal State Northridge and San Jose State, so how in the world did you become such a passionate UCLA fan? “I do all of the postgame coach and player video interviews for the official website and travel to all the football and basketball games, so at least I can say I’m more than just a fan. But I grew up in close vicinity of the school, and I’ve been a substantial donor for many years. Most of my family went there. However, I wanted to get away for college. The only requirement was that the school had to be easy and had to be near a racetrack. San Jose State was perfect.”
You love rock music. What was the best concert you ever saw? "July 1968, the Hollywood Bowl. The Doors, Steppenwolf, and the Chambers Brothers. They actually taped the concert and released it on DVD 30 years later. After watching it again, it was like going back in a time machine."
Future ambitions? "For now I'm only concerned about doing the best television I can do. Maybe later on I'll write a book, but it won't be about handicapping. Something like a behind-the-scenes look at the sport from underneath the various hats I've worn over the years. I've got some funny anecdotes and stories to tell."
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