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Q&A: Steve Byk
Host of the radio show “At the Races,” which airs on Sirius Channel 93 and XM Channel 209 for three hours (9 a.m.-noon Eastern) every weekday. He will begin broadcasting live from Churchill Downs on Monday in advance of the Breeders’ Cup on Nov. 4-5.
Birthdate: Nov. 20, 1959, in New Hyde Park, N.Y.
Family: wife, Tina
Got into racing because . . . My grandfather took me to Aqueduct when I was maybe 11 or 12. Joe Namath was in the box next to us, and I quickly surmised that the racetrack was a very cool place. I was a casual player and fan in my 20’s, became a more involved player in my 30’s, and really got serious about it when I moved to the Saratoga Springs area from Montreal at 40. It now completely overwhelms my interest in team sports. It’s simply more engaging and fun than anything that involves a ball.
How did you end up hosting the radio show? I was a sportscaster at Colgate, Class of 1982, and knew it was what I wanted to do long term, but I was pulled in another direction after graduating. I started writing about racing on the internet in 2002 and developed a small following on my DerbyTrail.com website with some fortunate lucky opinions, like identifying Funny Cide as a major classic player early on in 2003. John Perrotta had helped Joe “J.J.” Graci and Anita “Samm” St. Clair move their show, “At the Races & Beyond,” to Sirius, and their house handicapper, Gus Alonso, suggested me to replace him when he could no longer do the show in November 2005. I was added to the mix as a co-host and handicapper, and when J.J. left to pursue other interests in June 2007, John offered the show to me. It was a dream opportunity, and I’m indebted to John, J.J., Samm, and Gus for getting the chance.
Is it difficult coming up with enough material for a three-hour program five days a week? Not in the least. As I frequently say when asked how we get three hours out a day, sometimes I feel like we didn’t have nearly enough time.
What are the topics that you most like to discuss, and what are the topics that your listeners most frequently call in to discuss? The handicapping, wagering, and bankroll-management conversations are what the listeners really are on board for. It means the most to me to help people win, ideally via education from contributions of the best horseplaying minds in the game that have been so generous to the show with their time. Hearing from listeners that they’re getting more pleasure out of the game because they’re winning due to what they’ve gleaned from the show is the greatest possible compliment. After the horseplaying talk, I try to touch on every area of interest in the industry − breeding and sales, horsemanship and ownership, horse health and aftercare, rules and regulation, you name it.
You also have some guests who are regulars each week, and, in some cases – like Satish Sanan – it’s a good thing you are on satellite radio: Can you see me smiling broadly? Satish is an owner, player, firebrand, and catalyst, and he’s been a fun, invaluable addition to the show. While I know his fellow stakeholders get frustrated with his outspokenness, he provides a genuine service to those listening that root for positive directions in the sport. They are eager to know what is happening within the steering organizations, and Sanan offers a glimpse behind the curtain. His weekly visits, and those of all the regulars − Johnny DeSantis, Jon White, Andy Serling, Seth Merrow, Dr. Steven Allday, Steve Davidowitz, Steve Haskin, Richard Migliore, Tony Black, Richard Eng, Ed DeRosa, and Rick Hammerle − provide our audience with an intimate touchstone to the industry from nearly every perspective.
You are heading to Kentucky to do the show from Churchill Downs. Is it difficult taking the show on the road? There are some technical issues that always crop up, but I think the show is at its best during live, on-site stops. We do seven weeks at Saratoga, two weeks at the Kentucky Derby, a week at the Belmont Stakes, and two weeks at the Breeders’ Cup. We’ll be at Gulfstream this season for a good portion of the meet. I love doing the show on the road.
Where do you usually do the show from? My desk at home in Greenwich, N.Y., 13 miles from Saratoga.
At Saratoga, you broadcast adjacent to one of the stands for Carolina Barbecue, which you own. How did a nice Jewish boy end up slinging pulled-pork sandwiches? I moved to the area in 1999 and got to know the partners at Carolina Barbecue, where I had long been a customer. Discovering that I was a food broker, they asked me to help market their products to retail outlets. I began working with them at Breeders’ Cups and Triple Crown events, which really ignited my interest in racing and galvanized my writing. I started running the café location by the Carousel at Saratoga in 2001, and everything evolved organically from that point. It’s all intertwined – the barbecue, the race-writing and handicapping, and the radio.
You obviously do a fair amount of handicapping before each show. Do you play regularly? I play nearly daily, and my handle has greatly increased since the show moved from afternoons to mornings. You should not be handicapping races publicly if you don’t play the game fairly seriously yourself.
You also own some horses through Dee Tee Stables. How did that come about? In 2007, members on my website, DerbyTrail.com, were interested in getting a horse, and at the suggestion of my friend Matt “Hooves” Dugger, I organized Dee Tee. We raised $30,000 by selling $500, one-time buy-in shares. Chuck Simon picked out a prospect from the February mixed sale, and, from there, we’ve grown. We’ve had more than 125 partners come in and get their feet wet in racehorse ownership. We’ve got three in training right now with Gary Sciacca, two 2-year-olds being developed by Woodbury Payne in Virginia, two yearling fillies – one a homebred by Purim – that Chuck will train, a Medallist weanling, and the broodmare that started it all, Sumwonlovesyou.
The bumper music on your show is great. Who are your favorite bands? I have very eclectic tastes, but I never tire of Depeche Mode, Echo and the Bunnymen, the Cure, Jackie Wilson, Sharon Jones, and the Dap Kings, and of course Joe Strummer and the Clash. Of recent vintage, Kasabian, Gomez, Death Cab for Cutie, and poor, doomed Amy Winehouse.
Other hobbies? I’m a huge film buff. My favorites are “Sweet Smell of Success,” “All About Eve,” “The Philadelphia Story,” and “To Kill a Mockingbird.” I like black-and-white. And given my food industry background, I’m an avid cook.
Best horse seen? My stock answer is Point Given, because I loved him and was so sure he’d be a Triple Crown winner, but Ghostzapper and Skip Away are probably the best I’ve seen.
Future ambitions? To continue to deliver a positive message about the game and intoxicate potential players and fans with its charms. It’s the greatest unscripted drama in sport.