04/27/2017 1:21PM

Remembering Bud Maloney, horseplayer with a heart of gold

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Bud Maloney came from a day when boats were made of wood and men were made of steel. He was a boxer in the Navy and spent the next 60 years fighting the horses on a nearly daily basis. Maloney passed away on Sunday, Feb. 5, at age 87, just a day after his 63rd wedding anniversary.

Wednesday at Keeneland, his memory was honored in a special ceremony before the races, the perfect send-off for a guy who dreamed of – and achieved – the impressive feat of spending time in the winner’s circle, at the storied Lexington oval and elsewhere.

He was a great family man who preached integrity and practiced what he preached. He was a devoted family man who was also incredibly generous with friends, family, and even strangers, especially with his time.

His son Mike Maloney, who had two in-the-money finishes in Keeneland’s contests last weekend, vividly recalls evenings spent in the Latonia, now Turfway, grandstand. “People would come up and introduce themselves, wanting to talk about handicapping,” Maloney said. “He was always very friendly and would give them two or three times what they could have reasonably expected. Often he would invite them to sit at his table for the next night’s racing.”

When Bud was working at W.F. Higgins in Richmond, Ky., in the mid-1960s, he couldn’t get to the track as often as he would have liked, but he could get next door to Shephard’s Pool Room. This was, of course, in the days before simulcasting. If you couldn’t get to a window, you couldn’t get down. On racing days, Bud walked next door and could usually find a friend to run bets for him.

Shep’s, as it was known, was also occasionally the home to a bookie. Maloney was a skilled handicapper and an aggressive bettor, favoring parlays and round-robins (the exotic and super-exotic wagers of his day). His whole betting approach was the horseplayer equivalent of trying to hit an inside straight. But when his numbers came in, he would make the bet-takers weep. He would typically get cut off by a bookie within six months.

Of course, that same aggressive style led to some losing streaks. Mike Maloney remembers his dad keeping an old, yellowed Racing Form from the 1960s for decades and one day he asked him about it. “It was the end-of-year edition where they listed the horse, trainer, and jockey who’d won the most races in that calendar year,” he explained, “and among the notes in there was the highest win payoff of the year, a horse called Greco Pacifico who paid around $240 for $2 in a race at Golden Gate.”

Maloney had gotten behind with his bookie at the time, and Greco Pacifico got him out and up. That paper was his trophy. “It was such a fine memory that he kept the paper all those years,” said Maloney.

To know Bud Maloney was to love him, unless you happened to be a jockey. He respected their work, but was merciless in his criticisms over the years. His favorite insult (with apologies in advance to any jockeys reading this): “You know, there’s a reason they wear size-two hats.”

If you asked him about a lower-level rider, he might say: “One notch better than a loose horse.”

After a botched ride on one of Mike’s horses at Keeneland one day, the jockey sought Mike out to apologize and was rewarded by keeping the mount. Bud didn’t like that one bit. When the horse was re-entered with the offending rider named, Bud told Mike, “I guess the racing office screwed up. They’ve got that idiot back on your horse.”

But that saltiness was the exception. Bud was generally a fun-loving and generous guy who’d give you what you asked for even if he had to work extra hard to get it. He took pride in his own handicapping ability but that paled in comparison to how he felt about his son’s exploits at the windows. When Mike would hit a nice-priced winner (which happened a lot), he’d puff out his chest like he owned the track. He’d have been thrilled by Mike’s accomplishment this weekend at their home track, where they sat together every year during the live meet in the Bluegrass Room.

The event at Keeneland wasn’t only about mourning Maloney’s loss but also celebrating his time on this earth. As one of his friends said, “In the at-bat of life, he got a great rip at every pitch, swinging from his heels with his little finger dangling off the end of the bat.”