Dave Feldman: King of the Horse-racing Turf

I first meet Dave “King” Feldman during the 1995 Gulfstream Park meeting in South Florida. I was 60. He was 79.

He was gracious, invited me out to dinner and said bring the wife. He answered all my questions. On several occasions, he asked if I could help get his laptop computer to work properly.

Ironically, Dave also possessed qualities that most people abhor: too authoritative, name-dropping and the ability to piss you off. But not many could hold a little finger to his intellect or clever wit. In addition, he told a story better than Hans Christian Anderson.

When one afternoon at Gulfstream I asked if a certain horse could win without his usual jockey, he replied: “I never saw a jockey carry a horse over the finish line yet.”

Gulfstream officials thought so highly of Dave after he passed away in April 2001 at age 85 that they honored his memory with a stakes race this year, plus a permanent display.

The first running of the $65,000 Worldly Victory captured Dave Feldman Stakes for 3-year-olds on the turf in January 2002. Dave would have loved the winning payoff: $43.80.

One afternoon I was standing near him when he spotted a thoroughbred looking through the Daily Racing Form. “This horse is going to pay big.”

He bet $50 to win. The nag went off at 99-1 — and got beat by a nose.

“Did you bet anything to place?” I asked.

“Woulda, Coulda, Shoulda,” he said. That’s the name of his hilarious, informative book published in 1989.

For more than 60 years, Dave handicapped and wrote about horses for Chicago newspapers, owned and trained thoroughbreds, was a track announcer and once served as president of the Illinois Division of the Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association.

A memorial display is in the Gulfstream Gallery, part of the South Florida track’s Paddock Museum. It consists of his photo, a reproduced column from The Chicago Sun-Times, his last job, and a commemorative inscription, which in part reads:

“Dave Feldman loved horse racing. And horse racing loved Dave Feldman … Dave never met anyone involved in any phase of the sport who did not arouse his great curiosity. Combine the people in racing with the excitement generated by the majestic thoroughbreds in action and you had an exacta that Feldman found irresistible until his passing âÂ?¦ Dave is missedâÂ?¦and always remembered.”

He was a man for all racing seasons during nine decades: handicapper, reporter, track announcer, horse owner and thoroughbred trainer. “I could enter my horse in a race, handicap the event, call him home to the wire and interview the winning owner and trainer — me.”

When I had him autograph his readable book, Dave wrote: “Good luck to Bob — a hard betting handicapper and race writer.” I wasn’t sure he was joking or forgot my name.

“The key to Dave’s longevity is a lesson for us all — he loved his work,” said Sports Editor Bill Adee of The Chicago Sun-Times, where Dave was turf editor from ’78 to 2001, when he passed away. “If he wasn’t handicapping or writing, he was thinking of another way to sell more newspapers.”

We hit it off right away when first meeting in 1995 at Gulfstream, his winter base for 40 years, partly because we were both born in Chicago.

I finished three years of high school before moving to South Florida. His school was the street. Dave saw his first race at 12, thanks to a neighbor who took him to Arlington Park when it opened in ’27. Ironically, I saw my first race at 13 when my Dad took me to Arlington in ’48.

At 14, Dave began handicapping for The Chicago Herald-Examiner. His career outlasted several Windy City daily papers. He once spent an afternoon placing bets for famed-writer Damon Runyon. I worked several months with Runyon’s son at The Miami News during 1956.

By 16, he was so proficient that he began selling his selections to out-of-town newspapers, and discussing his selections on a Chicago radio show under the pseudonym “Dave King.”

When The Herald-Examiner merged with The Evening American in ’39, he became racing editor for The Herald-American, later Chicago’s American. He was turf editor at The Chicago Daily News from ’69 until the paper folder nine years later.

Over the years when you asked Dave how he felt, he would reply, “Not so good.” Sometimes he said, “I’m dying.”

He might have in 1979, when he had quadruple bypass surgery. But he never missed a deadline, I’m told, even writing from his hospital bed.

I recall an afternoon in Gulfstream’s lower press box when there was a loud plunk and at the bottom of the antiquated spiral staircase was Dave. The ambulance hauled him off to a hospital near the Hallandale Beach track.

Several days later, Dave was back at his desk. How did he feel? “Not so good. I’m dying.” Sometimes those remarks described how his bets were doing.

Dave also was a man of a thousand stories:

“I’m on my way to bet a trifecta — 6-8 all and 8-6 all — and this horse owner calls out, ‘Hey, Dave, sit down. I haven’t seen you in a long time.’

” ‘Let me go make this bet first.’

” ‘Forget the bet. Save your money.’

“I sit down and we start talking. The bell rings, the windows close and the gate open. My two horses finish 1-2 and some longshot comes in third. The trifecta pays $446 and I’m sitting there listening to this guy whose name I can’t remember.

“Woulda, coulda, shoulda.”

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