The race is on
Long before he got involved in political horse races, Michael Beychok loved the real thing. The former has been his livelihood, but the latter is about to make the lifelong Baton Rougean more widely known.
Beychok, 50, will be featured on tonight’s episode of “Horseplayers,” a series on the Esquire Channel (Baton Rouge and Lafayette cable Channel 226; New Orleans cable Channel 357) that began last week. The 10-week series, which airs at 9 p.m. Tuesdays through April 8, looks at the world of thoroughbred racing handicappers. Beychok is one of eight handicappers who will be shown as they try to qualify for the 2014 National Handicapping Championship in Las Vegas, an event Beychok won in 2012.
“We have some great characters,” he said. “We’ve got a retired cop from New York — a great, big character. We have a retired stockbroker-currency trader. We have an oddball, guru, California hipster dude. He’s different than the rest of us. We have an old, grizzled, New York Italian racetracker. We have a young kid, 24 years old, just getting in the game. We have me, and I don’t know how you characterize me. It’s a diverse group of guys.”
What unites all of them is the drive to outsmart everyone else at the track in the complex art of picking the right horse for a given race. It involves some of the skills he uses as a political consultant with partner Trey Ourso. Each involves researching the numbers and gut instinct. Beychok was tutored in both disciplines from one of the nation’s most famous political consultants.
James Carville, who would later direct Bill Clinton’s victorious presidential campaigns, worked in the law office of Beychok’s father, the late Sheldon Beychok. One day, Carville was assigned to look after the 13-year-old Michael when his dad was tied up.
Carville, having planned a day at the Fair Grounds Race Course in New Orleans, took Michael along. He fell in love with it immediately.
“I come from a family where we’re all competitive,” Beychok said. “We’re competitive at checkers, basketball, making money, anything. We just like to beat each other. The track is really nothing more than trying to beat the other fellow. It’s a pari-mutuel system, so … you’re betting against other people. The competition with James and his buddies — who can pick the most winners, who’s the best handicapper — that really appealed to me.”
As Beychok learned, picking winners is only part of the formula. Picking winners with odds that create a good payoff is something else, because nobody wins them all.
“It takes a different personality and psychology to make money at horse racing,” he said. “It’s very, very difficult. It’s going to grind you down, and I didn’t really understand that. I liked picking winners and getting a slap on the back from friends in college and having friends cash tickets with favorites, then I finally decided I’m tired of losing money, better figure this out. I think I have. Outside of winning the contests, I’ve been a winning player for a few years.”
Beychok has his own online handicapping site, beychokracing.com, and writes a racing column for TheAdvocate.com. He won the 2012 National Handicapping Championship when, in the final race of the competition, he played a hunch on a filly named Glorious Dancer. His horse won by a nose, earning Beychok the title and a $1 million prize.
Beychok showed his appreciation by later buying Glorious Dancer for $6,250 at a claiming race. Glorious Dancer quickly finished first, second and third for her new owner, and after she suffered a minor injury, Beychok decided to retire her from the track.
“She’s going to have a good life,” Beychok said.
Her owner’s life isn’t going badly, either.