Zast's Colleagues, Family Share Memories

Zast's Colleagues, Family Share Memories
Photo: Courtesy of Vic Zast
Vic Zast

With horses working on the track as a backdrop, about 100 friends, relatives, and colleagues of Vic Zast gathered at Saratoga Race Course the morning of Aug. 17 to reminiscence and share stories about the late corporate executive, entrepreneur, and turf writer.

Zast, who died Aug. 3 at age 69, has been a regular at the Saratoga race meet for 49 years and authored The History and Art of 25 Travers in collaboration with artist Greg Montgomery. Zast also wrote the popular "Saratoga Diary" at Bloodhorse.com and his regular contributions to The Blood-Horse magazine included a series on racetracks throughout the world.

As noted at his memorial, conducted in the section of the grandstand where the Zast family has season tickets, the short, affable man with the distinctive gravelly voice and disheveled white hair was more than a spectator at Saratoga. He was also an unofficial ambassador of sorts for the racetrack, especially during the morning hours.

Shortly after New York Racing Association bugler Sam Grossman began the ceremony with the "Call to the Post," Zast's son, Jon, explained the significance of the setting.

"For years he would come here and he loved showing off the racetrack in the mornings," Zast said. "Some of you may have benefitted from his tours of the backside... Being here in the mornings was a special thing."

Jon Zast said in many ways, his father's love affair with racing and handicapping was somewhat of a contradiction for "an eastern European pragmatist from Buffalo whose Polish upbringing dictated that he always make the sensible and responsible decision. We have all benefited from the advice that is soundly measured from this quality. But he was also a sensualist who loved life and all of its overwhelming beauty and wonderful idiosyncrasies. He swallowed life in big, ravenous gulps. What a peculiar contradiction to find in one man.

"The Daily Racing Form was the security blanket with which these two opposing sides of his persona could rest comfortably. The Daily Racing Form was the most comfortable place that my father found himself, for the rational, practical, and intelligent Pole from Buffalo believed that there was a pattern to be found and a lead to be followed. But the sensualist who often gave in to that ravenous appetite for life knew that there was some money to be made if he just followed his gut.

"And here's the thing. It worked. The two sides of this man's life met perfectly here in Section J at Saratoga, and he won. He won a lot. And though I suspect he wagered not all that much as some sort of agreement with his wife so as to not give the misguided example to his children that you can make a living at the track, he didn't need to make a killing. Because it was not about making gobs of money. It was about getting it right. It was about absorbing all the wonderful, remarkable, astounding, and phenomenal in life, and making sense of it all. And then winning."

Dick Downey, a friend who runs TheDowneyProfile.com handicapping website, recalled Zast's ability to attempt things that others would not think of or would think unattainable, especially a road trip he and two companions took from Chicago to the Arctic to play golf at midnight on the summer solstice. They were accompanied by an urn containing the ashes of a deceased friend who had been the fourth member of their regular golfing group. The journey in a recreational vehicle was captured by a film crew, with the resulting "Our Longest Drive" airing as a six-part series on The Golf Channel in 2012.

"Vic was the only person I've ever known who would tell you 'I'm going to rent an RV and drive to the North Pole and play golf,' and instead of thinking, 'You 're out of your mind,' you say, 'Oh really' and wanted to hear about it. Vic was not afraid to take a chance. He was an entrepreneur who was willing to risk his time and money on a golf trip to the North Pole and turn it into a television series and it was the first time he tried to do it."

Downey, who met Zast for the first time at Gulfstream Park in 2005, praised Zast as being a family man, entrepreneur with artistic sensibilities, and a friend. "Nobody loved his family more than Vic," Downey said. "Maureen was always his bride and his children were his pride and joy... I always had the impression Vic would do anything for family, but at the same time he respected the individuality of each of them."

Lefty and Patty McLelland, who had known Zast since he introduced them in the 1960s, regaled the crowd with light-hearted recollections of stories from their college days together and beyond. Montgomery praised Zast for his instincts in coming up with the idea for their book and tenaciousness in getting it completed. John Pricci, who operates the Horse Race Insider website and blog to which Zast contributed, also recalled his colleague.

In addition to Jon and Maureen, Zast is also survived by daughters Annie and Biz, and daughter-in-law Theresa Zast and son-in-law Micah Zajic.

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