Bye Buddy

By Dan Kenny -- "A guy ought to have a bet every day. Otherwise, he might be walking around lucky and not know it."-- Buddy Abadie

To know Buddy Abadie as a friend was the definition of walking around lucky. He died recently in his native New Orleans after enjoying one of the most colorful careers imaginable in this business.

Buddy didn't start out lucky. He was a grade school dropout during the Depression who helped his widowed mother feed five kids by pinching produce in the French Quarter's open markets. By age 12 he was galloping horses at Fair Grounds. New Orleans was wide open in those days and Buddy soon graduated to setting the morning line for a bookmaker before he was old enough to shave.

In a town full of sharpies--like a "tree full of owls" he'd say--Buddy was the best. He served in the Army during World War II and returned with a bankroll after organizing poker and dice games during the German occupation.

He married his hometown sweetheart, Gloria, and set out to take on the Thoroughbred world again. He began a quest for a set of speed figures that would make him a steady winner. He endured the gambler's vicissitudes until the day in Boston he met an engineer from MIT. Buddy paid this fellow a year's winnings to come up with numerical tables to correlate weight and speed and a track variant. He even added a table for estimated wind velocity and direction.

"That changed my life," Buddy said. "I knew I could win steadily with the proper math." That steadiness began at Delaware Park soon after the war.

One evening there was a knock on his door. A couple of hoods announced "the boss" wanted to see him; they hustled him into a car. "The boss" told him he wanted in on Buddy's action. "You must have some pretty good connections. Nobody cashes like we see you cash."

Buddy told the goons he was a solo act and worked at his craft day and night. He offered to show them how he operated if they'd take him back to the motel. There they saw a virtual monk's cell with a two-year stack of Daily Racing Forms taking up every square inch.

"You mean you're on the level, kid?" asked the boss. "I ain't interested."

I met Buddy when I wrote an article about a legendary handicapper who was coming in from the cold. His long-time patron, Jack DeFee, a one-time national Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association president, had arranged for Buddy to head the newly formed Louisiana Thoroughbred Breeders office. Soon Buddy began to mentor me on the "proper math."

No handicapper was more meticulous. He timed the races from the gate to the wire (ignoring the flag fall that started the teletimer) with a hundredth-second stopwatch. With the program in his left hand and a pencil in the right, he balanced binoculars on his nose and could write notes during a race. Before the instant replay, you only got one look and Buddy never missed a thing.

He explained that you timed the races yourself because the timer was not perfect. It's a major edge if you're the only guy with the proper time. Wind? "In a game where inches decide fortunes, why not know everything you can know?"

He had charts of the different positions of the starting gates at every track he attended. The run-up distance is a crucial factor in judging actual time. His weight figures demonstrated 4.4 pounds was worth a length at a mile. It took 6.6 pounds to equal a length at six furlongs.

After a few years of this he granted me the great gift of a copy of all his tables.

I wanted to know how he could spot a sore horse in the post parade. "You don't look like a dope," he'd say. "After you watch about 10,000 post parades you'll see it, too." His math was right about that, too.

Buddy loved people and the lineup in front of his office on race day resembled a papal audience. He was also a master of the intentional stiff, providing bogus numbers to an unworthy supplicant. "Won't see him no more," he'd say after a few days.

He was named a state steward and served with distinction until his health began to fade three years ago.

Without Buddy, the track will never be the same.

Dan Kenny is a Lexington, Ky. bloodstock agent.