By Patrick Kerrison
Sometimes, as a boy who idolizes his father, we follow them everywhere they’ll let us, mimicking what they do and how they do it, getting underfoot and wanting to be them.
That was me.
I would follow my dad everywhere around the track. I thought every racing person he introduced me to held celebrity status, and I studied the Daily Racing Form more closely than any schoolbook I ever cracked open.
Man, I wanted to be my dad when I grew up.
My hero. My idol.
When you added Saratoga to the mix it became a whole new ballgame. A beautiful new ballgame. Health, History and Horses. So much history. So many horses. So many races. So many players.
I think back to when I was a kid and the jockey colony back then. It was unreal. Angel Cordero, Jr., Jorge Velasquez, Jacinto Vasquez, Mike Venezia, Manny Ycaza and my all-time favorite, Eddie Maple. These guys were my Mickey Mantles, White Fords, and Yogi Berras. These were the premiere athletes of the 1970s and 80s and my dad introduced me to them all.
Sometimes we’d meet them in the mornings when he’d look for stories on the backside, or breakfast on the track’s porch. Sometimes it was at Mother Goldsmith’s or Mrs. London’s or at dinner, either The Old Firehouse or the Wishing Well.
These were the kings of the hill, the top of the heap. I had stars in my eyes.
So, who is my dad?
Well, some of you may have known him, or know of him. Maybe you read his articles. If you’ve been around a while, a long while, it’s likely you have.
His name is Ray Kerrison and for many years he was an investigative journalist for the New York Post who championed the $2 bettor.
Kerrison was a man that lived his life with an unassuming nature, an unwavering faith in God and a staunch immovable approach to journalism where facts eclipsed opinion with every word he wrote. Whether politics or the ponies, he made his mark and was the quintessential New York columnist.
On January 1, 1977, Kerrison started his career as a Turf writer and his approach was simple: He vowed to protect the $2 bettor.
At that time American racing writers were mere publicity agents. No one caused a stir, but all that was going to change, and Kerrison changed it.
This new approach didn’t sit well with Turf writers, and they made their animosity known. Racing officials became guarded. A host of trainers and jockeys wanted no part of this guy.
He created a demand for accountability from racing officials and racing personnel. Turf writers were pressed to work for a living. Those on the inside, who were well protected, were now vulnerable. Not everyone embraced this change and Kerrison’s daily life at the racetrack was made to be a rather trying one.
However, he was not one to yield in order to satiate the needs of the lazy, or the less than respectable, and punters adored him because he had their backs and never quit on them.
Like when he was early into his tenure with The Post he got wind of a crooked vet who shipped two horses to the states from Uruguay. One was a champion (Cinzano), the other a dud (Lebon). The vet ran Lebon a few times, got the odds nice and fat over the course of a few bad beats, then did the old switcharoo. He entered Lebon but raced Cinzano – the 1976 champion racehorse of Uruguay. He won for fun and paid boxcars. Kerrison did what he did best and nabbed them.
This put him on the map.
He won The Page One Award for Excellence in Journalism and the Silurian Award, bestowed by veteran journalists to outstanding journalist of the year. But he would never rest. There was always another story to write.
In fact, a couple of years later he and fellow racing columnist John Piesen uncovered the single biggest horse race fixing scam in New York’s racing history. “Racing’s Darkest Hour” was the headline, and it rattled the racing community and turned it on its ear.
That was Ray Kerrison.
Understated, unassuming, a quiet confidence and relentless drive to find the truth, uncover it, and make sure the horseplayer got a fair shake.
But as tough and hard-nosed a journalist he may have been, as an everyday man he was putty in the hands of Saratoga Springs.
Simply put, he adored her.
He knew, appreciated and loved her history.
He fell prey to its sunrises and weakened in the knees of horses galloping through the morning mist. He was forever enamored by the hundreds, if not thousands, of tremendous racing events which took place on the hallowed grounds of Saratoga Race Course.
He knew there are some things in life so grand, and so magical, they’re hard to comprehend … even if you lived in the center of it all.
His love for the Spa was one of those things. He knew how grand a stage Saratoga was and is.
We lost this wonderful man this past December. He lived to 92 but it still felt too soon. He sired nine children, had 18 grandkids and 12 great grandchildren.
So, we (my siblings and I) thought, to best honor his legacy, and a life very well lived, to run a race in his honor.
Sunday, in the second race, a field of six will break from the gate for The Inaugural Ray Kerrison Memorial.
A small gesture to forever immortalize a brilliant journalist, a champion for the everyday horseplayer … and my dear father.
My hero. My idol.
… and where better to do so than the place where racing history is most revered?
Where better than Saratoga?
For more on the life of Ray Kerrison visit: The End of An Era.