That six years have already passed since the inauguration of the Dick McGuire Trot, established in 2010, is scary indeed, a microcosm of the “time flies” truism. That honoring the basketball legend and racing devotee has become a tradition is more than a beautiful thing.
So, we’ll be at historic Yonkers Raceway again, on Monday night, August 10th, for the Sixth Annual Dick McGuire Trot, in the friendly confines of venerable half-mile oval at sparkling Empire City Casino.
Dickie and I together placed a wager or two at Yonkers, and at least a dozen other racetracks across America from Monmouth to Philadelphia Park to Belmont to his hometown Roosevelt Raceway to the Meadowlands.
We’ll gather with the admired McGuire family – hopefully Teri, Michael, Scott, Richard, Leslie and many of the grand kids will be assembled, along with cherished friends like Terry and Freddie Klein, as we pay tribute to “Dick the Knick.”
We’ll pay homage, in the perfect setting of a racetrack, to the humble point guard of the Knickerbockers by way of St. John’s University, who’s deservedly enshrined in the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame.
Props Empire City president Tim Rooney and COO Bob Galterio for their foresight to unfurl the “McGuire” upon the Knick legend’s passing in 2010 and to Dickie for making the night necessary.
After all, he was an ardent $2 punter who, as his loving wife Teri often reminds us: “Dick always announced that he ‘broke even’ every time he got home from the track.” Thousands of times to be sure. It’s another amazing McGuire record!
You heard the story that I first met Dick McGuire right here at Yonkers Raceway in the early eighties when I was the track’s wet-behind-ears publicity man. We invited him to judge the “Mad Hatter’s Ball,” a best hat competition. Somehow, as the raceway’s young publicist, I had unearthed the fact that Knicks scout loved the horses. He was a gracious and engaging guest.
Little did I know that just a few years later, I would become the Knicks public relations director and have a chance to see and work with the great Knick, “Dick the Knick,” on a daily basis.
I was wowed and amazed at the speed and quickness of the NBA players, particularly Bernard King, sitting courtside for the first time at a pre-season game at the Garden, and at that very moment, made a promise to myself that I wouldn’t go onto the court after a practice or before a game, and make a complete fool of myself. Respect their domain, Cirillo, I told myself, and held true to that promise for years. One day, I couldn’t resist. I broke the vow.
Standing on the court at the College of Charleston, gabbing with Dick McGuire, and my public relations assistant Dennis D’Agostino. We talked about the new horizons for the Knicks in the first year under Pat Riley. As we talked, Dickie was twirling a basketball on the tip of his finger, and then started bouncing the ball, then switching hands as the dribble quickened.
Suddenly, he mumbled: “Let’s play two on one.” This was 28 years ago, so he was 60, me 30. It was the PR duo against the Legend. Oh, no! Oh, yes! On the first play, Dickie came at us slowly, made one quick move, and with a head fake left us in the dust to score. Two zip, McGuire. Next, possession, Dickie dribbles behind the back, and blows past us for a reverse layup. I did a double take and said: “Hey, Dickie, let’s get the heck out of here, it’s time to take the writers out for dinner.” Though I had seen many highlight reels, it was a first-hand glimpse of the amazing skills he must have had in his heyday, because there was still plenty left despite three decades that had passed since he hung up the sneakers.
Here’s a typical conversation with a waitress at any track restaurants over lunch or dinner, it happened once or twice here: (imagine Dickie’s rapid-fire delivery):
Dickie: “How’sTheSoupMiss?” Waitress: “The soup is very good.” Dickie: “TheSoup’sVeryGoodThenI’llHaveTheSoupMiss.” Dickie: “How’sTheSteakMiss.”
Waitress: “The steak is our special today.”Dickie: “ThenI’llHaveASteakMiss.
Not sure exactly why, but Dickie calling a waitress or stewardess “miss” always brought a huge smile to my face. It was a moniker out of a bygone era, so respectful, so endearing. I think Dickie was the only one left on the planet who used it, and I loved listening to him place his dinner order as much as I did going to the races or playing cards in his company.
At times I am a pretty good handicapper, so once in a while I’d reel off three winning picks in a row, with Dickie often riding my bandwagon. He was absolutely joyful on those occasions, saying with clear diction (I know, it’s hard to believe): “John, you are an excellent handicapper.” Then, he’d stroke the back of my head three or four times, as if I were a puppy dog that had learned a new trick. That feels like yesterday, it was very cool, and I still smile harkening back when the good times rolled.
The planets had to have been aligned when my path crossed with Dick McGuire, two gents who loved the Knicks and got to work for them, and devout horseplayers who got to spend some time at the art of picking winners. What a great ride from the Knicks near-championship in 1994 under Pat Riley to his number being hoisted to the Garden rafters to enshrinement into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame, with stops at many tracks along the way.
Dick McGuire, a Bronx native, Rockaway product, and longtime Dix Hills, Long Island resident, was a cornerstone of the Knicks franchise, and those of us who were able to serve as masons and add a brick or two over the years, with the smiling Irishman Dick McGuire at our side, are forever grateful for those experiences.