Reserved seats to the Haskell are already sold out (fortunately I bought mine last week), and it's safe to say the Haskell would break attendance records if Pharoah is entered, giving our home track much-needed stimulus and a glimpse at an all-time 3-year-old champion.
Although Saratoga remains in play according to Wednesday's Albany Times-Union, Pharoah's trainer Bob Baffert has saddled a record-high 7 Haskell winners and owner Ahmed Zayat lives in New Jersey and has expressed interest in running his horse at Monmouth Park.
Whether or not American Pharoah is Haskell bound, throughout the 2015 racing season there are a handful of individuals sharing their love for thoroughbred racing on select weekends (and, unofficially, by appointment) with Monmouth Park's visitors.
Monmouth Park's "Racing Ambassadors"
In its second year, the Ambassador program is a grassroots campaign of volunteers tasked with cultivating new thoroughbred racing fans.
I worked the grounds on Food Truck Saturday and during the Irish Festival, providing patrons interested in learning more about the sport an insider's view of the racing product, from watching horses get saddled and mounted in the paddock, to watching and discussing the race from the Winner's Circle, to instructing folks how to read a racing program and place wagers.
Being an Ambassador is my way of giving back for a few days a season to the sport that gives me much enjoyment, not to mention a great way to engage new fans and get people to recognize all of the effort that goes into the product and why a beautiful place like Monmouth Park is special.
Meet Mike Tacak
This year, the program is spearheaded by fellow racing enthusiast Mike Tacak, a 28-year-old architectural designer and project manager from Bridgewater, NJ, who stepped forward as liaison to track management at a time where the program was in limbo. Mike goes the extra mile to give fans a great experience, even making it to Monmouth one afternoon where his car was rear-ended on the Garden State Parkway en route to his ambassador stint one Saturday.
Mike and the other ambassadors I have worked with (all younger and very well-informed, and including Brian Lecke and Kevin O'Keefe) are integral in introducing the younger generation to an industry that desperately needs it.
I caught up with Mike (@MonmouthParkKid) for his thoughts on the program and invite anyone planning a day at Monmouth Park to look for any Racing Ambassador in a Navy-collared, logo golf shift to learn more (or contact us in advance; info below), but especially Mike...fast a legend for giving out a $497 winner to some customers. Read on.
NJ Horseplayer: How long have you been a horseplayer and when did you first get into the sport?
Mike Tacak: I've been into horse racing since I was 14. I lived 5 minutes away from Monmouth, but the funny thing is the first track I ever went to was Penn National. My friend Marky and his father Big Rich used to get fireworks in Grantville (PA). One year I went with them, and Big Rich is a longtime horseplayer, so he asked if we wanted to go watch the races. I was so down to go. Big Rich is my mentor. He got me in the game and helped me out. He even cashed a 19-1 future on American Pharoah.
NJ Horseplayer: What is your most memorable on-track moment (e.g. best winning bet)?
|Volunteer Making a Difference|
Mike Tacak, Monmouth Park's
Lead "Racing Ambassador"
NJHorseplayer: How about your worst beat?
Mike Tacak: My worst ever came at Santa Anita. I'm alive in the Pick 4 and all are paying commas. ("Commas" is parlance for a $1,000-plus win.) I tossed the fave and went 5 deep in an 8-horse field. Turning for home, I'm golden; the top 4 were my picks. Then the fave comes storming home. Well, my horse came out and won but got taken down (by racing stewards) in an inquiry. If my horse stayed up it would have been an $8,500 ticket. (Winners got $2,000 to the favorite).
NJHorseplayer: What compelled you to join Monmouth Park's Racing Ambassador program?
Mike Tacak: I saw a Tweet last year and was like, "hell, that would be fun," especially since I took part in (fan education site) Horse Player Now chats for a few years and would like to attract younger people to the track. So far the program has been good, but it can be better.
NJHorseplayer: Any new Ambassador program initiatives in particular that you're hoping to roll out this year?
Mike Tacak: Mr. (Brian) Skirka (Monmouth's marketing manager) gave me a chance (to run it), and this year I have a lot in store, starting with (us) getting on the live feed and also the TVG feed. Also, I'm hoping to use a white-board to let people know what we are betting and suggested plays for all types of budgets. I've got a few other things in the works too. Stay tuned, and if you do attend (Monmouth) live, look out for one of the Ambassadors and we will be sure to make your time memorable and profitable.
Mike Tacak: I've given out a bunch of winners so far, including a $497 dime super (superfecta, where bettors need to select the top 4 runners in order of finish) to a group of "newbies" about 20 years old. All 5 of them hit.
The ticket was cheap, $3.60. (After the race) they say "c'mon, Mike, did we win?" Then one girl goes "I think we won." Then she says, "I wonder how much...$10, $20?" I said they had to wait until the payouts but promised it will be a nice amount, especially with a 9-1 (winner) on top of the super.
Then the prices flash...$497. They all looked at me and say, "are you serious?!," with all 5 of them holding winning tickets. I take (the one girl) over to the (automated betting) machine. She drops it in and presses "finish," then looks at me and says a few words I can't say here, while the other 4 jump up and down like they won Mega Millions. Meanwhile, I didn't play the ticket, LOL.
NJ Horseplayer: And the story doesn't end there, does it?
Mike Tacak: Now, they message me on Facebook and always ask if I'm going and (which horses) I like and "can I help them." Well, here's the best part. The very next weekend they message me and say they're bringing a few friends. I get (to Monmouth Park) in the picnic area where they sit and there's about 20 of them, so I hosted a little handicapping seminar. Now here's the kicker. The pressure is on since I won them a decent amount of money (the prior weekend) and, well, I lose one race and then lose again. As I had other things to do, I wrote down my selections (for them) the rest of the day. All of a sudden this girl comes running up and tries to give me $100 and I'm, like, "no, you keep it, what's this for?" She says "you just gave us a $200 winner (trifecta) in the 6th race and we all played it." So I go back to where they were and they are all pumped reading the program and asking questions. Now I get a message every weekend about my picks and got a bunch of younger 20-something guys and girls hooked.
NJ Horseplayer: And there's more...
Mike Tacak: Last weekend I'm at the Meadowlands and all of a sudden someone taps me on the shoulder and it was one of the girls (from Monmouth). I was surprised, so I hung out with them all night and helped them with harness racing too. It is definitely one of the best racing moments as an Ambassador.
NJ Horseplayer: What is the value to Monmouth, or the industry itself, of volunteers pitching in to promote the sport?
Mike Tacak: The value to Monmouth is tremendous. (The Racing Ambassadors) get nothing but great reviews and comments, and volunteering doesn't hurt (Monmouth Park's) pockets at all and the program is very, very valuable.
NJ Horseplayer: Your dedication's admirable, Mike. You even fulfilled your commitment after a little fender-bender on the Parkway en route to the Food Truck Festival, yes?
Mike Tacak: Yeah, I got rear-ended by someone texting (while driving). I could have just called it a day and gone home, but I had a commitment to go to Monmouth Park for the Ambassador program, hosting a few VIPs in the owner's box. I was contemplating going home but I couldn't. I already made a promise to them that I would be there. Maybe it's just my passion and love for the sport, but nothing can keep me away.
Mike Tacak: Amazing, honestly. Nothing but rave reviews. I also built some friendships with a lot of people, some in their 20's all the way up to their 60's. For example, there is an older lady and husband that go (to Monmouth). He didn't care to give a listen, but she makes (picking winners) a competition between them.
Her favorite bet is the 3-horse exacta box. So, just recently, her husband comes over and asks what I'm teaching her and "can you teach me the same?" So, obviously, she has been doing a lot better then him. It's really cool how everyone has their own preference. Some just want me to pick bets for them, but when that happens I turn the table on them and keep nudging them to pick a horse or 2 and I'll give them 1 and play a exacta or trifecta box. Some like to bet to win, but I've noticed a lot of newbies like the trifecta.
NJ Horseplayer: What can Monmouth Park do to advance your vision of the Ambassador program?
Mike Tacak: My vision is someday to be on payroll, LOL. But I'd like it to really take off and have us their every live racing day. I'd like to be more visible and have a nice tent out front with a TV and lounge area. I'd like for Monmouth to believe in us and our value and give us some more things to promote. I'd like to hold handicapping seminars during a live race. We have a lot to offer, but we get shut down by the track a lot. I would like to go on the live feed between every race and promote it...also have a newbie come on the live feed and give a pick out and tell the track how good the ambassador program actually is. I have many ideas and I'll tell you one thing...I'm gonna put them in action. I'll fund out of my own pocket. I just believe this program is really valuable and the track is only using us at 50% and there is a whole lot more we can do. Getting a home base is key so that (visitors) actually know where to go if they need help, but keep an eye out for us Ambassadors and we will help you out and make your visit to the Shore's Greatest Stretch a memorable one and you will be wanting to come back daily for live racing.
NJ Horseplayer: Thanks, Mike, and keep up the great work!
Mike Tacak: Thanks for the interest in me and what I do for the program. If anyone has questions/comments/concerns, please email me at @email@example.com and I will be glad to help you out. Once again, thanks, and have a great day and good luck wagering!
More 4-1-1 on Mike Tacak:
- Twitter handle: @MonmouthParkKid
- Favorite Track(s): Monmouth Park, Meadowlands, Saratoga
- Favorite Wager(s): Pick 4, Pick 5, $0.10 superfecta, trifecta key (1 horse on top of 3)
- Another Memorable Score: $3,280 ($328 x 10) payout for a 50-cent Pick 4 ticket from Hollywood Park. "I had just won about $40 on a 10-cent superfecta at the old Meadowlands and put what I won into the Pick 4 at Hollywood. So I keep looking at the past performances and get a good, strong opinion and went 2 x 1 x 2 x 2 for a 50-cent (base) play and punched it 5 times, and then 5 more times. All I remember was (jockey, now-retired) Garrett Gomez winning by daylight to cash my Pick 4."
- Specialty as a Racing Ambassador: "Teaching them how to read the program and how to break it down easier, and trying to come up with very cheap plays than can (produce) a decent amount of money. No one wants to bet $2 to win $5.80. As I stated earlier, I helped a group win $497 and then again about $200. Also a bunch of smaller wins in the $30-$60 range.