Myers Has Passion
BY BEN STURTEVANT
|| Working the Winner's Circle
Anyone who's been to the Del Mar racetrack has probably seen the friendly straw-capped Myers, roving the paddock and winner's circle, armed with a microphone. Once the Del Mar racing season starts, the aficionado spends his afternoons at the seaside oval where he turns into a handicapper and interviewer for the track's closed circuit television station.
"They don't like me being there," Myers said of his primary employer, KSDO. "I think they have mixed emotions because they know I get good exposure out there with 18,000 people seeing you on television. They've never said I can't do it."
Both Myers' radio and racing careers lack dull moments. In radio, he started out as a soap opera actor in New York. When the Korean War broke out, Myers joined the Army and became a reporter for Armed Forces Radio. Among other things, he covered bombing missions over Korea.
after his hitch ended, Myers came to San Diego, hooking up with
XTRA AM 690 (then a rock 'n' roll station) and, later, KOGO AM
and became San Diego's most popular morning DJ. He's been a local
morning man ever since - an amazing feat in the volatile radio
"Anybody who lasts [in the same market] as long as he has - it's a wonder," said George Riley, Myers' morning sidekick. "For whatever reasons, he's been able to remain popular. To the listeners, he's warm and friendly. That's the way he is off the air too. He's easy to work with, most enjoyable."
The news duo has been together for 13 years. Riley said his partner was already a superstar when he arrived in San Diego from KIST, a Santa Barbara news station.
"I used to listen to Ernie on KOGO," Riley said. "It came in beautifully up there. He was the one with the name recognition. The rest of us didn't have the name recognition. It's always been that way."
That's never bothered Riley, who's spent "98 percent" of his radio career as a newsman.
"Not at all," he said. "We'd be crazy to think we could have that kind of name recognition. It was interesting when we first started. News was a totally different thing for him. Under the concept, [management] couldn't see Ernie involved with the news product. But he's become more comfortable with what by and large was a new format for him."
The radio vet explained that he simply adjusted with the times.
"The talk format is top dog now," he said. "News/talk format stations are popular across the country. Music has disappeared."
The racing buff doesn't care much for today's music. And he'd rather talk horses than radio.
Myers, who taught horseback riding as a teen-ager, broke into the "sport of kings" as a race caller. In the '60s, he worked the county fair circuit, calling races in Fresno, Las Vegas and weekends at Caliente. As a licensed pilot, he used to fly to New Mexico for the weekends where he called races at Santa Fe, Sunland Park and Raton. Compared to other sports, Myers said race-calling is the toughest play-by-play assignment for a sportscaster.
"You're up there by yourself," Myers said. "In football, you've got a spotter. In baseball, you've got a cohort up there and a stats man feeding you figures, but in racing you're there by yourself. When [the horses] come around the turn, four abreast on a foggy or rainy day, it's tough to see who's in the middle, so you have to memorize colors, blinkers and everything about the horse and rider that's recognizable. That may be a blaze on the horse's face or white bandages [leg wrappings]. You may not see the saddle number so you look for bandages."
Myers never quite made it to the big time as a race caller. Although he said he had a chance to go to Chicago's Arlington Park, he turned it down because his radio gig at the time was too lucrative to forsake. A few times, he even thought about becoming a trainer.
"I'm used to their hours," said the morning newsman, who arises at 3 a.m.
Handicapping the Field
Myers began working at Del Mar as an oddsmaker. He posted the morning line (betting odds) and was good at it.
"As a matter of fact, I have a record," Myers said. "My morning line favorite won 144 races during the meet. That still stands, I think."
For the past seven seasons, Myers has become a familiar sight in the winner's circle. He and partner Jay Privman conduct post-race interviews with jockeys, trainers, owners and breeders for Del Mar's closed circuit TV station, usually after the card's feature stakes race.
"Doing those interviews in the winner's circle, you're a part of history," Myers said. "I'm honored that they let me do it."
He and Privman also have a pre-race handicapping seminar during which they run through the day's card. They try to sort out the contenders in each race with help from professional handicappers and horsemen.
"We hope people realize it's something less than an exact science," Myers said.
His broadcast partners, Riley and Binkowski, have learned that the hard way, sometimes rushing to the betting windows after a hot (and sometimes not so hot) tip from their knowledgeable colleague.
"We're not racing fans, but occasionally Bruce and I go in on a ticket with him," Riley said. "Ernie does know the horses."
Myers offered some common sense advice for first-time plungers at Del Mar - a place where shirtless infield revelers and bikini-clad women can come away with more than a sunburn if they're unfamiliar with horse racing.
"I tell 'em every time on the TV show that your best piece of equipment is a pair of binoculars," he said. "Novices come to the racetrack and they want to be touted. The joy of the game is making your own selections. Learn to read the racing form and get all the information. And then go down to the paddock and learn to recognize a horse's coat to see if it's dappled and if the horse is on its toes.
"You can get a lot of information from watching the race to see if the horse was in trouble. If it was trying to win and it got blocked, you make mental and written notes; then maybe you can beat the price and get an overlay [higher odds than the horse may deserve] next time."
The "horses for courses" angle is also an important factor at Del Mar, according to this expert.
"Horses for courses is an old saying that's been around for years," Myers said. "Some horses just seem to perk up down there with that sea breeze. The track fluctuates. You have to watch the first couple of races and see if there is a bias toward speed or for horses coming off the pace."
Myers has also owned a few horses. His best was Chief Cosgrove, a "claimer" he purchased for $32,000.
"Bill Shoemaker used to ride him," he said. "He brought home a check almost every time."
However, Chief Cosgrove didn't excite Myers as much as watching Swaps.
"I'd say he's the greatest horse that ever lived," Myers said. "I saw him run in the Kentucky Derby and beat the best in the world when he was half-crippled. He had a bad foot. He went on to set five world records."
He's also a big fan of two Hall-of-Fame riders.
"Shoemaker and [Laffit Pincay Jr.] are two of the greatest athletes ever," Myers said. "I saw Shoemaker in a charity hoops game make an 18-foot jumper the first time he had the ball. I just couldn't believe it. The ball was almost taller than he was. He was a great tennis player too and, I think, like a 10-handicap on the golf course. He was an all-around great athlete.
"And Pincay is just amazing: living on a couple of raisins and peanuts to keep his weight down. He keeps at 117. He has the dedication and discipline."
Racing Not Helping Itself
Myers wishes the sport of racing, often misunderstood, was as dedicated to informing the public as Pincay is to his diet. He claims racing "suffers from lack of coverage."
"That's always been my main complaint: not only from radio, but television and the newspapers too," he said. "I think it's partly the fault of racing for not having an education program for the sportscasters. They don't really go out of their way to get [sportscasters] involved. They just know nothing about racing, and they're afraid to talk about it. This sport has been around for hundreds of years, longer than baseball or football, and they don't cover it. It's all strange to them."
Like many who cover racing regularly, Myers is critical of the way state government regulates the sport.
"Politicians have been milked it dry, and racing has gone along with it," he said. "They've got to cut back on the days. They should run maybe eight races instead of nine and five days instead of six; let the breeding catch up. I don't think anyone wants to see these five-horse races.
"I don't think anything compares with racing as a sport if it's presented correctly."
Myers is one of the few local personalities who's tried to combine racing and radio.
"When I was at KOGO, I used do my show on the [Del Mar] backstretch," he said. "They set up a stand out by the clocker's stand. I did the whole morning show from there from 6 to 10 in the morning, spinning records. I remember one time I locked myself out. I had to get one of the exercise riders to crawl through the window to let me in."
This veteran of the airwaves turns 63 in November and has no plans to retire soon from either radio or racing.
"I'll probably stay around [radio] a couple of more years," he said. "I'd like to get another good horse. That's everybody's dream."
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