40 Days: A Salute to Saratoga–Tip Sheets

From Mary Lou to Tom; Jim Dandy to Fourstardave; Siro’s to backyard tailgating; and morning workouts to give aways; Saratoga has a cast of heroes, customs, and institutions which make it, in our opinion, the most unique sporting venue on Earth. Over the next 40 Days, we will profile 40 of these legends and traditions, adding our own memories and experiences from 30 plus years of summering at the Spa. It’s our Salute to Saratoga. We hope you enjoy following along.

Its unavoidable.  No matter what entrance you go in, its intertwined with the fabric of the Saratoga experience.  The Wizard, The Pink Sheet, The Saratoga Advantage, The Lady.  You are going to have tip sheets thrust into your face as you try to make your way to the entrance.  Chances are this will be equal parts amusement, annoyance, and appreciation for the tradition, as you press forward to the gate trying to balance your past performances, phone in your bet for the first race (inevitably, you are arriving at 12:58 no matter when you set out for the track), and negotiate the rigorous security “check” of your cooler full of beer and sandwiches.  But Saratoga simply wouldn’t be Saratoga if you didn’t approach the gates surrounded by the cacophony of touts yelling “5 winners yesterday!”  WE HAD 6 WINNERS YESTERDAY!” “$500 Pick 3 yesterday!” “Had the Pick 4 last three days in a row!”  Its the sound of the track welcoming you back.

The Saratoga tip sheets run the gamut of price, effectiveness and, I guess you could call it… professionalism.  There are the sheets that you can get from “Brother John” (pictured) who sells a tip sheet called “The Jewel.”


This cat looks like a reliable businessman, right?  Well, he sells his picks outside Saratoga.  And people buy them.  Because when you get the opportunity to gamble based on the opinions of a guy who looks like he got kicked out of ZZ Top, how could you not do that?

And then there is this fellow, Tom Mullan.

tip sheet

He began working at the track in 1939 (!), and started by shining shoes.  He graduated to hawking tip sheets in 1941, and did that from 1941 until 2013.  He was a fixture at the track, selling hundreds of tip sheets a day at $2 a pop.  He passed away in 2014, but this was the epitome of a guy you wanted to buy picks from.  He had been at the racetrack for over seventy years!

And last, but certainly not least, there is the most ubiquitous of the tip sheets — The Saratogian’s Pink Sheet.  If you are a subscriber to The Saratogian, this comes with your subscription, and includes picks from four expert (loosely defined) handicappers, as well as the news of the day, the entries and the previous day’s results.  If you grew up in Saratoga, chances are that you, someone in your family, or a friend of yours spend hot Augusts trying to convince passers-by to pay 50 cents for the Pink Sheet.  It wasn’t a bad gig to have as a 15 year old, though your day often ended staring blankly out at Union Avenue counting down the minutes until you were allowed to stop selling the damn Pink Sheet (unsurprisingly, the Pink Sheet didn’t exactly fly off the newsstands after the 4th race or so).  The other fun thing about the Pink Sheet was that, with 4 handicappers included, people became followers of one or the other, leading to hysterical conversations in this vein:

“The 4?  What’s he, a Pricci pick?”

“You know it! Pricci’s the best!”

“Oh, man! Pricci sucks, I’m a Tom Law guy.”

“What are you guys talking about?  They are both hacks.  Its Nick Kling or nothing!”

Arguments over who is your favorite Pink Sheet handicapper are the best.  Especially because their statistics are prominently displayed right at the top of each of their respective picks each and every day.

All of that aside, the people selling tip sheets outside Saratoga are another window back to the past, a reminder of the long history of Saratoga — before Equibase, and DRF Formulator, and all of the advanced “figures” that folks rely on now.  They are also a reminder that going to Saratoga is not the “big event” experience of attending The Breeders’ Cup or the Derby.  The tip sheets are for people who are just going to the track to have a good time, and want a little help making their picks.  The tip sheets, and the people selling them, are a special part of Saratoga, and the experience of going into the Saratoga would not be the same without them.

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