Mickey and Me

We were sitting in a box at Saratoga one fine August afternoon. I know that sounds fancy, but if you’ve ever sat in one those boxes you know it’s more cramped than glamorous. And if you’re like me you’d rather be at a picnic table with a cooler full of beer.

It was hard not to notice the activity behind us as a stream of people stopped to say hello to an older man in nearby box. We almost fell off our uncomfortable chairs when it dawned on us that it was Mickey Rooney.

Rooney was sitting alone with his racing form, about as far away from the finish line as you could get and still be in one of the “exclusive” boxes.

Now, working in TV I’d met tons of well-known people — the most famous of whom was Oprah Winfrey. But Mickey Rooney? He was a freakin’ legend. Regardless, we did our best to play it cool, acknowledging him without seeming like amateurs. We inquired with our waiter about sending over a drink, not knowing he’d knocked off the booze years before.

So we went back and forth with a little small talk about the races and such, without being intrusive. Today I would have invited him to sit at our box; it didn’t occur to me at the time that he actually might have joined us.

Eventually, Mr. Rooney let on that he had a well placed tip on one of the races. A tip? From Mickey Rooney? This we must bet, and not just our small time $2 wagers — no, at 10-1, this was more of a $20 or $30 to win sort of bet.

Naturally, we all lost money on that one.

Nothing was said about the sure thing that was not so sure. If only we could have had a preview of Mickey Rooney’s obituary we would have known that he’d visited many racetracks in his lifetime, and more often than not, made impressive contributions to the sport of kings.

So, here’s to Mickey Rooney. He never lost his taste for the ponies — or his ability to charm an audience.

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