Matt Amsterdam (left) and friends at the 2014 Belmont Stakes. (All photos courtesy of Matt Amsterdam)
Matt Amsterdam plans to savor every minute of his trip from Saratoga Race Course in upstate New York, where he will watch the Travers Stakes on Aug. 23, to the West Coast for the Pacific Classic Stakes on Aug. 24 at Del Mar.
Make no mistake, however, it is attending the Travers for the first time that has the native New Yorker most excited.
Amsterdam is the winner of the America’s Best Racing’s Ultimate 48 Sweepstakes. He and three friends will take a limousine from New York City to Saratoga for the Travers. They will receive clubhouse seating for both races, airfare from Saratoga to Del Mar and back to New York City, luxury hotel accommodations, clothing and another $1,000 for gambling.
“I’m bringing three of my best friends with me,” Amsterdam said. “My buddy Joe is probably the second best handicapper I know [after his dad], and he and I have been going to races together since we met in college, including a few Belmont Stakes, a Haskell [Invitational Stakes], and a Breeders Cup.”
Amsterdam, 26, is a lawyer whose love of racing was sparked by Funny Cide’s Triple Crown bid in 2003, although he also remembers fondly a trip to Saratoga with his dad that made a lasting memory.
“It was some random weekday up in Saratoga, and he came up from the city to meet me there,” he said. “I took some complicated exotic [bet] in the first race, while he told me, ‘the trick is to pick a longshot, and bet him to show.’ My ticket cashed for around $200, while his longshot ran dead last.”
Amsterdam lists Wise Dan and California Chrome as his two favorite Thoroughbreds in training. Asked to name his favorite racehorse of all time, Amsterdam had some trouble narrowing it down but landed on 2011 Preakness Stakes victor Shackleford.
“There are a few horses I’ve fallen in love with watching them in my time as a fan, including Zenyatta, Wise Dan, Willy Beamin, Game On Dude, Black Caviar and California Chrome,” he said. “And there are a few I wish I could have seen, like Cigar, Secretariat and War Admiral. But if I had to pick just one favorite, I think I might have to say Shackleford. My buddy Joe and I never missed a Shack race. He’s just a blast to watch … such incredible speed.”
Amsterdam, who grew up watching the Triple Crown races on TV, will get an opportunity to see a number of racing’s top stars on the Ultimate 48 trip, very likely including the aforementioned Game On Dude in the Pacific Classic. He also will catch one of his favorite races of the year and create some new memories with three lucky friends.
“I’m really excited to go to Travers day for the first time,” Amsterdam said. “I’ve been to Saratoga Race Course probably 20 times, but never for the Travers. And my single favorite race of the year is the King’s Bishop, so I’m excited to see that live. And to see Del Mar for the first time is also really exciting.”
What is your favorite track? I’m a New York guy, and I consider Belmont to be my home track. But for my money, there’s no place better to watch a race than the Spa. I’m really excited to be there for Travers this year — just a truly special venue.
What is your favorite Thoroughbred racing event? For some reason, I always love the King’s Bishop. It’s just always an exciting, little sprint. That said, there are few days I look forward to more than the Kentucky Derby. That will always be my can’t-miss race of the year.
Other sports/teams you follow: I watch just about all sports. I love my New York teams — the Yankees, Giants and Knicks. I love Oklahoma football, and my Columbia Lions in every sport they play, especially women’s basketball. I’m also a big fan of boxing and NASCAR. I really, really like sports!
Favorite jockey: I think I have more least-favorite jockeys than favorites! But my favorite right now is probably Johnny Velazquez. But I also like any race with Chantal Sutherland. :-)
Favorite trainer: Probably Bobby Baffert. I will admit that I always enjoyed watching Rick Dutrow do his thing.
Favorite food: A nice, thick steak — nothing better.
Favorite city: New York! The greatest city in the world.
Favorite musician/band: Too many to choose. I’ll say the two I’ve seen the most live, and they could not be more different: Jay-Z and Robert Earl Keen.
Favorite TV show: Right now, “Community”. I think it’s spectacular. More people should be watching it.
Favorite movie about horse racing: I’ll have to choose “Seabiscuit”. I did enjoy “Ruffian” a lot as well.
Twitter Handle: @poloshot
People I follow on Twitter: Too many! But my favorite Twitter friends for horse racing: @keenegal, @horseracing4beg, @skipaway2000, @chare889, @ChromeColt, @MJJudge (who I met on a train when I saw her watching the NYRA simulcast on her computer!) and ABR’s own @PenelopePMiller.