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Heyden To Hall’s Screening Committee

Published: May 21, 2015 10:43 am ET

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The president of the United States Harness Writers Association has appointed Robert ‘Bob’ ‘Hollywood’ Heyden, 58, to be the newest member of the organization’s Hall of Fame Screening Committee.

Heyden will serve a six-year term.

More than looking forward to the task, Heyden himself was elected to the Communicators Hall of Fame in 2012.

The ‘Statistician to the Stars’ exclaimed, "This is great. I follow everything closely and forget nothing. I have a real good idea who should and who shouldn't be a serious candidate to the Hall of Fame. But regardless, I think it is wonderful for people to be involved, to talk about it, to wonder, to speculate, to compare numbers with those that are in, etc.”

“The conversation that starts and ends with the Harness Racing Hall of Fame in Goshen is all good. I welcome anyone and everyone who has an opinion, a case, a say, anything concerning the Hall of Fame. I really do. But everyone has to remember the most important thing – the Hall of Fame is the highest honour – and is ultra-special. Only the very elite merit consideration. Joe DiMaggio was voted baseball’s greatest living player in 1969, yet he did not make the Baseball Hall of Fame his first two years of eligibility."

Heyden, a graduate of Rutgers in 1978 and a Meadowlands employee for 27 years under the New Jersey Sports and Exhibition Authority, still does the TV show there, usually on Saturdays.

"The Meadowlands has had a bigger role in shaping the industry than any other track in the past 35 years. Maybe any track ever. So if you have proven you can do it there, it matters – big time. Many have tried and went home. The survival of the fittest for sure. A huge part of the reason Campbell and O'Donnell went in together in 1990 is that they had shared the last 10 Meadowlands driving titles going into that year. Of course they were great anywhere, but many of their highlight moments were there."

A big fan of the history of the sport, Heyden likes to quote Angela Lansbury when it comes to getting a bit older. "She said, ‘there weren't many good things about getting older – but one was the fact that you then had this vast reservoir of knowledge from which to draw upon.’"

Heyden is considering writing a book in conjunction with the 40th anniversary of the Meadowlands next September 1 (2016). He has a carload of goodies from all his years at the Big M.

“2006 and 2007 were two years that George Foreman made it to the Hambletonian. Great guy, fun to be around – I think he was surprised at a couple of things when we chatted – I needed no notes or teleprompter (never have) and was winging it, and then when I recited the name of the boxer he beat in the 1968 Mexico Olympics from memory (Ionas Chepulis) – we were tight from that point on.”

“In 1997 – I had a lady friend of mine, Lee Gleckel, visiting at the track. Sshe came by a couple of times a year. Chatting, the subject somehow came up as to her mother’s favourite actor; Omar Sharif. Well – in those days, you never quite knew who might walk in the door next. Fifteen minutes later, Omar Sharif strides in, unannounced. I pull a bluff (knowing he was a gambler) and pretend I know him. It worked. 20-30 great minutes followed, and Lee to this day probably thinks I had the whole thing staged – I didn't.”

“In 2000 – Mike Sheehan came in and told me to quick – get to Pegasus – Arnold Palmer is dining outside. So the hand-held camera guy and I go out, and I ask Mr. Palmer if he'll do it. He says OK, but the camera is on the blink, so we have a five minute delay. I decide, on a moment’s notice, to call Stanley Dancer, knowing he and Arnold were good friends, and find out a couple of things that Arnold is going to have no idea I would know about. It worked, the interview was perfect”

Robin Leach, Brendan Byrne, Telly Savalas, Jack Klugman, Sylvester Stallone, Barbara Feldon – these are just some of the names of those who would make it to the Meadowlands in its heyday. John Gotti, too, Heyden recalls.

Hollywood continues, “Mid-1990s or so. Sunday afternoon racing in March, or so. I hear a commotion in the back near the betting machines, and Leon Hess and Wellington Mara are both in the press box, and about to make a bet. The owner of the Jets and the owner of the Giants. I don't remember the name of the horse they bet, but I do remember the amount, $2.”

(USHWA)


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