The two lives of Pat Lynch

Updated: May 3, 2001, 5:10 PM ET
By Dave Johnson | Special to ESPN.com

I went to work for The New York Racing Association in the spring of 1971 at Aqueduct as an assistant track announcer to the legendary Fred Capossela. My boss was another turf legend named Patrick W. Lynch. Pat passed away in January at the age of 84, but he left behind a great legacy, a myriad of friends and a million stories about one of his great loves, the thoroughbred racehorse.

Pat knew more about what was happening around the racetrack than any other racing official, management executive or turf writer that I have known before or since. Unfortunately, while he was a NYRA vice president, his advice on racing and betting matters was not always taken. If it had been, New York would not have as many off-track betting problems and the sport would be stronger there with a better fan base. Pat Lynch championed a lower take out, but could not convince the powers to change.

Of all the people I have known at racetracks over the past 37 years, Pat may be the only one who actually made money betting horses. Whether working or in retirement, he always kept his speed figures, noted by hand in a bulging chart book that was always on his desk. When Pat told you to make a bet, you did not second guess. He was that good. And when he went to the window, you knew he was getting value in his play. He wasn't a big player, just the best.

I will remember Pat for so many things. One was his eye for a horse and its potential. Back at the time when I came to New York from Hialeah, I kept a journal, which I went back through shortly after Pat died. I was amazed to note how many entries involved him.

One of the most fascinating was a notation made on May 19, 1971. Since I was the assistant announcer, I normally called only two races a day, and all the races on Thursdays. That gave me plenty of time to hang out around the track: down in the paddock; up in the press box; even in Pat's office, which was just a few steps from the announcer booth.

I was in that office during the running of the Fashion Stakes that year. The winner, making only her second career start and her second trip to the post in five days, was a filly named Numbered Account. The 2-year-old daughter of Buckpasser finished the 5-furlong sprint, three in front, yet Jockey Braulio Baeza didn't let up on the youngster until well after the wire.

As soon as the race was over Pat turned to me and said, "That's the 2-year-old filly champ. She may not lose another race this year."

Numbered Account was the Eclipse award winner in her division, notching eight wins from 10 starts. She was the scourge of the freshman filly set and even tried the boys in her season finale, the Garden State Stakes, where she finished fourth to the likes of Riva Ridge and Key to the Mint.

That was some filly. And Pat Lynch could tell just by watching her flash by underneath his office window that March afternoon. He had quite an eye. And quite a background in racing ... and in life.

Unbeknownst to even some of his closest friends, Pat was a battlefield hero in World War II. As with so many men his age, Pat's participation in a World War was of singular note -- the pivotal moment of his life.

One summer in Saratoga, Lynch told me a little about the war and some of its pain -- both physical and emotional -- that he continued to endure. But modesty prevented him from telling me about all the commendations he had received, including the Purple Heart and the Bronze and Silver Stars. The first I ever saw of them was at his wake, held about a furlong from the gates to Belmont Park. But the most impressive of Pat's wartime honors sat near the casket, alongside the photos of him in uniform. It was a letter from his commanding officer citing him for his bravery near the German town of Apweiler. There, as the rest of the soldiers in his unit watched, Pat raced through an open field amidst withering fire to single-handedly eliminate a German machine gun nest that threatened his men. Pat probably saved them all.

Lynch returned to New York after the war and was a top newspaper handicapper and columnist. His criticism was biting and always on target, whether the target lived on the backstretch or in the front office. When The New York Journal American folded in the late 1960's, Pat was offered a job by NYRA and he came on board. In the 70'S and 80's, he oversaw all of NYRA's publicity, marketing and public relations and did it with a total staff of six (seven, if you count Willie Shofner, who made sandwiches in the NYRA press box)! Lynch ran the show with style, humor, grace and compassion. He was one of NYRA's greatest assets, even after his retirement when he continued to be a press box regular.

Pat now rests in peace at Arlington National Cemetery, a place of honor reserved for heroes. And make no mistake, Pat Lynch was a hero ... to the men he saved on the battlefields of Europe as well as to those who worked for and with him at home in America. I can't imagine a greater legacy.

For more than two decades, Dave Johnson served as the voice of the Triple Crown for ABC Sports. Dave continues to cover horse racing as a host and analyst for ESPN and will call the 2001 Triple Crown races for ABC Radio.