The passing of Morty Finder leaves a big void

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TwinSpires Staff

June 2nd, 2016

by Dick Powell

Yesterday, the word broke that Morty Finder had died on Wednesday, June 1, 2016. A legend in the Standardbred industry, Morty was more than what you might read so I will give it a try and fill in some blanks.

I got to know Morty in 2000. I was working as the Director of Marketing at Capital OTB in upstate New York and was approached by a friend about a consulting position at Vernon Downs in central New York. My friend set me up with a meeting with Morty and some others who were new owners of the track and they were trying to turn business around.

One thing led to another and I quit Capital OTB to start my own consulting business. Vernon Downs and Fair Grounds Race Course in New Orleans were my first clients.

Back in the day, when harness racing was bigger than Thoroughbred racing in New York City, nobody was bigger than Morty Finder. Think about 50 years ago and how a huge bettor would actually bet. They needed two security guards to escort him into the track with valises full of cash. Separate mutual tellers were devoted to just his bets and at the end of most nights, the track provided a safe to store and protect the money.

The other huge bettor back then was Ernie Dahlman, who went on to be one of the most successful Thoroughbred betters and owners; in partnership with Barry Schwartz with Mike Hushion training.

Morty always had his finger in a lot of deals and was part of the group that owned 1966 Triple Crown of Harness Racing for Pacers winner Romeo Hanover. Later, he partnered with Lou Guida in the syndication of the immortal NIATROSS (Albatross) and stood him at stud at Pine Hollow Stud.

Years later, Niatross was moved to Saratoga Standardbred, which you can still see the plastic white fencing on I-87 by Exit 12 on your way to Saratoga flat track. My wife came home one day, around 1985, and announced that she had just been hired to be Niatross’ daytime groom, and for a couple of years she took care of the greatest pacer to ever live.

About 15 years later, Morty was with a group that bought a majority interest in Vernon Downs and that was when they reached out to me. While I worked there, I got to meet Heidi Garofalo, who 15 years later became my Standardbred trainer.

Over the years, I kept in touch with Morty. He lived in Manhattan and, if down there, I would try to catch up with him. Back when NYC OTB had a tele-theater in mid-town Manhattan on the east side, I would go down and have lunch with him and former track announce Dave Johnson.

Besides horse racing, Morty was an NBA aficionado and if I needed a question answered, he was my go-to guy. The last time I saw him was a couple of years ago. My wife was in Mt. Sinai Hospital for a week and he took a cab up to meet me for lunch in the neighborhood by the hospital.

We talked on the phone all the time and if you needed anything, all you had to do was ask. Always willing to help anybody, he had a network of contacts second to none that was built over years of meeting people he knew but, more importantly, the trust they had in him.

Back before cell phones became popular, he would call my house and always talk to my wife if she answered. Not small talk either, but questions about her health and how she was doing. When we talked for the last time, he wanted to know how the missus was doing.

The last time we spoke, I called him the morning of the Preakness and he answered the phone while in the hospital. He said he was getting better and would be out in a few days. I figured I would give him some time to recover before reaching out to him but then the news came that he had passed at the age of 82.

He got a big kick when I told him that I finally got into horse ownership and that Heidi was my trainer. He wanted to know when they were racing and would definitely come see them if we made it to Yonkers.

If you needed to reach out to someone, if Morty didn’t know them, you could be sure that he knew someone that did. Now Morty is gone and his passing leaves a big void.