Home of the Louisiana Derby

What About Bob?

Thoroughbred racing in Louisiana has seen a number of changes over the last few years. New management has taken over at each of the state's four race tracks and on-track slot machines are more prominent than SAM betting machines. Some say the changes are good for racing and some say the verdict is still out and it could be a while before a true determination can be made. The one thing that has been constant and unchanged in Louisiana racing for a long time is the person who covers our sport for the local Times-Picayune newspaper. Bob Fortus has been covering the Fair Grounds, and all of Thoroughbred racing, for over 20 years and, in my opinion, is a very fair and accurate racing writer. Not only does he do a good job, but it's very clear he's a big fan of the sport.

"True" racing writers, unfortunately, are quickly becoming a thing of the past. A lot of the "gruff," old-time race-writers have long been pensioned and the sixty-somethings are close to retirement and are pretty much considered to be the last of a dying breed. Job descriptions are changing and responsibilities are increasing. Bob Fortus agrees. "I hate to think about it like that, but covering racing exclusively has almost become a thing of the past. Most papers have fewer writers, and now, you not only cover racing, but you cover whatever sports you're asked to cover. You do what you have to do and you try to do it well."

Bob was born in St. Louis, Missouri, and later attended school in Michigan, but his introduction and attraction to horse racing came at a young age. "When you come to the races, it's very simple, you either like or dislike it. I liked it immediately. Later, when I came to Louisiana, I was teaching at Tulane University and quickly realized teachinjg was not for me, so I applied for a job at The Times-Picayune, with the hope of covering Thoroughbred racing. I was hired in '81 or '82 and started on the bottom, working on what's called the agate page and was the prep sports writer covering St. Bernard Parish. I worked the sports copy desk for a long time also, but all of that got my foot in the door and paved the way for my start in racing coverage."

Now, with his many years of experience in racing and the current Fair Grounds season in full stride, Bob's plate is full. He's always roaming the barn area looking for a feature story and he handicaps each day's card and posts his selections as the "Fortus Forecast."

"I'm always looking for a good story, something that's newsworthy on the track. Obviously, I'm going to report on who's doing good and winning races, but I'm also looking for something with a little bit of a hook to it. I remember doing a story once on a horse that kept losing. I think his name was Oh Ned You Nerd."

Everybody who is a serious Fair Grounds racing fan peruses the "Fortus Forecast." Bob's top three selections for each race appear daily in The Times-Picayune, along with a reason why he likes those horses. "I'm trying to predict who has the best chances overall. You've got to be open-minded when making selections, because so much goes into the equation. Handicapping is not an exact science, so remember, every race is different. Conditions are so important, but you've also got to look for things that stand out, like trainers running horses on the drop or trainers that get on a hot streak. Sometimes I'll look at a race and mark a few horses, then put it down and come back later to re-evaluate what I've selected. Sometimes, something different, in that same race, will jump out at me. One thing I don't use is speed figures--I don't let Andy Beyer make my picks."

Covering Thoroughbred racing and sports, in general, has afforded Bob the opportunity to interview a number of its famous participants from around the country. I asked Bob to tell me about a couple of interviews that stand out in his memory. "As for baseball, I really enjoyed interviewing Lou Brock. It was an honor to write about him. Now horseracing has offered a few to remember. Eddie D. (Delahoussaye) was a pleasure to deal with. He was never a bad interview, because he gave you something to write about. As for trainers, two stand out and for different reasons. Interviewing California-based trainer Neil Dysdale was like participating in a sparring match and he loved every minute of it. He was a good interview, but you literally had to bob-and-weave through it. His ability to think on his feet was unmatched and his quick wit was equal to that of a polished courtroom attorney.

"On the other hand, trainer Barclay Tagg hated to do interviews. He is another really good guy, but he would do everything and anything to avoid any type of media attention. Plain and simple, he doesn't like the attention and is clearly not comfortable doing interviews. He's a trainer that gets along with his horses better than reporters."

The "top prize" for interviews, according to Bob, goes to a non-racing personality. "The interview I enjoyed the most was with boxer Bernard Hopkins. He was training in New Orleans for a fight with Antonio Tarver under the supervision of Mackie Shilstone and I had complete access to their camp. Bernard Hopkins is a guy that loves and thrives on media attention, but he's really genuine. I have never seen someone love the attention like he does and he gives you great stuff to write about. I, personally enjoyed every minute of the time I spent covering his training camp. After that fight, he hosted a cocktail party back in New Orleans and I got invited, so I guess he thought I did a good job."

Bob has seen his share of good, no let me re-phrase that, great horses over the years, so it's hard for him to pick out a one "best horse I've ever seen."

"I've been fortunate to see so many great ones that I wouldn't want to pick just one. The fillies, Zenyatta and Rachel Alexandra, are awesome, and I even think back to the Risen Star days. He was a phenominal horse. There have been so many great ones, that it's impossible to single out one, so I'll leave it at that."

In racing, just like any other business, you never really know where certain career decisions will lead you. Interestingly enough, before he was hired by The Times-Picayune, Bob was offered a job at the Thoroughbred Record, which he decided not to take. Advantage Times-Picayune. Looking back, that was probably a pretty good decision not to take the offer because the Thoroughbred Record folded just a couple of years later. Had he accepted the job, there may never have been a "Fortus Forecast" and we all could be wondering What About Bob?

****Bob Fortus' interviews and features can be read in the Times Picayune Newspaper and on their website at www.timespicayune.com. His "Fortus Forecast" selections can be found in the Times Picayune Sports section and on-line every racing day****