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Wednesday, April 13, 2005

trip report

Its spring in Lexington and the town braces for the annual invasion of horse racing aficionados, the gamblers and socialites alike descending on the town as once again the harbinger of brighter times ahead comes around on the annual calendar. Keeneland is open for business and the best horses; trainers and jockeys bring some of the worlds finest horse racing to this bucolic setting in the rolling horse lands of Kentucky. And from Chicago,new york,Maryland,ohio and other fine locations across the nation, the spec list after dark crew joins the throngs headed for northern Kentucky to partake in the spectacle.

It’s a quiet morning on the deck at the woodford reserve distillery. The air carries the scent of newly emerged spring fauna and sour mash. Those who have taken the tour mingle with new arrivals and all head for the picnic on the deck, a fine lunch amid the spectacular setting of this beautiful place tucked in a valley of rolling Kentucky bluegrass. One by one the men and women of the spec list after-dark crew arrive.oh,lets be honest, the men of the spec list after dark crew. With the exception of the effervescent editor form Chicago the women come along to make sure that the excessive amounts of testosterone and whiskey fueled ninnies don’t do anything too terribly stupid….the voodoo prof form Deltaville by way of Cincinnati, accompanied as always by the enigmatic and vibrantly delightful E; the king of patterns from queens, along with his sister the fashion princess of bloomies; Chesapeake Slim,sporting his usual half a hangover and subdued opinions; the cynical grail seeker from chi-town(as long as the grail is a copy of barrons and financial times every Saturday no matter how remote a locale we find ourselves in) with a new addition the delightful and oh so lovely charitable derivative, the tent owning trader also from Chicago with the stunningly beautiful and gracious new wife; the listmaster and the tsarina with their court including the queen mom and head page, and of course the handicapping horsemaster of Richmond Virginia and his bride the market mistress(market in question being of the farmers variety in Richmond).Most had arrived just this morning. The handicapper and slim had of course arrived the night before and had wide Guinness fueled discussion on matters vital to the world as we know it whilst listening to a surprisingly good Beatles cover band in one of Lexington’s finest little spots along main street.The handicapper, of course had the sense to go home. Slim, possessing no vehicle was waiting for the cynic and his consort to arrive to town and carry him back to the palace of la Quinta. Alone, in an unfamiliar town, there was of course only one course of action available..Switch from Guinness to bushmills (Lexington at is core is very Irish) and begin striking up conversations with all the shapely adorables in attendance. It was during such an encounter with a beautiful and buxom yet amazingly foul-mouthed coed ( little surprise our slim was in love and had already begun to think of her as his next ex-wife) when the charitable derivative arrived to the rescue. Whose rescue exactly, we will never know.

The new day dawn arrived brining with a day at the track. The band of erstwhile specs arrived at keenelands grandstands on a beautiful spring day, temperatures in the 70s, the sun shone brightly and the track ran fast. Conversations ran from sector rotation in sp 500 groups, volatility trades horse racing systems(in this the second year of keeneland adventures, remains the pattern kings “Bet the Pink Horse”, far outpacing all other attempts to game the ponies).Keeneland is a social event and the women wore birhgt dresses and amzingly stylish headgear, the flowers were starting to bloom in the infield, the crowd was excited and in the highest of spirits on this the seconf day of racing.We talked mingled,enjoyed cold beers and small bets and caught up on the past several months.Several of us came out ahead on the day, no one was foolish enough to bet too much with no edge and the one with an edge was smart enough to bet only the race where the edge was clear and walked outas always) a big winner on the day,enough Im sure to keep in pints of guiness and snappy ties for some small time to come.Now, if he had just answered our desperate calls to the clubhouse before the race……

Now the mad dash across Lexington to what we thought was the voodoo profs newest culinary find. Little did we know he and e had simply asked a track employee where a good place to eat was located in their fair town. Naturally they sent us 45 minutes across town to a beer and burger joint someone in their family doubtlessly owned.The Shamrock was a fine example of the genre however and while it was not up to the very high standards the prof has set in the past..It was food and the beer was cold. While not selected by zagats, we do give a three on the suggested by overweight toothless racetrack trash sweeper scale.

Then back to that shrine of horseracing, gamblers and Irishmen, McCarthy’s in downtown Lexington .A table in the back, a gorgeous spring evening, adult libations to spare and long conversations.Perfect. Someone really needs to start taping the first couple of hours of these gatherings as much brilliance is shared. Listening to Kevin Depew talk about the similarities between horse betting and trading is worth the cost of the trip in and of itself. Add the years of experience of a crossman,the sharp insight of mcnabb, the in-depth technology and trading genius of a goldcamp along with other combined great minds gathered there and much can be learned. Markets,racing,books,history,math,the list of subjects covered is vast.After the first couple of hours, theory gives way to war stories,lost loves and bad adventures and these bits of conversation are perhaps best never written anywhere for the sake of all concerned. It as at the turning point in the evening that I feel most sorry for the wives and girlfriends. They had believed they were in the company of poets and philosophers and to their horror find that they are, in fact, in the midst of a gathering of drunken degenerate gamblers. But they are good sports and allow us our fun, conversation and companionship with the bemused expressions of mothers riding herd on naughty little boys.

These gatherings have gone on since the second spec party when the afterdarkers were founded quite accidentally over a bottle of scotch and market talk in a hotel room late on Friday night in Weston Connecticut. The original group was small… ott, melvin, crossman,van giessen and a few select others who are no longer around. The gatherings have produced numerous modern legends, tales of skin head karaoke bars, purple pt cruisers,5th avenue Irish bars, out of the way bbq shacks, confused detours through the Bronx, sawdust dock bars,rush street snowstorms,poker games in the back of bars and more that we ve probably forgotten. We have feasted on seafood in md,backyard bbq in Chicago,bourbon and steaks in Kentucky.Much has been learned by all, fast and long-term friendships have been formed, trades found, opportunities shared and stories enjoyed. There is no doubt in my mind that the chair, while giving a slight frown of disapproval at the gambling and gamboling that goes on at these gatherings has to take some level in delight that his single idea of the spec list, an almost random thought at that, has taken a diverse group and created a tight circle of friends who have come to not only enjoy each others companies but to rely on each other as only the best of friends can do.As Mr Crossman soeloquently puts it, nights we ll never remember with friends we ll never forget. At each such gathering the chair must be and is toasted as the unknowing and unintended creator of the after dark group.

There are no criteria for membership other than declaring yourself to be a member. A fondness for good scotch, cold beer, and fine food coupled with a deep interest in financial markets does help however. I cannot imagine that to be found totally sober or unable to talk markets would be much fun at our get togethers. It is a diverse group both in geographics and interest. We have stock guys ,bond girls,options traders, futures speculators, quants(,looks around three times) chartists growth guys, value guys, traders, writers, editors, jocks, chain smokers. It grew out of and of course, is a part of the spec list. We all met through the list and are still on it. Some of us for many years now. There are more gatherings in the future, with blues sounding across the bay,angels flying in Chicago,baseball stadiums to be visited, and of course the annual grad gathering of specs in NYC. Bring your best off color stories, a bottle of your best booze and your knowledge along to the next one and join a great circle of friends.

Some observations from the weekend

Flying from Maryland, I had a layover in cinnci. I flew a regional jet out which flies lower than larger airplanes and was below the cloud cover most of the way. From this unique viewpoint I observed several interesting facts. First, in spite of claims to the contrary baseball is still the national pastime. Virtually every small town, village, larger city or suburban gathering of homes has at least one baseball diamond, clearly identifiable from 20,000 feet. Americans love their little league,legion ball and rec league softball. In contrast there not anywhere near as many football fields or soccer pitches outside the larger towns.

Second, the American economic spirit is in fine shape. The trucks are still rolling from the farms to the towns and cities, factories are manufacturing and commerce is occurring throughout the are plowing and planting, railroads are running and people are working. It cannot be measured by fed stats but the heart of American enterprise is the desire of its people to better their lives and the lives of those they love. From 20,000 feet on a clear day, this is very visible. The second leg into Lexington spotlighted the fact that northern Kentucky, particularly Lexington as one of the most beautiful in the country.

To gain a better understanding of emotions and markets,spend a day at the racetracks. Enjoy the races if you wish, but concentrate on watching the people.Its all there. Hopes, dreams, charts, tips,touts,deceptions,the small winner who gets overconfident and becomes a big loser, the big loser who swings for the fences to try to get even, the over leveraged and undercapitalized,rthe pros, the amateurs, the big scores and big blowups all playing out in real time along the rail. In EdSpec Vic talked off taking trainees to the track to observe their behavior. I would suggest that this is good advice and a great place to study human nature and emotions as applied to finance.
Racetrack hotdogs are ALMOST as good as ballpark dogs.
An irish bar and a group of good friends is one of the most delightful ways to spend an evening.
The best books you ll ever read are those suggested by friends.
The orioles can stil beat the Yankees. The Devil Rays and Tigers are another story.There is a powerful motivational lesson in this.

Finding a fellow hunter thompson fan, one who actually read his works before he blew the back of his head into a chivas regal glass is a rare and interestinf experience. Finding one who is also a spec is a three standard deviation event.

Ideas shared multiply.A group of specs sitting around sharing thoughts,philosophies and market approaches is a powerful event and all can learn much from each other.

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