Perched high above Pimlico Race Course, Frank Carulli sits in his press-box office two hours prior to post time, adjusting picks for the day’s 11-race card. The favorite in the 4th has scratched, presenting the Maryland Jockey Club’s (MJC) linemaker and in-house TV handicapper with a slight dilemma.
The 50-year-old racing analyst sifts through a mountain of papers scribbled with handwritten notes and pink fluorescent highlights, scrutinizing and deciphering jockey and trainer stats and track conditions and cross-referencing past performances.
“Now, this horse, he beat a bunch of bums,” Carulli announces, tapping the chart.
“Bums” and “slugs” are irreverent references often uttered by the Pennsylvania native, who spent four years as publicity director and TV commentator at Charles Town Racetrack (in West Virginia) before joining the MJC in 2002. Carulli is equally enthusiastic when he comes across an animal that is pure gold, declaring, “Oh, she is a monster!”
Talk to anyone at Pimlico or Laurel Park, and they’ll tell you Frank Carulli is one of a kind.
“They don’t make them like Frank anymore,” says Mike Gathagan, the MJC’s vice president of communications.
Carulli modestly waves off his alleged reputation as “a lot of hype.”
As a teenager, Carulli cut his teeth watching simulcasts from Penn National Race Course at home and culling information from longtime handicapper Fred Lipkin.
“He was just very smooth in his delivery and he was always upbeat and promoting the local product,” says Carulli.
“What sold me [was]—even without a program in hand, other than knowing what horse is what number—you could make a decent assessment of the race based on the information he provided you. That’s how I try to do it. I try to present some tidbits of info that a serious player can use while not losing sight of the novice.”
In addition to his on-air analysis, Carulli, who holds a degree in print journalism from Penn State, writes a synopsis of each race featured over a two-page spread in the daily program.
Carulli devises his morning line using a universal system where odds are assessed point values. No matter how many horses are in a race, the total points have to add up to between 120 and 124. For example, a horse listed at 3-1 is 25 points, a horse at 7-5 covers 42 points.
“That’s not who I’m picking to win,” Carulli says, “it’s what odds I think he has of winning the race and what odds I think he’s going to be when that gate pops open. I’m trying to give you a gauge.”
During the 2012 Laurel winter meet, Carulli’s morning line favorite was the actual betting choice in 288 of 398 races (72.4 percent).
Preakness week means long hours on top of the long hours Carulli is accustomed to. After live racing on Sunday, Carulli and a few chosen confidants work well into the early morning hours making odds for Friday’s Black-Eyed Susan card.
Monday and Tuesday, normally his days off, Carulli is digging up notes on out-of-town horses. Wednesday is another long night formulating the morning line for Preakness.
Come Saturday, the number-crunching is done and Carulli can soak in a race he truly adores.
“The Preakness race itself has got to be considered one of the epic races in the history of racing,” Carulli says.
“The Kentucky Derby, it is what it is, but for the match-ups we’ve had, the drama, the triumph—the Sunday Silence/Easy Goer race might have been the best race ever—just the whole scope of the Preakness has been amazing since I’ve been here and the previous years when I came as a fan.
“I just think it might be the greatest race in the country.”