Aug 7, 2019
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Pat Mahony & The First Family of Mutuels

by Jim Reisler

Pat Mahony & The First Family of Mutuels

“We were in the betting rings year in, year out through world wars and the Depression,” recalls NYRA’s former Senior Vice President, Mutuels Pat Mahony, of his family. “That is something to be proud of.”

Today’s inaugural running of The Mahony at Saratoga Race Course, in which 3-year-olds go 5 ½ furlongs on the turf, honors Mahony for his long, distinguished career in the sport. Mahony, who retired in 2016, is the most recent member of racing’s “First Family of Mutuels,” three generations who have been synonymous with pari-mutuel wagering in North America for more than a century.

By his own estimation, Mahony spent 14,000 days at the track, watched more than 130,000 races and was responsible for the more than $20 billion that moved through the betting windows at the tracks he supervised. Mahony followed his father, Riggs, two uncles and his grandfather, Mort, into the mutuels business.

The patriarch of the family, Mortimer Mahony (1874-1949) got his start in the late 19th century working in the betting ring with bookmakers at Morris Park, Brighton Beach, Sheepshead Bay and the rest of the New York racing circuit during that era, which included Saratoga. He would go on to become the pioneer of modern pari-mutuel wagering and totalisator operations throughout much of the United States and Canada.

A Pioneer and Mentor

Mort Mahony was in charge when the first totalisator system in America (the Australian Tote) made its debut at Hialeah Park in 1932, and he was the mutuels consultant to Harry L. Straus, founder of the American Totalisator Company, helping to install their first system at Arlington Park in 1933. His mentorship extended far and wide. His “Mahony Pari-Mutuel College” trained scores of people who went on to manage mutuel departments at many of the country’s major race tracks.

Mort ran the betting operation at Pimlico and managed the money for the famous Seabiscuit-War Admiral match race there in 1938. He also supervised the pools for the first six Triple Crown winners, beginning with Sir Barton in 1919. Mahony’s father, Riggs, ran the betting at Pimlico when Assault (1946) and Citation (1948) won racing’s ultimate prize (They’re pictured with Riggs on left & Mort, right). And Pat Mahony was heading NYRA’s mutuels at Belmont Park in 2015 when American Pharoah became just the 12th horse to win racing’s Triple Crown. The family has worked for nine of history’s 13 Triple Crowns.

Pat Mahony spent 50 years in the pari-mutuel business and managed mutuel departments at race tracks in Florida, New Jersey, Massachusetts and New York with distinction. Like his grandfather and father, he was known on a national level as a pari-mutuel expert in operations, protocols and rules.

“The Mahonys helped build the modern pari-mutuel system for horse racing in the United States,” wrote Joe Hirsch in the Daily Racing Form several years ago. “The Mahony Family occupies a unique niche in American racing.” An honorary plaque in the Clubhouse at Belmont Park reads “The Mahonys: The First Family of Mutuels.”

But perhaps Pat Mahony put it best about his chosen career. “I never wanted to do anything else,” he said.

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