Phil Pines was a Hall of Famer in every sense of the word. Upon his passing a few years ago, in order to perpetuate his memory, the Monticello-Goshen Chapter has named an award in his honor and this season Bob Heyden will be the recipient of that prestigious harness racing award when the scribes hold their 53rd Annual Banquet on Sunday evening October 30th at Monticello Casino and Raceway.
Bob “Hollywood” Heyden is a walking encyclopedia of harness racing and when anyone involved in the industry wants the statistics, or needs the facts, the one person they can turn to is “Hollywood”
His style is certainly different than Phil Pines’ and so is his demeanor, for that matter. But what Hollywood can convey is reminiscent of what the industry could attain from the late Phil Pines, who was a dynamic writer, statistician, and longtime Director of the Harness Racing Museum and Hall of Fame.
Bob Heyden has been an analyst and statistician at the Meadowlands Racetrack and had been a fan of the Big M since its opening in 1976. He is very highly regarded by industry workers and fans alike for his dazzling and encyclopedic knowledge of the horses and records of racing. He is a commentator on telecasts from the Meadowlands, and a columnist, since 1985, for the Canadian Sportsman magazine.
Although best known for his work at the Big M, Heyden’s reach is global. He is the go-to guy for many media members or outlets looking for statistical information and off-beat notes and stories. He is generous with both his knowledge and his time.
Bob Heyden was born in New York City and lived in the Bronx until he was four. His family, which includes his older brother, Jim and younger sister, Diane moved to Spring Valley, NY when Heyden was five, then the family moved to River Vale, NJ when he was 12.
An athletic kid who grew a foot from 5’4” to 6’4” in high school, Heyden says he was able to dunk a basketball before Shaquille O’Neal was born.
Heyden, who has never been married and has no children, moved to River Edge, NJ when he was 31.
Hollywood professes to be a lifelong bachelor, whose motto on the matter is, “Why ruin a good thing?” Perhaps this cavalier attitude along with his stylish couture partly explains the Hollywood nickname former Meadowlands assistant program director Al Krascewski dubbed him with in the 1980s.
Besides the ladies, comedy is another of his passions. In Grade Eight at Holdrum School in River Vale, Heyden was named co-class clown along with Bill Maher, who went on to host ABC’s late-night TV show, Politically Incorrect. “My job is similar to that of a comedian — if you know what’s coming it’s not funny,” he says.
Hollywood went to his first harness race at Yonkers when he was 16, and soon developed a “keen interest in the behind the scenes workings of harness racing.” While attending Rutgers University in the mid-seventies Heyden met Steve Katz who helped him get his first industry job in 1983 as a charter for the harness racing publication, Sports Eye. A Meadowlands patron “from day one,” Heyden was hired by the East Rutherford, NJ track as a statistician/historian/handicapper in October of 1984. He’s been coming up with oddball Meadowlands facts and sharing his knowledge with TV audiences ever since.
He quotes Meadowlands lore as effortlessly as an evangelist quotes scripture. His hope is that by sharing his passion for both the Big M and harness racing he will convert as many people as possible.
During his career, Heyden has been a recipient of the Dan Patch Award from Harness Tracks of America (in 2003) and the Clyde Hirt Memorial Media Award from Harness Horsemen’s International (2005). He wrote and hosted the Broadcasters Award winning salute to the late Stanley Dancer (2006). Heyden has also been honored with an USHWA President’s Award for his overall excellence in presenting the various fascinations of the harness racing game.
And soon the Communicator’s Hall of Fame will be part of the Heyden legacy.