Day At The Track

Sid Alpert, master racetrack innovator, succumbs at 87

03:42 PM 02 Jul 2014 NZST
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Rest in peace

SILVER SPRING, Md. --- Sidney A. Alpert, a master innovator of raceway video and sound systems at a number of racetracks and a holder of a number of patents during the last half of the 20th century passed away at age 87.

Born in Washington, DC, Alpert passed away after a short illness in Silver Spring, Md. On June 30.

Alpert served in the U.S. Army during World War II as an x-ray technician, and early in his career was a successful photographer at The Washington Times Herald with Jacqueline Bouvier (later wife of President John F. Kennedy) as one of his protégés. He also was team photographer of the Washington Capitals of the Basketball Association of America (forerunner to the NBA). Mr. Alpert became interested in harness racing and seeing a need for improved filming of races, formed his company, Electronic Race Patrol (ERP).

Mr. Alpert began his career in racing by filming races in the 1950's at Maryland tracks, Rosecroft Raceway, Laurel Racecourse, and Baltimore Raceway, among others. He teamed with the DuPont Chemical Company to develop a special film for use at night and was the first to film night-time races.

Alpert was the first to introduce live closed circuit race-monitors at the tracks he serviced. He was first to show fans live races and replays on a split-screen. Next, he introduced color to showcase races on television. In the 1960's he was the first to bring live video broadcasting to racetracks in the mid-west, at Maywood Park and Aurora Downs in Chicago, IL. With high-quality equipment, Maywood was the first racetrack to broadcast nightly feature races on a live television newscast, at station WGN in Chicago.

Alpert was the first to utilize in-house video production editing facilities, one of the many of Alpert's major racing industry advances. At Brandywine Raceway, more than 400 professionally-produced TV vignettes featuring horsemen, farriers and track personnel were among the videos presented during nightly racing programs. He was the first to install television monitors at every racetrack dining room table, where fans could watch live racing during dinner, or change the channel to view other live sporting events.

Alpert's ERP Company also made noted television broadcast advancements at the ill-fated, burned-down Garden State Park thoroughbred track in Cherry Hill, N.J. In 1977, with the racetrtack burning, Alpert was high atop the blazing facility video-taping the disastrous fire directly beneath him. He was saved from the fire when a press box regular showed him a seldom used stairway on the far end of the roof, from which he escaped.

In addition to television, Alpert was a master of sound at the track. At Brandywine, one standing outside the entrance could not hear the public address sound, but once the door opened, sound was loud and clear. There was state-of-the-art sound in Brandywine's famed track-side dining room from hundreds of speakers in the ceiling.

At Brandywine, he wrote new bugle calls recorded by a team of professional trumpeters, with a different musical arrangement for each of the night's races.

Following the demise of Brandywine, in 1989, Alpert fostered a remarkable project under his new company, 'Stars and Stripes' Stable, which proved too early and ahead of its time. He visualized making full-card racing a staple on cable TV. His concept was to race entire programs at a track in Chester County, Pa., and without any patrons in attendance. The races would be shown on an all-racing channel with wagering. 

Alpert envisioned having a daily early evening harness racing TV program in the fashion of the popular late night shows (ala Johnny Carson etc.) featuring owners, trainers, drivers and fans as participants. Alpert's concept included transmitting wagering information to fans at home via fax machine. Unfortunately, after coming close to fruition, he had to abandon the project and then retired.

During the 1980s, Sid and wife Lenore (who passed away in 2012), owned several successful stakes winners horses. Two of his favorites were pacers Stargell Lobell and Commander Bond, the horse on which Herve Filion won his 10,000th race - the most in the sport at the time.

Alpert was an avid collector of fine arts and manuscripts. He accumulated the world's largest collection of Currier and Ives prints, which is featured in the Time-Life Series of books, Antiques and Collectables. His Currier and Ives collection of horse racing prints can now be seen at the Harness Racing Museum in Goshen, N.Y. Other parts of his collections are on display in museums, including the Springfield Museum in Springfield, MA.

Alpert is survived by a brother, Larry Alpert (Eleanor), a sister Delores Diamond, a son Mark (Sharon) and grandchildren Julie and Jennifer Alpert, and grandchildren, Adam and Stacey Rosenthal.

Graveside funeral services were set on July 2, at Judean Memorial Gardens, Olney, Md. Memorial contributions may be made to Ohev Shalom-The National Synagogue, Washington, DC.

by Marv Bachrad, for Delaware Valley Chapter of USHWA

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