Andrew Beyer‘s column over the weekend on dying gambler Sheldon Finkelstein gave readers plenty to be sad about.

There was Finkelstein’s own lot, for starters. He’s been given a death sentence by doctors for pancreatic cancer. He has chosen to go out doing much the same thing he, and Beyer, have spent their lives doing: Gambling, and gambling unapologetically.

Finkelstein’s last life goal, Beyer tells us, is to live long enough to participate in the National Handicapping Championship, an upcoming tournament for horseplayers. Talk about a dying breed.

It’s a great story. And, as made obvious once more, Beyer’s a great writer. Which brings us to some other motivators of melancholia.

Beyer left the staff of the Washington Post during one of the last of the several thousand rounds of buyouts at the paper, so his byline doesn’t show up much anymore. He loves racing and gambling—-though not necessarily in that order—-and nobody around here in my lifetime could write about racetrack culture like he did, and, as the story showed, as he still can. For anybody who grew up reading Beyer’s track dispatches, that’s a huge whole that will never be filled.

I wrote about Maryland racing as a freelancer for the Post for a few years beginning in the late 1990’s, and a highlight of that gig was getting to watch Beyer work up-close at big races. Finding out that all Beyer’s writing on race days, and nobody ever did a race story better than this guy, came in between his constant trips to the press box betting window made him that much more of a genius to me.

Before he departed the Post, the paper had already dropped almost all coverage of local horse racing.

The truth is, characters like Finkelstein are all over the racetrack. With newspapers having left the track, most of their stories will never be told.

That’s enough to make a guy cry.

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