NEW YORK — NEW YORK -- No one alive has more experience handicapping the Preakness than former Baltimore resident Rose Hamburger, who at the age of 105 touts horses for the New York Post under the moniker "Gamblin' Rose."
She has seen all 11 Triple Crown champions, beginning with Sir Barton in 1919.
"I'll bet you never saw a woman 105," Hamburger said recently, her eyes sparkling as she greeted a visitor to her three-room Greenwich Village apartment. "Would you like a little sherry?"
Dressed colorfully, made up impeccably, Gamblin' Rose asked her live-in companion to pour her guest a bit of sherry. Would she care for some herself?
"Oh, I would," she said. "But I'm not allowed to. With medication you can't have liquor."
Perhaps you saw Hamburger in March on "The David Letterman Show" or on CNN or CBS News, or heard her on National Public Radio. She's in demand now that she's Gamblin' Rose -- "the world's oldest horseplayer at 105 years young."
That's how it reads next to her picture in her own little box on the Post racing page. The Post's executive sports editor, Greg Gallo, recruited her five months ago.
"I was looking for a new angle on the racing page," Gallo said. "This was the perfect thing to do, and still is."
Gallo noticed a feature story in the Post last December about a woman turning 105. As he read it, he recalled the woman from his days as an editor at the Daily Racing Form. In fact, he had assigned a story about her when she turned 100.
"I called her up and asked if she'd be interested in picking the horses for the Post," Gallo said. "She said, 'I play the horses every day. I don't see why I can't give the Post my best bet. Deal. Let's do it.' "
A messenger delivers a Post and a Daily Racing Form every morning to Rose's apartment.
"I see who all the other handicappers are picking," Rose said, "and then I check for trainers, jockey, speed and wins. I pick three, and then I choose one by magic."
About 2 p.m., she calls Gallo, who records her selection for Aqueduct, Belmont or Saratoga and publishes it five days a week.
"She lives and dies with every pick she makes," Gallo said. "She gets very upset when she loses. I tell her, 'Calm down, Rose. There's always another day.'
"She's hot and cold like any handicapper. But usually she picks chalk [favorites]. I get on her about that all the time."
Since hiring Hamburger for "a few bucks," Gallo said, he has fielded so many calls from journalists that he jokes about being her agent.
"I told her, 'Rose, one of these days you're going to be on the cover of Time,' " Gallo said. "Right away she said, 'I'd rather be on the cover of Playboy.' "
Born Dec. 29, 1890, in New York City, Hamburger moved to Baltimore in 1915, when her father, a department-store executive, took a job at the Bernheimer-Leader store at Howard and Lexington streets.
She became a fixture at Pimlico, having caught the bug on an earlier visit to a horse track in Germany with her father and uncle.
"I was 19," she recalled, "and there was this adorable-looking PTC jockey with green silks. I said to my uncle, 'Here's $5.' That's 5 marks. 'Bet it for me.'
"He bet it, and I won 100 marks. I was hooked for life."
In Baltimore, Hamburger said, "I married a local gentleman from the well-known Hamburger family." That was Mark, whose family owned the Hamburger clothing stores, although he was not involved in the business.
She lived in Baltimore from 1915 to 1975, mostly on Biltmore Avenue in upper Park Heights -- five minutes from Pimlico.
"I was a member of the Maryland Jockey Club for 45 years," Hamburger said. "I attended the races at Pimlico as much as I could. I would say almost daily between my business appointments."
She sold real estate. Her daughter, Nancy Sureck, who was born in Baltimore but now lives in New York, said her mother was the first female Realtor in Baltimore.
"Without trying to be a feminist, she was a feminist," Sureck said. "What we learned from this gutsy lady was that you can do your own thing. My sister and I both have our own businesses."
Nancy Sureck helps plan celebrations for such institutions as the Metropolitan Opera and the Statue of Liberty. Hamburger's other daughter, Caryl, who lives in the apartment next to her mother, arranges for groups to come to the theater in New York.
Chick Lang, who as a Pimlico executive was "Mr. Preakness" for three decades, remembers Hamburger well. She used to bounce into his office asking good-naturedly for passes for such acquaintances as her hairdresser and car-wash attendant.
"She was always dressed to the T's, wearing jewelry and nice clothes," Lang said.
"Red Smith used to tell me there are more stories at the racetrack than in all other sports combined," he said. "And Rose Hamburger is one of those stories. She was a character, without ever even being aware of it."
She moved back to New York in 1975 and started going to the races there. But Hamburger returned to Baltimore for each Preakness through 1988.
"I was 98 at my last one," she said.
She sold real estate in New York until she turned 100.
"And on my 102nd birthday, Aqueduct gave me a party, a luncheon for 12 people," Rose said. "Some of my guests were [jockeys] Angel Cordero and Julie Krone.
"The eighth race was called The Happy 102nd Rose. I had to go to the paddock and present the trophy to the winner of the race. Can you imagine that?"
Although in good health, she no longer goes to the races. But she has a telephone account with New York Off-Track Betting and watches every New York horse race on cable television.
How often does she call in bets?
"I don't know what to say," she said, temporarily at a loss for words. "Occasionally."
How much does she bet?
"Oh, very little," she said.
At that, her daughter, Nancy, rolled her eyes.
"My favorite horse?" said Rose, repeating the question. "Secretariat. That was in 1973. The odds were so short you couldn't bet it. We were just there to enjoy."
And whom does she like in Saturday's Preakness?
Assuming her first choice, Unbridled's Song, doesn't run, she'll go with Cavonnier. "He ran a magnificent race in the Derby and only missed by a nose, and has a top jockey" [Chris McCarron].
Gamblin' Rose plans to watch it on TV -- and relish every second of it.
"I'm enjoying the thrill and the fun of 105," she said. "Would you like a little more sherry?"
Pub Date: 5/14/96