A short brainstorm between myself and DRF compadre Joe Nevills resulted in what we felt was a genius idea: Take four degenerates working in horse racing, put them together, and have them draft their dream simulcast TV crew. Yes, we’re weird.
Having said that, we got two of our friends in on the game: Gulfstream Park track announcer Pete Aiello and TwinSpires/Brisnet grid connoisseur Ed DeRosa. Our basic ground rules were pretty simple. This would be contested in a “snake draft” format, where whoever picks first in odd-numbered rounds picks last in even-numbered rounds, and vice versa. Each roster consists of the following positions: Announcer, host, analyst, handicapper, field/paddock reporter, flex, and one bench spot. Finally, those drafting could not draft themselves, and were limited to drafting one current co-worker.
With that in mind, let’s get to the draft!
ROUND 1, PICK 1: JOE NEVILLS
PETE AIELLO, ANNOUNCER
Yeah, I picked someone else in the league. Maybe I’ll put him in a costume, hand him some flyers, and make him the highest-drafted mascot in league history. Do something about it.
Beyond those simple trolling pleasures, Pete is the kind of personality and multi-tool player you can build a program around. No announcer’s star has risen faster over the past half-decade, and he’s proven to be a versatile on-air talent, both in announcing and pre/between-race talking head segments. Plus, he has experience running myriad behind-the-scenes positions at the racetrack away from the camera, so his value only increases.
A relentless handicapper, Pete knows what he’s talking about when it comes to identifying horses to watch, and he more than has the ability to keep viewers hooked whether he’s picking a horse to win or calling it down the stretch. Plus, his sense of humor and quick thinking will ensure he gets a race call to go viral every so often, which raises the profile of my fictional racetrack, Son of Mount Pleasant Meadows. I want my track to be fun, and he’ll make sure of it.
Perhaps the biggest draw for drafting Pete in the #1 slot is that he’s still a high-upside prospect. He’s among the younger announcers calling at a major track, meaning you’re going to have him for a long time compared to some of the more experienced names out there, and he’s only going to keep improving with time. He’s a long-term pick that’s already perfectly suited for a “win-now” franchise, and I’m happy to have him on-board. Now, get in the damn bear suit and pass out those Lyft vouchers!!!
PA: I have to write ALL THAT?!
AC: “…and there we go with the antics.”
I’m not at all surprised with that pick. I figured Pete would go fairly early, and in fact he was one of the top guys on my Big Board That Totally Reeks of Awesomeness (BBTTROA for short). However, I’ve got a different strategy in mind, one that involves a big name, an even better guy…and, for my money, the best hair in the game.
ROUND 1, PICK 2: ANDREW CHAMPAGNE
LAFFIT PINCAY III, HOST
My background isn’t just in social media. I’ve been on both sides of the camera and behind a microphone, and I know that the toughest on-air job there is falls on the shoulders of the host. Hosts are traffic cops, weaving instructions from producers and directors (that are sometimes yelled quickly and filled with four-letter words) seamlessly with external obligations and the other pitfalls of live television. It takes someone with a ton of talent to do this in such a way that the show stays afloat.
Laffit’s one of the best in the world of horse racing at doing this. He’s composed, he knows both the subject matter and the world of television, and he’ll ensure that the long-suffering wives of those watching my simulcast feed don’t force their husbands to change the channel (thus ensuring we meet our handle goals). As long as we can afford the elixir that ensures Laffit’s hair stays perfect at all times, I think things will work swimmingly.
PA: What’s the metric here? “Getting over” with the racing public? Creating “must see TV?”
AC: It’s whatever you want it to be. Now get back in Joe’s bear suit that he may or may not have washed.
ROUND 1, PICK 3: ED DEROSA
SCOTT HAZELTON, HOST
AC: Most important question: Bow tie on or off?
ED: Bow tie off. He’s more than just a pretty face. He also asks Perry Martin the tough questions.
ROUND 1, PICK 4/ROUND 2, PICK 1: PETE AIELLO
MATT CAROTHERS, ANALYST
TRAVIS STONE, ANNOUNCER
Matt is a speed handicapper and a company line handicapper like me. He’s young enough to get some good longevity out of and is well known by the audience. He’s also a polarizing figure like myself, so I gravitate to that.
Travis is a pure value play. He can run any department at the track, do it well and could be selected in various capacities in this exercise. Age is an added bonus, and there’s zero downside here.
ROUND 2, PICK 2: ED DEROSA
NICK LUCK, ANALYST
There’s a heavy international emphasis on Team DeRosa so far, and why not given we’re in this thing to make money? US fans have showed a willingness to bet more on international racing at all hours.
AC: I am beyond ecstatic that my next pick is still available.
ROUND 2, PICK 3: ANDREW CHAMPAGNE
CATON BREDAR, FIELD/PADDOCK REPORTER
Nobody is better than Caton at eying horses in the paddock and figuring out when certain horses will outrun their odds. She’s also tremendous at interviewing trainers, especially those who don’t usually open up to the general public. If you’ve never seen Caton interview Mike Maker, you’ve never seen art. Some may think it’s a bit early in the draft to address this position, but I wanted to make sure I got the best in the business.
JN: First off, solid pick by Ed with Nick Luck. He’s a dynamite addition to any team in this group, and his stock is through the roof on both sides of the pond after the excellent Royal Ascot coverage.
ROUND 2, PICK 4/ROUND 3, PICK 1: JOE NEVILLS
CHRISTINA BLACKER, HOST
GARY WEST, FIELD/PADDOCK REPORTER
If this were strictly a draft of TVG talent, Christina would be my first one off the board without a second thought. She’s got background in both the equine and handicapping sides of the business, and does a great job delivering useful information to the audience while playing air traffic control with the rest of her crew. My team needs to be smart, loose, and conversational with a good sense of humor – more NFL on FOX than CNN – and Christina has shown over the years that she can hang with any variety of co-anchors. I need a talented jack of all trades in this spot, and Christina brings high stats into just about every area.
Also, she’s another pick on the younger end of the spectrum. This not only makes her one I’d hope to have on my team for a long time, but a team of younger people should help convince folks in their age bracket that the track’s not full of just middle-aged and old white guys.
Gary West is probably a reach in this spot, but ever since I first heard Gary during my first visit to Kentucky Downs, I’ve never been able to imagine a dream simulcast team without him on it. He just seems to look at the horses with a different skew from the typical paddock analyst, and is able to process that into something especially palatable and useful for handicappers. The guy not only knows what he’s talking about, but presents it in a way that you’re doing yourself a disservice not to listen to it.
Part of Gary’s appeal at Kentucky Downs is his back and forth with announcer John Lies, but I think Pete and Christina are more than capable replacements to get the best out of each other. I like my team with these three as key cogs.
AC: It’s time to fill the chair(s) next to Laffit, and my next pick is racing’s hottest free agent right now.
ROUND 3, PICK 2: ANDREW CHAMPAGNE
RICHARD MIGLIORE, ANALYST
Richard Migliore is a flat-out steal in the third round. He was a very good rider who fit in instantly on whatever TV broadcast he worked, and any list of racing’s greatest ambassadors has him on it. He provides audiences with handicapping acumen and a unique perspective that not many people have, and I desperately need him on my team.
ROUND 3, PICK 3: ED DEROSA
RACHEL MCLAUGHLIN, FLEX
Horse racing is meant to be fun, and Rachel brings minor league baseball fun to the Indiana Grand signal with promos for the live audience while also being able to discuss handicapping with the rest of the team for those watching in Simo-land. She can help promote all parts of the racing game.
ROUND 3, PICK 4/ROUND 4, PICK 1: PETE AIELLO
DAVE RODMAN, FLEX
GABBY GAUDET, HOST
In a surprise move, I’ll take another announcer, a veteran, a great guy, one of the best in the business, a guy with a great sense of humor, and a good friend. I’ll also take Gabby Gaudet, who takes her job very seriously. I need someone who does that.
ROUND 4, PICK 2: ED DEROSA
DOUG SALVATORE, HANDICAPPER
This is the type of guy that, when he makes a pick, people pay attention. He’s also a great writer both about the game and life in general. We share a lack of filter. He once wrote about his soapy sock. He’ll stir the pot, he’ll stew in it. He’ll do what it takes to make a buck.
AC: As I try to recover from the image caused by Ed’s comments about a soapy sock, one name sticks out, and it’s one I need to draft.
ROUND 4, PICK 3: ANDREW CHAMPAGNE
MILLIE BALL, FLEX
Much of this is about business. Millie is smart, experienced, talented, and fills many roles with her versatility (even if we need someone out there on horseback). However, I’ll always hold Millie in an even higher regard as a person for something I saw first-hand. I was at Santa Anita in one of my first weeks at HRTV when Points Offthebench, who was trained by Millie’s husband (Tim Yakteen), broke down during a routine workout ahead of the Breeders’ Cup Sprint. The horse was euthanized, and it would’ve been understandable if Millie had taken the morning off. However, she stayed at the track and did her shift, even though people watching could tell it had been a terrible morning. That takes a LOT of toughness, which is a quality I want on my staff.
PA: We’ve got an HRTV mark here!
ROUND 4, PICK 4/ROUND 5, PICK 1: JOE NEVILLS
DONNA BARTON-BROTHERS, FLEX
CHRIS MCCARRON, ANALYST
You can put Donna anywhere on the track, from the desk, to the paddock, to the back of a horse, to the top of the danged Churchill Downs big board and she’ll be an asset. She literally wrote the book on teaching new fans about the sport, but she has enough cred with the racing lifers that she can speak to them in their language and offer an experienced voice regarding the on-track product as a former jockey. A Swiss Army talent with a broad audience appeal? You’ve got a spot on my team any day.
I was thinking about making Donna my straight-up analyst until Andrew brought up the horseback element, and I realized she was capable of so much more.
I really struggled with finding the right person for the analyst spot. I wanted my analyst to fill a color commentator position on the desk, and I wanted someone who has been in the trenches. Someone who could comment on what goes on during a race with the experience of having a hand in the race, while also being a charismatic, likable figure. I wanted a Terry Bradshaw, or at least a Troy Aikman. In retrospect, I wish I would have picked Migliore when he was on the board and assumed my fandom for Gary West would have kept quiet until I could come back and grab him here. Mig is kind of the ideal guy for that spot in my eyes, and I’ve been told I can’t take Gary Stevens because he’s still an active rider. Drat.
JN: Anyway, who better to be the voice of experience than the guy who founded an entire school to teach people about horse racing? McCarron has on-camera experience with ESPN and TVG, and anyone that’s had the pleasure of sitting down for a chat with him knows he’s a character who is never lacking for words. He’s ridden, and won, at the highest levels, has a personality and presence that demands your attention, has experience instructing others (which an analyst should always be doing to some degree even if it’s not talking to beginners), and has worked with the technical aspects of both film and television. Put him in a spot where he’s just talking to you and the hosts about the game, and he’s my sleeper pick of this whole thing. He’s probably not the most polished guy I could have picked in this spot, but I don’t necessarily want polished. I want people who are intelligent, engaging, and entertaining. Chris has that in spades.
AC: My team is polished, but it needs a jolt of youth and enthusiasm.
ROUND 5, PICK 2: ANDREW CHAMPAGNE
GINO BUCCOLA, HANDICAPPER
Gino’s got the work ethic and knowledge I want in my handicapper’s chair, along with the added benefit of having tons of passion for aspects of the game that go beyond what you see in the program. He’s not a “hot take” machine, but he’s never afraid to passionately defend a controversial point, and having someone who can go back and forth with the Mig from time to time is a major plus. Between his insight and the fit he figures to be alongside the rest of my crew, Gino’s a guy I need to have at this point in the draft.
ROUND 5, PICK 3: ED DEROSA
JASON BEEM, ANNOUNCER
My first three picks bring professionalism and gravitas. Salvatore and now Beem bring irreverence to take down ivory towers. Jason calls a clean race, has fun doing it, and interacts with the racing community.
ROUND 5, PICK 4/ROUND 6, PICK 1: PETE AIELLO
BRITNEY EURTON, FIELD/PADDOCK REPORTER
MARK PATTERSON, HANDICAPPER
With delight in my voice and lead in my pencil, I proudly select Britney Eurton as whatever you want to put her as.
AC: You need a field/paddock reporter, so I’m putting her there.
PA: You boys have allowed me to draft a dream team. Hopefully the league doesn’t institute salary caps though.
With that in mind, I will take Mark Patterson as my handicapper. He will likely work cheaper than many others, is goofier than a cat on helium, can work with anyone, and knows his stuff.
ROUND 6, PICK 2: ED DEROSA
MAGGIE WOLFENDALE, FIELD/PADDOCK REPORTER
When it comes to getting people to make action plays, nothing is more actionable than what’s seen in the paddock, and it’s really the last frontier of prices.
With an international flavor to my team, there’s also value to someone who can evaluate horseflesh on the fly. Yeah, NYRA is her strength, but what she does can be done in other paddocks as well.
AC: Maggie’s a good pick, and if I didn’t already have Caton, she’d have been high on my list. However, also high on my list is the most visible announcer in horse racing, one I’m surprised is still available.
ROUND 6, PICK 3: ANDREW CHAMPAGNE
LARRY COLLMUS, ANNOUNCER
With the retirement of Tom Durkin and the semi-retirement of Trevor Denman, racing needs a voice to carry it forward, and of the announcers left on the board, Collmus is the most logical candidate. He’s the Triple Crown and Breeders’ Cup voice, and he figures to be in that position for a long time.
JN: Curses, I was hoping Maggie might fall to me for one of my last picks. I’m floored she made it this far down the board.
Okay, time to round out my team. I’ve still got a handicapper and a bench player to draft. Here we go…
ROUND 6, PICK 4/ROUND 7, PICK 1: JOE NEVILLS
JOE KRISTUFEK, HANDICAPPER
JONATHAN HOROWITZ, BENCH
I honestly thought about taking Mike Battaglia here. His announcing style is an easy target, but I’ve got a lot of respect for his ability to handicap a race, and he’s another name that brings instant gravitas to a crew and is comfortable in front of a camera. That said, he looks to be easing his way out of the spotlight, so I might find myself seeking a replacement before long.
Joe Kristufek is the kind of person you’d want to hang out with and break down a card, and that’s what I want in my on-air team. He’s been the handicapping face of racetracks big and small, so he’s got a broad range of experience. He skews younger, but he’s been around and done enough that the simulblast lifers shouldn’t scoff too heavily at the kid on the screen who thinks he’s something making all these picks like it’s his job or something. On-air handicapper is a spot where mouth-breathers are going to open fire no matter what you do, but I think Joe’s strong enough to handle the assault, and does plenty to ensure the haters don’t have a leg to stand on. Plus, he’s another one that’s just a walking “Good PR Machine” for your track. Put him on the desk with Christina Blacker and Chris McCarron and you’ve got a dynamic and diverse booth heading up your broadcast.
Meanwhile, I have no idea how I’d fit Horowitz into the overall team. All I know is he gives a significant damn about what he does, and he’s a one-man wrecking crew when it comes to broadcasting, reporting, and generally doing anything within his abilities to make you care about Arapahoe Park. Oh, and he also calls the races. I need that guy on my roster. We’ll figure out the details later.
AC: I’ve got a bench spot available, and for me, versatility is extremely important. I ping-ponged between three people for this spot, but ultimately went with…
ROUND 7, PICK 2: ANDREW CHAMPAGNE
DON STEVENS, BENCH
He works at a smaller track (Delta Downs), but this is a guy who can literally do ANYTHING I’d need him to do. He’s a strong announcer, of course, but he also serves as Delta Downs’s one-man simulcast show AND does all of their media relations work. I can plug Don Stevens in anywhere on this team, and he’d not only do the job, he’d do it exceptionally well. I couldn’t ask for a better “utility player.”
Honorable mentions for my last spot go to both Darin Zoccali and Dave Weaver, who both bring similar versatility to the table. Ultimately, I figured Larry Collmus would be on call for major events every now and then, and I wanted someone with more of an announcing background. That said, it was a very tough call.
ROUND 7, PICK 3: ED DEROSA
CANDICE HARE, BENCH
She keeps with the international theme, and I like the degenerate vibe. Now that she has a TVG gig, the hours don’t seem as odd, but back in the day, she was picking races 20 hours a day and using the other four to complain about how bad the Tigers are.
JN: Alright, all we need now is the Mr./Ms./Mrs. Irrelevant. Pete, it’s your time to shine!
ROUND 7, PICK 4: PETE AIELLO
PASSIONATE ROOKIE FROM THE UNIVERSITY OF ARIZONA’S RACE TRACK INDUSTRY PROGRAM: BENCH
They helped give me so many opportunities in the business and it would be pleasure to give some of those same opportunities to someone else. Along those lines, by using the person as the resident “utility player”, they will broaden their skill set…a vital component to success in this industry in my view.
AC: I KNEW you were a softie at heart, Pete!
Announcer: Pete Aiello
Host: Christina Blacker
Analyst: Chris McCarron
Handicapper: Joe Kristufek
Field/Paddock Reporter: Gary West
Flex: Donna Barton-Brothers
Bench: Jonathan Horowitz
Announcer: Larry Collmus
Host: Laffit Pincay III
Analyst: Richard Migliore
Handicapper: Gino Buccola
Field/Paddock Reporter: Caton Bredar
Flex: Millie Ball
Bench: Don Stevens
Announcer: Jason Beem
Host: Scott Hazelton
Analyst: Nick Luck
Handicapper: Doug Salvatore
Field/Paddock Reporter: Maggie Wolfendale
Flex: Rachel McLaughlin
Bench: Candice Hare
Announcer: Travis Stone
Host: Gabby Gaudet
Analyst: Matt Carothers
Handicapper: Mark Patterson
Field/Paddock Reporter: Britney Eurton
Flex: Dave Rodman
Bench: Passionate rookie from Arizona RTIP