THE DARK DAY FILES: Slumps, Family, and Lady Eli

“I suck.”

Not the way you expected this to start out, huh? Well, that’s what was going through my head this past weekend.

If you’re visiting this site, you probably know that, in addition to my duties as a Web Producer for the Daily Racing Form, I’m the featured handicapper in The Pink Sheet, the daily racing insert in The Saratogian. I had picked the first winner on the first day of the meet…and then proceeded to go 1-for-the-next-18 on my printed top selections.

Every handicapper goes through slumps. I’ve actually written about how to get through them and bounce back. That said, when you’re putting your name behind your picks, and your picks aren’t coming through, it’s incredibly frustrating. Add in my insane competitive streak, a chip on my shoulder (the reason for that is best saved for another column many years from now), and a general desire to put forth good work, and what you get is where I was Saturday afternoon.

Welcome to the life of a public handicapper. On its face, the task seems simple: Handicap every race, every day at Saratoga from mid-July through Labor Day, pick your top three horses, and do better than the people lined up against you. Following the retirement of Nick Kling (a world-class horseplayer and an even better guy), my responsibilities expanded to include race-by-race write-ups and a bankroll blurb, the latter of which was directly inspired by the “Battle of Saratoga” blurbs in the New York Daily News, which I devoured every time I went to the races as a kid.

When you’re going good as a public handicapper, very few things feel better, especially if you’re cashing tickets as you go. When you’re running bad, the cards seem to go by slower, and about the only thing you can do is eye the next day’s program and see if there are any opportunities to catch up. The “boo birds” do come out on Twitter occasionally, hiding behind fake names and using pictures that aren’t their own, but that, I can deal with.

I’ve always been very good at dealing with other people telling me that I stink. I’ve gotten hate mail from a Kentucky Derby-winning owner and upper management at one of the most prominent racetracks in the country. I’m blocked on Twitter by the current head of a conference whose stalwart program I worked as an athletic communications intern for from 2010 through 2012. I’ve been name-called, abused, and told I’m horrible at my job, all by the same person and all in the past two and a half months (go on Twitter; it’s not hard to find). Long story short, I’m pretty confident in my own ability to take punches that are thrown by other people.

When it’s ME telling MYSELF I stink, though? Oh, boy.

I’m extremely fortunate to have a great relationship with my father. He taught me how to handicap, he brought me to the track once a week during the summer when I was growing up, and I’ve always said that if you hang around him for five minutes, I suddenly make much more sense (this has been confirmed by many friends and co-workers over the years). Unfortunately for him, this meant that any horse racing chatter we had via text message Saturday included me bombarding him with updates on just how badly I was doing and how badly I felt about it. Not helping matters was that his computer was, in layman’s terms, throwing up all over itself, or that he possesses the most annoying text message alert I’ve ever heard (a fact that I’m sure accounted for about 15 percent of his annoyance level!).

We were both about at our respective wit’s ends before the Diana. Lady Eli, one of the best stories in racing, was running, and in fact would go off as the heavy favorite. However, before the race, she and stablemate Antonoe both broke through the Saratoga starting gate.

In the case of Lady Eli, it didn’t matter. Neither did the weight she gave to her rivals, or that she may not be quite as explosive as she was before she endured her life-threatening battle with laminitis. She and jockey Irad Ortiz, Jr., circled the field and put away the game Quidura, giving the mare another Grade 1 victory in a career that has featured such wins at ages two, three, four, and five.

It’s tough to feel bad about anything in horse racing after seeing something like that. I don’t do “sappy” much, but it was nice seeing a reminder that I’m doing what I believe I was born to do, which is talking about horses to audiences that will hopefully make some money along the way. Things got even better the next day, when I was given the green light to contribute selections and analysis on DRF’s GamePlan from time to time. The day after that, I had three winners and a second-place finish from six originally-picked winners (three scratched). It’s not the start I’d hoped for, but at the very least, whatever negative juju I once had seems to be gone.

Sorry for being a pain in the neck, Dad.

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This is the first weekly installment of “The Dark Day Files,” and I sincerely hope you enjoyed it. Got an idea for a future column? Click here to contact me.

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